Brian Jackson Fetzer knows a good story when he hears one. After all, he has taught storytelling at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Community College.
One of the best stories he's heard involves a series of ghostly sightings and activities at Fort Douglas, the old U.S. Army encampment located just east of the University of Utah campus. "The fort has played host to all sorts of paranormal and metaphysical activities, including hauntings," said Fetzer, who has spent the past couple of years looking into the stories.
In fact, he has used them as the subject of a documentary film titled "Ghostly Guardians," which examines reports of hauntings witnessed by Fort Douglas employees and visitors.
Fetzer said he has "tried to look at these reports with an unbiased eye, as objectively and scientifically as possible." And at the same time, he wanted to use his professional storytelling skills to present the stories "dramatically."
"They're absolutely fascinating. I'm a little surprised that I was the first person to think of making a movie about them," he said, adding that there have been television and newspaper reports about the spectral goings-on.
Probably the most well-known of these involves "Clem," the spirit of a Civil War-period soldier that is said to be roaming the Fort Douglas Military Museum. Some of the employees there say they have not only heard spooky noises in the museum but have also seen him move objects. (According to Fetzer, those who have witnessed Clem's poltergeist activities do not believe Clem is the entity's actual name, but that the nickname came from a local Boy Scout troop.)
Fetzer is not saying whether he believes in ghosts, though he does find former museum curator Jess McCall's eyewitness reports compelling. "You can tell that he certainly believes that he has come into contact with Clem more than once. His story is so consistent, and he doesn't hesitate in telling it at all."
Also, Fort Douglas officials have embraced Clem and the other specters. And the old base plays host to the annual Ghosts of Fort Douglas celebration, in which McCall and others recite ghostly lore.
This year's Ghosts of Fort Douglas event also coincides with the Salt Lake Freedom Film and Storytelling Festival, another creation of Fetzer's. "I was actually commissioned by the museum to make this movie, and this festival was another thing that came out of that arrangement," he said.
"Ghostly Guardians" will be one of the centerpieces of the festival, which runs over the next three weekends in the Fort Douglas Post Theatre.
Fetzer, a longtime academician (he has also taught mathematics), has been toying with filmmaking for several years. ("Pieces of the Wind," a documentary about his musical side projects, appeared on KUED last year.) "I like to think of filmmaking as a natural extension of my work as a storyteller."
As a musician, he has performed onstage for many private and public functions (including during the 2002 Utah Winter Games). And in addition to screening his new documentary, he will be performing songs during the festival.
The event will also include musical performances by Jericho Road and Peter Breinholt, storytelling programs (one of them is titled "The Don't Get Funny With a Mummy Show"), and on the last weekend there will be screenings of such classic Christmas movies as "It's a Wonderful Life." "It's never too early to start celebrating Christmas," he said with a laugh.Fetzer admitted that running a monthlong festival is ambitious, but he is hoping it will be a success and that it may turn into an annual event. "There are so few activities that are family-friendly, especially film festivals. So I've tried to make something here that will appeal to families and has a variety of activities that will appeal to as many of them as possible."
If you go
What: "Ghostly Guardians," Salt Lake Freedom Film and Storytelling Festival
Where: Fort Douglas Post Theatre, 245 Fort Douglas Blvd., University of Utah
When: Saturday and Oct. 22, 1 p.m.;
Oct. 29, 8 p.m.;
Oct. 31, 11:30 a.m.
How much: $3.50 ($2.50 in advance)Comment on this story
Phone: 532-2766 or 581-1251Web: www.fortdouglas.org