OREM — A behind-the-scenes look at the sketch comedy of "Studio C," a film where Donny Osmond plays the villain and a documentary on one man's journey to giving up sugar and caffeine are among the 18 feature-length films and documentaries of a variety of genres at the 16th annual LDS Film Festival.
It began in 2001 as a short film contest, and this year the festival features new and returning movies, along with a host of documentaries, question-and-answer forums and some 30 short films that range from one minute to 20 minutes long.
The annual festival is an opportunity for local filmmakers to show off their latest projects as well as give film fans a chance to see what's new, according to organizers.
Hosted by the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, the festival is pulled together each year by filmmaker Christian Vuissa, who has a list of films he's produced and directed, including "The Letter Writer" and "The Errand of Angels."
Austrian-born Vuissa expects the 2017 festival to be exciting and well-attended.
"The fact that we have returning filmmakers is exciting," Vuissa said in an interview. "Several are making premieres."
Vuissa said he'd like to expand the festival and find ways to help local filmmakers access bigger budgets for their work.
"I think at some point it will open up," Vuissa said. "I personally have a number of scripts (I'd like to turn into films). I'm exploring how to finance the films. I'm trying to push the communities into supporting bigger budgets. You can do more things with more budget."
Here's several of the films at the festival. Other films screening at the festival include two films in general distribution: "Love Everlasting" and "The Last Descent." For information, including schedules, see ldsfilmfestival.org.
'Story Tellers' and others
Vuissa has an impressive lineup of films on the festival agenda, five from director/producer John Lyde: "Story Tellers," "Mythica 5: The Godslayer," "626 Evolution" and two shorts: "Baby" and "The High Road."
"Story Tellers," featuring campfire tales from Orrin Porter Rockwell, Mark Twain and J. Golden Kimball, was suggested by an executive from Covenant Communications, an LDS publishing and distribution company. It was assigned a budget of under $50,000.
On that budget, Lyde would have to shoot it in two days.
He contacted the actors he wanted for the parts of Twain, Kimball and Rockwell. Joshua French wrote the script in a month and agreed to play Twain. Cameron Asay, who looks like Kimball, agreed to fly in from New York, and Jasen Wade makes an ideal Rockwell, Lyde said.
Filming was all done in Provo Canyon. The only glitch was that the night of the first filming there were teenagers running around giggling and setting bonfires, Lyde said. "We had to cut out a lot of giggling," he said.
"Mythica 5: The Godslayer" is a dark story with zombies and undead, the fifth in a series commissioned by Arrowstorm Entertainment, filmed in Utah with impressive sets that include underground caverns, according to mythicamovie.com. The series is so popular that it may be picked up as a TV series, Lyde said.
And "626 Evolution" is a new science-fiction film based on a story about a woman with superhuman fighting abilities, a woman known only as "626" trying to find out who she really is while fighting for survival.
One film screening for the second time at the festival is a movie shot in 2007 that's back for its 10th anniversary.
"CTU: Provo" is the story of Utah's Counter-Terrorist Unit caught unprepared for an actual eco-terrorist attack. Two fans of the television series "24" have to save the day.
Director Alan Seawright said the film was made with basically no budget and was essentially his film school project.
"It's a parody and homage of '24,'" Seawright said. He and his Brigham Young University roommates watched "24" every Monday night.
Because of copyright entanglements, it was never released to the mainstream market but made available online.
Jonathan Decker, who plays one of the leads with Seawright, wanted to screen it at this year's event and thus get some closure for himself.
"It's a fan film," said Decker, who is a family and marriage therapist. "I finished filming and went to grad school. I wasn't there for the premiere. Part of me wants closure."
Decker said the stunts in the film, including hanging from a speeding van and getting hit by a car, were done by him and Seawright at their own peril.
Cast members include Donny Osmond — who got a rare opportunity to play a villain — Jimmy Chunga and Rick Macy.
'Recommended Daily Amount'
"Recommended Daily Amount" will make its debut at the 2017 event. Tucker Dansie, known for his work on music videos and with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mormon Messages series, has more than 20 years of filmmaking experience.
Dansie is hoping to make a difference in how people consume caffeine and sugar.
He has a personal story too, as he battled obesity and a habit of consuming high amounts of caffeine. When he realized he was hurting himself and his family, he decided to give up sugar and soda.
"I knew that if I documented it, then it was one way to hold myself accountable," he said.
Dansie utilizes a number of nutritional experts and scientists to back up his observations and conclusions, including that of BYU professor Benjamin Bikman, who's taught Education Week classes on obesity and its dangers.
"This film really is still a work in progress," Dansie said. "I’m looking for audience feedback and feedback from the scientists and nutritionists that worked with me to make this strong enough that I can get it into schools and online so that we can start educating people early."
'The Laughter Life'
"The Laughter Life" is a film that examines the process behind the scenes at "Studio C," the popular comedy series produced at BYU.
Juliet Werner is a senior segment producer for "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. She wanted to make a film about "Studio C" because she's a big fan of comedy and she was curious about this "really funny group that I'd never heard of before."
"When I discovered that 'Studio C' was the offshoot of a BYU sketch comedy group and was shot in Provo, Utah, I was even more curious because I admittedly didn't associate Mormons with comedy," Werner said. "I thought I could make an interesting film that would challenge people's preconceived notions and also make them laugh."
The film presents an honest look at this BYUtv show and aims to dispel the myth that Mormons are "stuffy, uptight, serious people who don't have a sense of humor," she said.
"Modifying Reality" follows students enrolled in the animation program at BYU. Jared Jakins said that it started out as an experiment in bridging.
"I've been directing it for two years," Jakins said. "We created it for two purposes: as a recruitment tool and a way to capture the experience of working in the program."
Students in BYU's program have excelled and won awards for their work, and Jakins says that puts enormous pressure on students working on new projects.
"We wanted to show how much stress there is for these students right through from inception to choosing a director to working on the story until they hear back from the Emmys," he said.
He feels the LDS Film Festival will provide the ideal audience for the film.
If you go ...
What: 16th annual LDS Film Festival
Where: SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State St., Orem
When: Wednesday, March 1, 6 p.m.; Thursday, March 2-Saturday, March 4, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Tickets: $8 individual events; $20 Thursday; $30 per day Friday and Saturday; $50 full festival; purchase at the door or at 801-225-ARTS, online at scera.org
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 40 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.