Tori Baker, Salt Lake Film Society's executive director for 14 years, recalled a film screening a few years ago when at-risk kids throughout Salt Lake City had a chance to watch a movie.
The movie was called "The Red Balloon," and it was a part of the Big Pictures, Little People series, which gives children from less-fortunate communities a chance to be exposed to new perspectives. Baker said one of her favorite things about that screening was it gave the kids watching a "lens into someone else's life" — an opportunity for them to envision a life that was different from their own.
"Film is personal," Baker told the Deseret News. "Whether or not it changes you — that is the power."
That, perhaps, also encapsulates the goal of the Salt Lake Film Society, which primarily shows content from independent filmmakers. Baker says the organization chooses movies that aim to "fuel dreams, ignite conscience and spark community."
Baker described a few of the questions that go into the decision-making process at SLFS.
"How do we dig deep into our community? Who are the lives in our communities and our culture that don't have representation through this art form? Can we provide that? What are the stories that are in the zeitgeist of our community?" she said.
People called bookers are primarily responsible for scouting out new films and doing the business negotiations for many independent art houses, including SLFS, Baker said. Additionally, she and the many others who work for the organization augment the bookers' findings with other movies they think would resonate locally — and include things they think the community needs.
"(We choose certain movies) when it's really important for someone to see these stories," Baker said. "Content that is very current and in the zeitgeist is something we are very attuned to."
She said films such as "Control Room," the 2004 film about the United States' war with Iraq, and Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, were important stories the community needed to know about.
All that comes together to create a moviegoing experience that is a "different lens from Disney," she said, although SLFS won't turn down a larger, more mainstream film if it has a strong message.
"We try to not see the line between Hollywood and independent film," Baker said. "Our zone is independent film because that is where the artists reside. But I would never turn down a film from Quentin Tarantino, who is a director who is shaping and changing the art form all the time, just because his movie costs millions of dollars."
Still, differences exist between mainstream theaters and independent art houses. Independent art houses like the Salt Lake Film Society depend on the surrounding community to determine which films should be shown and to receive funding to stay alive. Hollywood cinemas, while also performing an important function, don't need to be tuned in to the individual needs of an area and don't depend on it for survival.
This puts the SLFS in a similar camp with opera or live theater, which depend on ticket sales and donations from the community, but in a different space because SLFS doesn't produce the content it displays.
"We're in a unique position as an arts organization because we don't make our art form — we exhibit it," Baker said. "We are very similar to performing arts in that we do need that person to leave their home, come to our bricks and mortar home and partake in our art form, but we are very similar to museums in the way we would curate content and we would have special showings."
For example, SLFS presents a yearly film festival to showcase Mexican films, called Filméxico. It also shows classic films in its Tower Through Time series.
Regardless of which movies people see or where they see them, Baker said she appreciates the craft because it is an "equalizing art form" — an art form that is accessible to millions of Americans and digestible. It's that accessibility and opportunity that make film so special and important to a community.
"For us," she said, "the storytelling is the important component and the art form itself."
Brittany Binowski is a senior web producer for Deseret National. You may contact her at [email protected] or tweet her online @binowski.