SALT LAKE CITY — This year's Sundance Film Festival has come and gone, but that doesn't mean film buffs — especially the budding ones — have to wait until next year to enjoy a good film festival.
Young moviegoers can attend back-to-back local film festivals geared toward young audiences, the first on Feb. 24 with the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival and then from March 2-4 with the Tumbleweeds Film Festival. Both festivals are in their seventh year and offer very different viewing experiences for their young — and old — audiences.
90-Second Newbery Film Festival
This is the first year the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival will visit Utah, giving fledgling storytellers a chance to retell Newbery Award-winning books in their own way.
The festival is exactly as it sounds: Young filmmakers can submit a film that is 90 seconds or less and based on the storyline of either a Newbery Medal winner or a Newbery Honor book. As festival's founder James Kennedy told the Deseret News, it's a chance to to get kids reading and thinking about books in an engaging way.
“It's not just a report that you're going to put away and nobody's ever going to read or enjoy," Kennedy said, "It's something that you can kind of show around and people can get excited by it.”
Kennedy encourages the participants to stray from straightforward adaptations and instead reinterpret the story. He likes to see contestants play with claymation, musicals and other unique styles — such as one entry, a horror adaptation of the classic children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web.”
“The whole premise of ‘Charlotte's Web’ is this pig is afraid that he might get killed, and this terrifying spider shows up and puts messages in the web and then the spider dies at the end but has laid all these eggs and thousands of spiders hatch all over the countryside — that's a horror movie,” Kennedy said.
Heather Stewart, who teaches sixth grade at Orem Elementary, used the project in her accelerated learning classroom. One of Stewart’s students, Jada Anderson, was on a team that adapted the Madeleine L'Engle's classic (and soon-to-be big-budget feature film) “A Wrinkle in Time.”
"I was just surprised how long it took to film scenes and how much you had to redo and how easy it is to make a mistake … especially when you film out of order," Jada said.
Jada wasn't alone in realizing how difficult filmmaking can be. Student Lydia Taggart worked on an adaptation of the young adult dystopian novel “The Giver” by Lois Lowry.
"My hardest part was probably that our group originally wrote a script and then changed the whole thing so … we kind of improved on a few of the scenes," she said. "We filmed multiple themes multiple times because we would mess up."
Despite the difficulties, the students said they enjoyed the process and learned a lot — even if what they learned wasn't necessarily about filmmaking or the book.
"My favorite part was probably just kind of bonding with my group," Lydia said. "I got to know people a lot better and I like that."
As a teacher, the projects allowed Stewart to see her students in a new light, as several of them who are normally reserved in class, blossomed in front of the camera.
"I was a little hesitant going in, saying, 'What have I gotten myself into?' but it was it was well worth it," she said. "I think the kids learned lessons and learned some real-life skills that you just can't teach in a classroom."
Tumbleweeds Film Festival
Just a week after the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival wraps up in Utah, Salt Lake's Library Square and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center will host Utah Film Center’s Tumbleweeds Film Festival. Designed for kids of all ages, Tumbleweeds will feature workshops, as well as a clubhouse with crafts and technical activities and, of course, films. Festival founder and Salt Lake City resident Patrick Hubley said their audience is more discerning that some might suppose.
“Kids are sophisticated movie watchers," Hubley said in an interview with the Deseret News. "They're sophisticated media consumers more so than when I was a kid, and I think that they can recognize good storytelling when they see it. Our goal is to show films that engage and films that take them on a journey not only through the film, to a different country, but maybe to explore new ideas or new concepts that they may not have been introduced to.”
Hubley will watch anywhere from 60-100 films to order build a cohesive program. He highlighted three standout films for this year's festival that attendees shouldn't miss: The animated “The Big Bad Wolf and Other Tales,” from French animator and filmmaker Benjamin Renner ("Ernest and Celestine"); “Into the Who Knows,” a film that centers on a young boy named Thomas, his invisible fox Felix and their travels into the woods; and the Swedish thriller "Room 213," the last film on the schedule, which follows a 12-year-old Elvira to summer camp where she encounters the supernatural.
When Hubley and his wife, Sarah Pearce, started the youth film festival seven years ago, they named it "Tumbleweeds" to encompass the spirit of the West and not just one state or city. He said that the festival — unique to the Intermountain West — has grown every year and continues to give young people an opportunity to enjoy good films. According to Hubley, the movies are all meant to transcend language and boundaries.
“The films are just telling stories that young audiences can relate to," he said, "and they're providing a glimpse into other cultures.”
While multicultural education is a big part of Tlumbleweeds, there's a lot to also learn from the festival's activities and workshops.
This year marks a big change for the festival as the main weekend activities will move from the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center to Library Square. According to Hubley, the change allows for more clubhouse programming — from crafting moving picture devices and junk sculpture marionettes to experiencing virtual reality — as well as expert-taught workshops that will focus on special effects and Hollywood makeup.
“It's really trying to illustrate that film is an important piece of arts and culture," Hubley said. "Not only for adults but also for young audiences, and there's a world of art of artistic endeavors that go into making a film and storytelling.”
If you go ...
What: 90-Second Newbery Film Festival
When: Feb. 24, 2-4 p.m.
Where: Salt Lake City Public Library, 210 E. 400 South
Notes: Early registration can be found online
What: Tumbleweeds Film Festival
When: March 2-4
Where: Library Square and Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
How much: Prices vary