The Sundance Film Festival is all the cinematic rage in Utah, but it should be noted that Sundance isn’t the only movie game in town. DocUtah resides in our own backyard! Now entering in it’s eighth year of operation, DocUtah was the brainchild of NFL Films veteran Phil Tuckett and is hosted by Dixie State University.

DocUtah prides itself on the best in documentary film from all over the world, and above all else, this venerable festival has set out to prove that documentaries can do a whole lot more than educate; they also have the ability to enlighten and entertain! Among the higher profile films making an appearance at DocUtah this year are the gut-wrenching “The Last Men in Aleppo” and the amusing (if a tad creepy) “Tokyo Idols,” but as you’ll see in a moment, these titles only scratch the surface.

In addition to short and feature-length documentaries from all around the globe, DocUtah also offers up other events including filmmaker seminars, an advanced peek at “The Vietnam War” from Ken Burns, and a special opening night gala to be held at the stunning Tuacahn Amphitheater. And if you’re coming in from out of town and looking to take a little breather from films during the six-day festival, why not go on a hike in beautiful Zion Canyon National Park or any of the many stunning parks located in southern Utah? Yes, it helps that DocUtah calls one of the most beautiful areas on the planet its home.

Having served as a member of the DocUtah Jury for the first six years, I can tell you there’s always a little bit of something for everyone at this festival, and this year’s line-up certainly backs up that claim.

Here’s an alphabetical list of must-see docs screening during DocUtah 2017;


Features

“25 Tracks” (53 min.)

In 2011, two unknown Melbourne-based indie songwriters attempt to write, record, and release a brand new tune every two weeks for an entire year. I love music, I love Australia, and I love Australian music. It should also be noted that I love a great Australian sense of humor, so I’m pretty sure this one is going to hit the sweet spot for me.

“4 Wheel Bob” (72 min.)

While there certainly looks to be an environmental message at the heart of this documentary, it’s the wheelchair-bound subject and his grueling hike across a Nevada desert that looks to be the inspirational focal point in the aptly titled, “4 Wheel Bob.” Bob Coomber was inducted into the Great Outdoors Hall of Fame in 2007, and in the years since, he’s dedicated his life to motivating and inspiring the public to discover the great outdoors. Bob Coomber, we salute you!

“Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise” (87 min.)

Obviously, I’m a big movie fan, and director Ridley Scott is one of the best in the business. In the award-winning “Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise,” a handful of women talk about how this early ’90s film influenced their lives. What’s more, this documentary also features interviews with a few of the storytellers who worked on “Thelma and Louise,” making for a movie that not only serves as tribute to women but as a wonderful love letter to the power of cinema itself.

“Chasing Evel: The Robbie Kneivel Story” (108 min.)

This is an insightful exploration into stunt jumper Robbie Knievel and his crusade to escape from under his enormously popular father’s shadow. Aside from showcasing all the world records and numerous broken bones, “Chasing Evel” also delves into Knievel’s personal life, most notably, his pursuit of sobriety. This sounds like an intimate tribute to an American icon.

“Deej” (71 min.)

Filmmaker Robert Rooy collaborates with silent autistic DJ Savarese on “Deej,” a documentary that attempts to educate folks on the challenges that come with properly representing autism. Of course, what makes “Deej” so unique is that it doesn’t rely on information presented by parents and medical experts; it actually presents its point of view from Savarese himself. 

“Dying in Vein, The Opiate Generation” (110 min.)

This is a provocative and very personal look into the world of addiction that dares to drop you directly into the lives of individuals dealing with the various affects caused by drugs. “Dying in Vein” looks to be a gritty, raw, and dark depiction of a real American crisis, but clearly, it’s punctuated by an undeniable sense of hope.

Forever “B” (91 min.)

This is the too-crazy-to-be-true real-life story of actress Jan Broberg who as a 12-year old in the ’70s was abducted on two separate occasions by her own neighbor, with the second kidnapping triggering a nationwide manhunt. “Forever ‘B'” is a story of brainwashing, emotional turmoil, and a tumultuous family battle, all revolving around abductions that could have and should have been prevented.  This one sounds terrifying and compelling in equal measure.

“The Last Pig” (53 min.)

This immersive, experimental documentary delves into the life of a pig farmer during his final year on the job. Throughout the film, this farmer expresses the inner conflicts that come with being a “peddler of death” as he spends his days raising pigs for slaughter. Sounds like rough viewing to be sure, especially coming out on the heels of  Joon-ho Bong’s “Okja,” but for all its harshness, “The Last Pig” also looks to be a powerful examination of equality and compassion.

“Remand” (40 min.)

This is the story of a Ugandan boy doing time for a pair of murders he didn’t commit and how his inadvertently crossing paths with a Los Angeles-based lawyer would eventually inspire justice reform for an entire country. Not only is this a harsh indictment of a seemingly broken justice system, but it’s also an inspirational story of two different cultures coming together in the name of the greater good.

“Tuacahn — Miracle in Padre Canyon” (80 min.)

As a St. George resident, I was pretty excited to learn about this upcoming DSU-produced documentary because Tuacahn is quite honestly one of the most breathtaking venues I’ve been to in all my 48 years of life. This amphitheater is nestled within the mountains of Padre Canyon, and while it’s the perfect open-air venue to take in a rock concert — think of it as a more intimate version of Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheater — it is primarily known for it’s epic stage productions. “Tuacahn — Miracle in Padre Canyon” gives a look into the history of this gorgeous venue while offering a detailed look into the making of Tuacahn’s recent production of “Shrek.” You don’t know the meaning of the word “joy” until you’ve seen the look on storyteller Ryan Norton’s face as he calls an actor to tell them they’ve been cast in a show.


Shorts

“Caviar Dreams” (15 min.)

I’m not a fan of caviar, but I find its popularity — particularly amongst the rich and famous — pretty darn intriguing. “Caviar Dreams” gives us a fairly detailed look into what makes caviar so darn popular and, more importantly, where it comes from.

“The Collection” (11 min.)

As a bit of a movie memorabilia collector myself, this tale of a pair of friends who stumble on a movie memorabilia collection of epic proportions greatly appeals to me. The collection consists of printer blocks and printer plates that were used in the making of advertisements for nearly every movie released in the U.S. dating back from the silent era to 1984. I can’t wait to see this one!

“Deaners” (19 min.)

If you’re a James Dean fan, you won’t want to miss “Deaners,” a tribute to the Dean faithful and to the annual Indiana-based festival dedicated to the iconic star of “Rebel Without a Cause.” This earnest doc is all about the fans and their genuine affection for an actor who will go down in history as one of the all-time greats.

“Hand Cut” (5 min.)

Short and simple, this documentary traces the origin of clear, artisan ice as it makes its way into the hands of New York City bartenders.

“I’m Free” (20 min.)

A family from Norway must decide whether or not to mourn their son or hope for his return after he goes missing in October 2013. This is a poignant look at loss, mental illness, and unanswered questions.

“Kent Harrison — The Most Important Man in the World” (28 min.)

This special student film was directed by Tuacahn High School senior Shane Hecksel. With “Kent Harrison —- The Most Important Man in the World,” this local storyteller delivers a provocative look at a Utah-based legend. I’ve met Kent Harrison, and I’m here to tell you that the title of this documentary couldn’t be anymore appropriate. Kidding aside, Harrison is an accomplished multi-talented artist, and he’s done a lot of good for the local arts scene. With this documentary, Harrison grants Hecksel unlimited access to his ultimate knowledge. Here’s hoping that Harrison dazzles us with his spot-on Katharine Hepburn impersonation in this short, because it’s one for the ages. Even if he doesn’t, I have very little doubt that “Kent Harrison — The Most Important Man in the World” will be candid, informative, and above all playful.

“Shivani”  (19 min.)

In “Shivani,” a couple from India train their 3-year-old daughter to become an Olympic archery champion because they firmly believe that she’s actually their deceased son reincarnated. This sounds far too intriguing to miss.

“Souls of the Vermilion Sea” (29 min.)

I love sea life, and this story about the struggle to protect a rare, endangered species of porpoise called the vaquita sounds right up my alley. Breathtaking imagery and the capturing of this unique marine mammal in its natural habitat should make “Souls of the Vermilion Sea” well worth seeing.

“There Goes the Neighborhood” (27 min.)

This is a look at gentrification and the altering of a beloved community as seen through the eyes of an extended black family. Longtime View Park resident Adele Cadres serves as our insightful guide.

“Winter’s Watch” (14 min.)

“Winter’s Watch” follows the day-to-day life of a woman who serves as a caretaker at a secluded New England-based Oceanic Hotel during the harsh winter months. How does she spend her days? I’m not entirely certain, but “Winter’s Watch” has a bit of a “The Shining” ring to it, doesn’t it? Rest assured, though, this is not a horror movie.


Keep in mind that there are 75 films playing DocUtah this year. Quite frankly, I’d like to see them all! The previous list simply represents a handful of noteworthy highlights.


DocUtah runs from Sept. 4–9 in St. George.

For a detailed look at everything the festival has to offer, click here.

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