The ninth annual Red Rock Film Festival had well over 800 submissions, more than all the other film festival events in southern Utah combined. Shuffling through the dozens of accepted films can be a bit of a challenge for the festival novice who’s never been to a film festival such as Cannes or the San Francisco. Here are nine films to see, suggested by the Red Rock Film Festival’s Matt Marxteyn, in October and November at this local, multi-genre film festival.
“Ambrosia” (Nov. 7, Cedar City)
Rhiannon Bannenberg’s youthful drama is the type of film you would expect for St. George hipsters who have a playful connection to their vintage clothes and collectables, only this group of friends are from Australia. After graduating, the tight-knit friends embark on their final childhood holiday to their idyllic retreat. Their skylarking is shattered when they meet a strange and enigmatic woman who threatens to divide the group’s bond of love and friendship.
“Cartel Land” (Nov. 6, Cedar City)
Directed by Matthew Heineman, this daring documentary has made several top ten lists from critics around the world. As the highways of St. George are a major target for drug trafficking, this film will be an eye-opener for anyone who lives in southern Utah. With unprecedented access, “Cartel Land” is a riveting on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups in both Mexico and the U.S. and their shared enemy: the murderous Mexican drug cartels.
“Man from Coxs River” (Nov. 6, Cedar City)
It was the highest grossing documentary in Australia last year and now comes to the Red Rock Film Festival. This haunting film on wilderness management, directed by Russell Kilbey, takes a bold look at the nearly impossible mission to save a mob of brumbies and bring an independent bushman and a national parks ranger to see through each others’ eyes.
“Mousse” (Nov. 7, Cedar City)
As most of the films on this list are in English, it is only fair to highlight why people travel to this festival: the foreign film. This year, the number of European films is an all-time high at the Red Rock Film Festival. From Sweden comes John Hellberg’s comedy that has won more than two dozen awards. It begins with the easy task of robbing a small bookie place during the year’s biggest horse racing event. Mousse, a man of pride and principles, is fed up with living as a second-class citizen and now must face principles different from his own.
“Prophet’s Prey” (Oct. 24, St. George)
In case you missed it the first time at the Sundance Film Festival, this retrospective screening is the perfect endcap to the Red Rock Film Festival’s 2007 film on Warren Jeffs, “Damned to Heaven.” This time, Amy Berg’s chilling documentary will be paired with a brief discussion with producer and writer Sam Brower. One of the several highlights of the film is the music, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, that takes themes of the ghostly music of the FLDS polygamists and hypnotic sermons of convicted pedophile Warren Jeffs to a point that will make your skin crawl.
“Proud Citizen” (Nov. 7, Cedar City)
Thomas Southerland’s “Proud Citzen” is the independent film one would expect to find at a film festival. The black-and-white light comedy takes a brutally honest look of an isolated and lonely Bulgarian playwright in America. What makes this film so approachable to southern Utah audiences is the nuanced and witty performances as it follows the lead character through the rolling hills of Kentucky for the premiere of her autobiographical Communist-era play, “Black Coat,” as she experiences heartbreak, disappointment, the comfort of American strangers, and funeral cakes.
“Rock of Refuge” (Oct. 10, Springdale)
Earning the title as “the first local filmmaker to get into Red Rock,” St. George resident Eric Hanson is the lucky documentarian to not only be selected but also survive a flash flood while canyoneering in Zion National Park. His film is the first film you should see with its stunning time-lapse photography in Zion. The spiritual journey explores the technical slot canyons that can be both a hidden adventure and a hidden danger as the climbers are met with a sudden flash waterfall.
“Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103” (Nov. 6, Cedar City)
Phil Furey’s seven-year production pieces together the 1988 tragedy of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 259 on the plane and 11 people on the ground, that became the mother of all terrorism attacks before 911. The documentary is a chilling look at how politics rolls its way into a crisis, taking decades to lead to a criminal conviction only to reveal a trillion-dollar oil deal held ransom by Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
“Wildlike” (Oct. 24, St. George)
With over 30 “Best Film” awards, this adventure drama has been accepted into more than 150 film festivals worldwide. Directed by Frank Hall Green, the feature film stars Ella Purnell of Disney’s “Maleficent” as a troubled teen who is sent in harm’s way to live with her questionable uncle in Juneau, Alaska. Determined to escape her uncle’s grasp she ventures further into the Alaskan wilderness and eventually finds redemption in the friendship of an older hiker named Bartlett, played by Bruce Greenwood of “Star Trek” (2009) and the cult TV series “Nowhere Man.”
The Red Rock Film Festival begins Oct. 10 with a sneak peek event at the Hampton Inn & Suites on 1127 Zion Park Blvd. in Springdale. It is followed by a kick-off event at the Red Cliffs Cinema in St. George on Oct. 24 and continues Nov. 2 through 8 at the Heritage Center at 105 N 100 E in Cedar City. More information is available at redrockfilmfestival.com with daily updates at the Red Rock Film Festival’s Facebook page. Tickets are available at rrff.eventbrite.com or by calling (435) 705-5555.