Documentaries about an African refugee’s adjustment to life in Salt Lake City and a personal account about coping with a family member’s battle with leukemia as well as fictional films about brothers arguing over the making of a zombie survival guide and a character’s struggle to persuade his author to change his murderous fate will mark the seventh annual offerings of PitchNic films created under the aegis of Spy Hop Productions.
The quartet of films, each running about 20 minutes, were made by young filmmakers – almost all of them in their teens. Their work will be premiered Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
“I’m like a good trail guide,” says Jeremy Nielsen, a Spy Hop instructor who works closely with the students. “I have a few landmarks in mind as we begin each year. It’s very important that they discover them on their own and if we go somewhere and I lose track of the landmarks, that’s okay, because eventually we’ll find them again.”
With each succeeding year, the PitchNic films consistently raise the bar for young filmmakers. Documentaries reflect a mature, sensitive treatment that belies the age of their storytellers while fictional narratives — whether through comedy, romance, slice-of-life reality or drama — show a deft hand in orchestrating important literary elements such as irony, metaphor, and epiphany. Past PitchNic films have been featured at festivals including Sundance, Utah Arts Festival, and others as well as cable networks including HBO.
“One of the most common things I tell my students is, ‘This is your movie,’” Nielsen explains. “And, I tell them you will learn more about yourself in your filmmaking and writing than you could ever dream. The themes that come out of your work are a window into how you really feel about life.”
The PitchNic program is just one aspect of Spy Hop Productions, a nonprofit organization that helps teenagers cultivate their experience and skills in the documentary arts, film/video production, audio engineering, and interactive media. A rare opportunity for student filmmakers, PitchNic matches them with professional mentors and community sponsors so that they can realize a screenplay from start to finish. Each film was produced by funds raised at Spy Hop’s Annual Benefit last spring.
The four films to be featured: (Previews available here).
The Antagonist (Daniel Pimentel, May Bartlett, and Kevin Lestarge) — The story is about a fictional character’s desperate attempt to transform his role from antagonist to protagonist. What started as a casual doodle of a character with a top hat on a homework assignment led to 20 pain-staking revisions of a story that Pimentel and his peers built around his impromptu drawing.
Unmistakably inspired by the Coen brothers known for their penchant for crime fiction and who are described regularly in the business as the “two-headed director,” the filmmakers built a compact vehicle in which the author’s real world collides with the imaginary world of his characters. Along with nine characters and scenes shot in various locations including a car wash, laundromat, and convenience store, the filmmakers also have managed some original music scored for banjo and acoustic instruments as well as snippets of the ballad “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.”
Brains (Loren Ruiz, Rachel Fairclough, and Britt Decker) — Capitalizing upon the current craze for zombie themes, the trio of filmmakers cleverly frame the project as making a movie inside a movie. Inspired by Max Brooks’ book ‘The Zombie Survival Guide,’ two teenaged brothers decide to make a documentary about how to survive the apocalyptic disaster of a zombie invasion. One is completely obsessed with the project (disturbingly oblivious to the distinctive tongue-in-cheek character of the book) while the other, who initially tries to please his older sibling at every turn, gradually loses the motivation to continue with the project. The filmmakers wisely play up symbolism in the film, using silhouettes and foreshadowing to not only accentuate the humor possibilities of the story but also to underscore the more serious revelation of a relationship irrevocably changed.
Brother of Mine (Ethan Pullan, Alek Sabin and Pat Thompson) — This first-person documentary draws dramatically inward on the story of Pullan’s brother, Chase, who died in 2005 at 18 after a 10-year struggle against leukemia. Pullan, now 20, and his peer filmmakers balance the film’s conversation through the clinical counterpoint of doctors and oncologists with his spoken memories as well as those of his family members. The filmmakers also explore the hereditary question of cancer through the story of Pullan’s late great-grandfather, a Utah miner who battled leukemia as well. More importantly, the filmmakers focus on why talking about death and dying is often stubbornly uncomfortable and unnatural. What matters is not inundating the circumstances with the clinical truth but in answering and talking about the questions honestly. The story of Pullan’s brother then becomes one showing that without miracles, there are many ways of helping someone, without a cure; to show why love and hope matter so deeply in the process of death and dying.
Destination: SLC (Collin Griffith and Chris Carpenter) — The documentary focuses on a young refugee from Africa who is adjusting to life in Salt Lake City. Through the refugee’s voice and his changes in tone, the filmmakers capture the enthusiasm he has for education and hip hop music but also the hesitation of speaking freely and of fitting comfortably in a still-unfamiliar social network.
Armed with research and interviews with numerous community leaders and policy advocates, the filmmakers situate the young refugee’s story in a larger portrait of the difficulties refugees face in overcoming clashes in communication and culture, especially in a city where the Bosnian, Somali, and Sudanese refugee populations alone total more than 5,000. While many resettlement groups rely on the goodness of communities to receive the refugees, many newcomers must deal with the unsettling challenges of feeling safe, secure, and self-sufficient in a home where they are still unsure if they have been welcomed fully into the community.
The 2008/2009 Pitch Nic Program is generously supported by Zoo, Arts and Parks of Salt Lake County, Salt Lake County Prevention Services, the Jarvis & Constance Doctorow Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Arts Council and the Salt Lake City Arts Council. Individual supporters of the Pitch-Nic program including Steve Denkers, Lewis Francis & Dana Costello, Kevin & Donna Gruneich, Carolyn Leone, Henry Louis, and Chris Reddish.
Tickets at $5 are available online here, all ArtTix Office locations, or by calling (801) 355-ARTS.
PHOTO CREDITS: Top by Zack Allred, middle by Amory Iverson, and the third is of Collin Griffith and Chris Carpenter.
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