SLC may have an abundance of smaller independent film festivals looking to rule the summer, but the first big one kicks off a little farther north in Ogden. --- The ninth annual Foursite Film Festival started running small events last week, and this Thursday marks the big run of the festival's main attractions. The list includes former Sundance runners, some underground flicks that have been rejected a few times over, some making their debut on the festival circuit and some dark-horse films that seemingly came from nowhere -- all on display in Weber County for three days.
Before you start racking up ticket bills online, we chat with festival organizers Patricia Anderson and Scott Halford about the festival's history so far, planning out this year's run, thoughts on the local film scene and more.
Scott Halford and Patricia Andersen
Gavin: Hello to you both. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Scott: My name is Scott C. Halford. I grew up in Farmington. I spent a lot of time in Ogden during high school so I naturally ended up going to Weber State, where I got my bachelor's in integrated studies. My focus was always on multimedia and film, but I also participated in the dance program. I used the film festival as my capstone project for graduation. I simply haven't been able to let go of it ever since.
Patricia: My name is Patricia Andersen. I live in Farmington with my husband, Steve, and two of our four boys. I am from Washington State and have a B.A., emphasis on painting. My focus has been on commission work, raising a family, and philanthropy.
Gavin: How did each of you take an interest in cinema and filmmaking, and what movies had an early influence on you?
Patricia: My interest in cinema goes way back, but foreign film at university caught my eye. I like the art form and enjoy looking for the best. The first two films that really took hold were The Official Story in 1985 -- an Argentinian political drama that won the best-foreign-film Oscar that year, and Zeffirrelli’s La Traviata. They are radically different, but share riveting performances by the female lead, and excellent aesthetic for each subject. The following reviews encapsulate what is important to me, and apply to your other questions: The first from Roger Ebert said “... is a performance that will be hard to forget, particularly since so much of it is internal. Some of the key moments in the film come as we watch Aleandro and realize what must be taking place inside her mind, and inside her conscience.” The second from Vincent Canby is supported by the arresting music and costumes/setting. "[It] never has the manner of something scaled down or souped up for a mass audience. Verdi's genius will out, especially when presented with the talent, intelligence and style that have gone into this production. The physical production is lush without being fussy.” Everything is Illuminated is the recent standout, it exudes total joy in putting the puzzle together, first from the outside in, then from the inside out. Everything has a purpose, including the extraordinarily gruff and off-putting grandfather. And it’s an example of the movie being better than the book. At this point, I would love to give a list of my top 50 films, but will refrain. I get very involved.
Scott: I always loved watching movies a lot more than I like television. My best friend and I grew up making movies on our parents Hi8 camcorders, so making movies was something I have always been interested in. As I think back about watching movies as a teenager, I remember how movies used to make me really think about life and death. I love how a story portrayed onscreen can get you to analyze your own life. Forest Gump got to me as a young person, along with Aliens, Shawshank Redemption, and I've always been a sucker for The Fifth Element.
Gavin: Both of you, to some degree, have been involved with the local film scene. What was it like for each of you breaking into it, and how have your experiences been so far in your careers?
Scott: When it comes to the local film scene, I used to think I was pretty connected and that it didn't take me long to get to know everyone. Either I was right at the time or it is a lot bigger than I thought. There are so many people who are out there making films and working to make careers of it. I have been lucky for the last few years to be involved in an ad agency. The downside to that is I haven't done nearly as much networking, so I am glad I have still had the festival to keep me plugged in to this amazing film community. There is so much talent here and I am happy to be able to showcase so much of it each year at Foursite.
Patricia: Steve and I got started in the making of documentaries about Iceland and Brazil. These were eye-opening about what it means to finance and complete a film. Also, our family foundation began funding part of the festival, and I eventually was invited to sit on the board. My art background proved useful in reviewing and judging the films; I bring a different aesthetic and point of view. This year we are curating, which gave me a chance to go out and find some films. Again, it’s not so easy. The results of my efforts were two: We Have A Pope and Gravity/Un Reve de Demain. So, they are my new favorites. Come and see them.
Gavin: How did the original idea for the film festival come about, and where did the name come from?
Patricia: My interest in the early years was in the concept “It’s All in Good Taste.” There are films out there that are edgy, excellent, beautifully made, funny, or can bring hard questions into focus, in good taste. The several other backers also were impressed with, and wanted to encourage, the kind of drive and ambition the project exhibited. And we like Scott okay.
Scott: The festival started out as a fun way to get a bunch of people together to watch one of my own films. I co-produced a film with my friend Lucas McGraw. The film is called A Far Better'est Love Story'eth. We decided to put together "Just Another Film Festival" and invited other filmmakers to play, as well. We got a submission from Canada, so I thought I'd better find some judges and give out some awards. I had so much fun, I decided to take it to the next level and see how an actual festival could do in Ogden. We are reprising the film this year. The name "Foursite" came from the name I gave my production company. It comes from wanting to be forward thinking, but the play on words lends itself to being able to have multiple locations or whatever other meanings we can derive from the word.
Gavin: What made you decide to focus this festival in Ogden, rather than SLC or Park City with their wider selection of theaters and venues?
Scott: I have been asked many times. Why Ogden? Ogden is a great place. I love it. And without a film festival exclusive to Ogden, the market was wide open and pretty much still is. There are other festivals that come through Ogden or have a presence there, but none of them originated there or are based there. The arts community and the city has been so accepting of our vision that we feel Ogden is truly our home. Not only that, but we have been able to quickly grow as a festival in that city without having to worry about being drowned out by all the other festivals. In fact, the Ogden Arts Festival has been very welcoming to us, as we have shared a weekend with them for four years.
Gavin: What was it like putting that first festival together, and what was the public reaction to it that first time?
Scott: Just Another Film Festival was just plain fun. The community was very supportive of it and we didn't take it too seriously. While we have since moved to the more serious tone of Foursite, we try not to take it so seriously that we don't have fun. We kept doing it in the beginning because we, the filmmakers, and the audience had a good time. If we are not having fun, then we need to stop or change the way we are doing it.
Gavin: Did you know you'd be back for a second festival, or was it kinda in the air at that point? And what made you decide to launch a second festival?
Scott: The first year of the festival, I never thought there would be another until after the success of the first. The second year was the year I decided to use it as my capstone project for my bachelor's degree. It was during that second year that I really sought mentors and began to get a sense of what it could become. It wasn't until the third year that I really began to make my push for success.
Patricia: People supporting the cause, not giving up before things really begin.
Gavin: What kind of films do you take for submissions, and what kind of criteria do they have to meet to be accepted?
Patricia: Well-made, well-themed films that don’t rely on gratuitous sex and/or violence to make their point, but which are not stuck in any one genre. Local work is encouraged, as is student work. We’ve had films from many countries, as well. The entry requirements are reasonable, as well as open/do-able for a variety of filmmakers.
Scott: We accept all forms and genres to the Foursite Film Festival. It is interesting, the kind of themes that come as a result. We try to bring an offering to the community that can provide entertainment for all audiences. We were perceived for a while as an "LDS" film festival, then we got the reputation of being a "family friendly" film festival. In year four, we tried out the slogan, "Don't worry about what your parents will see" and our poster featured a young girl covering her mother's eyes. But there is so much film out there that may not be targeted to a family audience that we feel has merit. There are some films that are so well-made that I feel I would be insulting my own art form if they were to be rejected for a bad word. So, we adopted the line, "It's all in GOOD TASTE," which has stuck with us until now. While we may show films that would get an "R" rating, we try to analyze the content of the films and try to determine if the film is presented in an appropriate way. We provide disclaimers on the films that have some objectionable content, but we also offer programming that is targeted to young audiences, as well.
Gavin: What's the criteria you look for in a film when making the selections, and what's the process like for you when going through the submissions and deciding what officially goes in?
Scott: When selecting a film, we try to look for films that meet a high standard of technical achievement, balanced with the storytelling. Some films have to be forgiven for their lack of picture quality because the writing and acting are so amazing, while others that wow the senses might have nothing to say. Sometimes, it is going with the gut telling you "this is a good fit this year."
Patricia: I look for currency. It has to matter in the moment. It should also visually match the theme. Good technical filmmaking is highly desirable, by which I personally mean art direction and acting, but may not always be possible, given budget constraints. In the case of lesser technical quality, I look for creative directorial vision and the ability to enhance available resources.
Gavin: You've been around for eight festivals so far. What's has it been like for you putting them together?
Patricia: Thankfully, I don’t do all the heavy work. Observably, it has been grueling at times, and sometimes difficult to get the interest one would like -- unbelievably amazing experience in all its forms. Really, I sometimes wonder who puts on a film festival on the kind of shoestring budget we have every year, and a handful of volunteers? It’s serious effort. It’s almost underground.
Scott: The Foursite Film Festival has been my baby now for what is soon to be nine years. I have worked my butt off on it, and watched it grow with the help of many people. For the last few years, I have watched it almost walk on its own. My hope is that I will be able to let it go one day and it will be able to continue to grow and thrive in ways that it would never be able to do with me holding it by the hand. It has been bittersweet. Some days, I wonder what the hell I am doing. But then, I just can't let go of what I know it can do for the community and the state. Sometimes it is so rewarding I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing, and other times I think about it and wish I could just sleep. One of my visions for the Foursite Film Festival has been to have it attached to a film institute that could one day grow to serve as a film school for Weber State University. Another huge goal for the festival is to have it serve as the film market that gets the films from Utah sold. Wouldn't it be great if distributors came to Foursite with the intent to buy the next big film to come out of Utah?
Gavin: You've got the ninth annual festival starting this Thursday. What can people expect to see, and how can they get tickets to the event?
Scott: I think people are really in for a treat this year. It seems religion is coursing through the veins of the festival this year. I am very excited for the discussions to follow some of these films. From the moral issues that are addressed in Cleanflix and Miss Representation to the LDS issues raised with Mitt Romney's campaign in The Religous Test to the hypothetical situation of a pope not wanting to be elected in We Have A Pope to the continued faith in times of war in Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed, it seems that morality and religion are hot topics open for discussion at the 2012 Foursite Film Festival. There is also a very ambitious showcase of Utah-based films this year. The Turning Point, Peloton and Boy With Blue are among a long list of films we are showcasing from Utah filmmakers. At the same time, our foreign films keep their reputation intact by continuing to deliver on both storytelling and technical excellence.
Gavin: Moving on to local stuff, what are your thoughts of the local film scene, both good and bad?
Patricia: I find it hard to sift through. But, frankly, there are some gems out there.
Scott: There are filmmakers in Utah who need to get a few more under their belts before sending their work out. I have many, many films from my first few years that I don't want people to see. But there are a lot of people in this state who are working very hard to bring more work to the state. There is a talented crew base here who are working on their own if they are not working on a big project. I think we have a few things to learn if the homegrown films are going to really break out and hit the mainstream.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Scott: In order to make the Utah film scene more prominent, we really need to have a world-class facility that will encourage the out-of-state productions to come here. Right now, the state only catches the eye of Hollywood because of incentives, which are so crucial, and locations. But the often-overlooked thing is that the crew talent here rivals that of any other place in the world. I am no expert, but I also think that the Utah filmmakers who are making their films need to step up their game. If we start putting out the films that make it big without the big companies moving in to make them, then the next big company is likely to be our own.
Patricia: First, let me say that documentary filmmaking in Utah is very good. As to fiction, I think the answer is in idea-generation. There are capable filmmakers, but depth can sometimes be lacking. Better script writing, based on more experience/creativity. That said, there is a kind of critical mass that is indefinable, making Utah a place where the creative collaborate can’t be forced.
Gavin: Are there any local directors or production companies you feel are at the top of their game?
Scott: We are very proud of our local filmmakers for having the kind of work that will stand up on an international stage. If we didn't have films worth showing from Utah, then we wouldn't show them. We are very proud of the accomplishment of Adam Abel and Ryan Little for their film Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed. It is fun to see Jeff Johnson doing more producing and I hope to see more from him. Sally Meyer and Alli Bar having been making great work for a while, and I hope to see more great work come from them. Then of course, I would like to see more come from me.
Gavin: What's your take on other film festivals and competitions in Utah and what they do for the film community?
Scott: The other film festivals in the state add validation to the films that get shown. I like that, in the last nine years, so many new festivals have cropped up. I don't think I have had much influence, but it would be cool to think that some of them have said, "If that Scott kid can do it, then I can do it." Those festivals are doing great. My personal favorite is the Gangrene Film Festival. They really know how to put on an entertaining festival.
Patricia: Clearly, Utah has great festivals.
Gavin: What's your opinion of organizations like the Utah Film Society and the Salt Lake Film Center and the work they do to bring films to town?
Patricia: I have lived in Utah for 10 years and am impressed with their ability to bring in good films. They make them accessible.
Scott: The Utah Film Society and the Utah Film Center have been doing great work in the the state, particularly in Salt Lake City. Recently, both organizations have been making an effort to extend their reach in to Ogden and I think that is wonderful. There is so much wonderful independent film out there and these organizations do so much to enrich the community through their offerings.
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you over the rest of the year?
Scott: Every year, I say that I hope to make a feature film to premiere at next year's festival;. has not happened yet. However, I do make several short films every year and I take advantage of being the festival director by showing one of them each year. In the meantime, I think I would like to begin working toward a master's in film. I think it would be great to be a professor so I can teach, which is something I love doing, and make movies.
Patricia: Foursite Institute also has other arms, workshops, outreach to schools, etc.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Patricia: Experience, and encourage your children to experience the arts. We are all better for it.
Scott: We did something different this year as we selected films. We did not have an open call for entries. We went out and hand-picked every film this year. As a result, we are confident that this year is going to be the hardest-hitting, highest-quality festival we have had. I know we say that every year, but this year it is our promise.
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