- Nora Kirkpatrick
For six years, a foundation dedicated to the memory of local actor and filmmaker David Ross Fetzer has supported the dreams of other aspiring artists. This year, for the first time, that dedication has turned into a full-fledged film festival.
The 2019 Davey Fest is home for what had already been an annual showcase of short films supported by $5,000 grants from the David Ross Fetzer Foundation, a nonprofit created in the wake of Fetzer's death in 2012 at the age of 30 from an accidental opioid overdose. Those grantee films are now complemented by submitted shorts, as well as shorts by local Utah filmmakers and "alumni" who had received grants in previous years.
Betsy Ross—Fetzer's mother and foundation executive director—notes that seeing the finished products provides an ongoing focus to a project that was only vaguely defined at its outset. "I'm not sure that originally I had any concept of what it might be," Ross says. "It was really an off-the-cuff reaction to all of the energy that was created at the time David died, and a need to harness that energy and do something with it that would not only remember him, but carry his vision forward. All of that has occurred beyond anything I could have imagined."
The four 2019 grantee films emerged from a process that began a year ago, with applicants submitting scripts in the spring and the members of the foundation board reviewing applicants in early summer. According to Kenny Riches—a filmmaker, friend of Fetzer and current president of the foundation's board of trustees—those applicants are narrowed down to 10 finalists, which are then also reviewed by a guest juror. In past years, those guests have included respected independent filmmakers like Sean Baker (The Florida Project), Amy Seimetz (TV's Atlanta) and the Zellner Brothers (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter).
Riches believes the review process ultimately rewards projects that would have been in Fetzer's own creative wheelhouse. "Because we knew David so well, we're ultimately looking for material he would be interested in. He was always an artist where story came first, so for us the writing is really the most important part. If we have a choice between a script that's a really safe but solid script, but then there's this other one that's a little weirder [and] might have a harder time getting traction, we might go for that one."
Among the 2019 participating grantees is writer-director Nora Kirkpatrick, who brings her short film Long Time Listener, First Time Caller, about an unhappily married woman in a California desert town who seeks advice from a mysterious radio show. It's exactly the kind of quirky story that needs support, and Kirkpatrick expresses appreciation for it. "While short films are so important because they can act as a proof of concept, a directing example, or tone experiment, ... they are inherently hard to make because there isn't much of a financial market for them on the back end," Kirkpatrick says. "Grants like The Davey Foundation help solve that problem. They believe in the importance of short stories, and believe in directors building their career. Having a great short film under your belt can be an incredibly potent tool for getting larger jobs."
The visiting filmmakers also stay together during the festival, at a location Ross jokingly says "we probably very inappropriately call the Film Frat House." That interaction is also a crucial part of the project's mission, she believes, as it results in relationships and interaction that's hard to duplicate in other ways. "What has been most rewarding for me has been to watch the connections that have been created," she says. "I just become so enthralled with who these people are, when I interact with them, my goal is to get to know them. It's a selfish goal in many ways, because as much as we may be able to do something for them, I truly believe I gain a lot from knowing them, too.
"I think that ultimately, stories are about being able to expand our own versions of reality, ... to be able to connect with a wider variety of individuals. Especially in times like these, connecting is so important. I can't imagine there being a greater reward than watching our filmmakers connect with each other and with the city of Salt Lake."
The 2019 Davey Fest features 23 short films representing local and national filmmakers. Here are a few highlights, and where to see them.
Lucy in the Morning
(Utah Shorts Program @ Craft By Proper, June 6, 7 p.m.)
Writer-director Isaac Cole's comedy about an online date gone slightly weird provides a great acting showcase for its two lead actors (Raye Levine and Chris Haag), as well as a surprisingly sweet and thoughtful look at the intimacy that's possible when people decide to get genuine with one another.
(Utah Shorts Program @ Craft By Proper, June 6, 7 p.m.)
University of Utah MFA alum Angela Rosales Challis uses stop-motion animation for the story of homeless siblings trying to survive; the choice to render her characters as scraps of paper emphasizes the way in which these tragic figures are treated as disposable.
(National Shorts Program No. 1 @ Brewvies, June 7, 8 p.m.)
A great high concept—a groom (Josh Zuckerman) faces getting left at the altar when his would-be bride (Jeanine Mason) goes ballistic over his wedding-eve social media poll over whether he should go through with it—boasts a few killer jokes in its look at the perils of a too-much-information online era.
A Mormon Pageant
(National Shorts Program No. 2 @ Fisher Brewing, June 8, 8 p.m.)
Curtis Whitear's short documentary looks at the unique phenomenon of the LDS church's soon-to-be-defunct annual Hill Cumorah Pageants in upstate New York, looking at the unique logistics of the massive spectacle and the people whose faith is deepened by participating.