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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Canyons film festival coordinator reflects on 10 years of films

Aug 05, 2019 03:46PM ● By Julie Slama

Film festival 2016 winner Amber Parker, right, seen here with her sister, Elena, repeated as a winner in 2019 with two classmates. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For 10 years, young filmmakers have walked the red carpet as their films have made audiences laugh, cry, learn and become engaged. 

“Many of the films through the years have captured the audiences’ interest, learning how to tell a story in an appealing and meaningful way,” said Katie Blunt, Canyons School District education technology specialist and project lead of the Canyons District Film Festival.

Leading up to this year’s film festival, several films through the years were put back in the spotlight, including the 2014 documentary “Burrito Project: SLC” by now Hillcrest High graduates and college students Nicholas Cockrell and David Skorut.

“It’s a strong film, telling his story. It’s compelling, motivating, making us want to go do something, join the cause,” she said.

Another fan favorite was 2013 feature film winner’s “Surviver Mans,” which featured two former Ridgecrest Elementary students Forrest Kunz and Matthew Turner.

“It was a spoof on a TV story that immediately caught our interest, and it was so funny,” Blunt said, adding that through the years, there have been trends from spoofs in feature films to subject matters for public service announcements. “I’ve seen digital citizenship, bullying, anti-smoking, suicide prevention. Students are learning about these matters and choosing to make films about them.” 

One student that pops out is Alta High’s Emily Erickson, who has been doing films since her days at Indian Hills Middle School.

“She shows her passion for health — her determination, hard work and how much fun she has in ‘Listen,’” Blunt said about the 2017 PSA winner.

Students have used a variety of animation techniques, from LEGOs to candy and vegetables, to tell a story.

“They combine into some cool animation which stand out and people remember,” Blunt said. Some of those have been by Brookwood Elementary’s Liam Morgan, who burst on the scene in 2016 and has now become a staple winner in the film festival.

Newscast entries have changed from imitating the formal evening newscasts found on television to those that are informal and fun.

“They’ve shifted from straightforward telling the news, to more of skits that tell stories, but they’re having more fun, keeping people watching,” Blunt said.

Bengal News and Quail Hollow’s newscasts have been repeat winners, often getting many students involved — and in Quail Hollow’s case, their principal Shad DeMill, Blunt said.

Blunt has seen students who have tied their films into the curriculum from planning a storyline to creating a historically researched document with citations for History Day Fair. Meanwhile, students are taking it a step further, learning good camera angles, how to edit and what makes a story compelling.

“By making films, it supports the curriculum and instruction and students are learning to get more material, cite sources and tell great stories,” she said.

Teachers, like Wade Harman of Canyons Youth Academy (formerly Entrada Draper), have inspired others not only by teaching the steps to make a good film, but also by creating examples annually.

“(Harmon) saw the opportunity for kids to explore their difficult past and share their dreams in film,” Blunt said.

Last year, seven students teamed up to create “From Lockup to Opportunity,” which not only became a standout film for Blunt, but also the American Graduate News Story winner. 

Throughout the years, Blunt has watched students grow up on the screen and behind the camera. 

In the 10th anniversary shout-outs, one filmmaker, Taylor Sampson, from Sprucewood Elementary’s newscast, who later appeared as part of Corner Canyon’s team, now has her own film production company and is a professional videographer.

“Taylor found her passion in filmmaking and has kept learning all through the years,” Blunt said. “It’s become her life’s love.”