Growing up in the ’80s in Atlanta, I never had access to an official film festival designed for children. At least, I was never made aware of any. My film festival experience was purchasing one ticket at the movie theater and watching whatever was playing on the local General Cinemas’ eight screens in a single day. There’s nothing quite like walking into a theater at 11:00 a.m. and walking out at 1:00 a.m. My ass was numb and my vision was blurry.
Rather than have today’s adolescents endure the same cinematic escapades as I did, Patrick Hubley, the current Artistic Director at the Utah Film Center and former Associate Director of Media Relations for the Sundance Film Festival, launched the Tumbleweeds Film Festival, a festival designed purely for children. “I’ve been working in film festivals since 1999. I started in the Toronto Film Festival’s press office and one of the things I worked on there was their kids’ film festival, Sprockets,” says Hubley. After deciding to make Salt Lake City his home, he noticed something lacking in our supportive film community. “We have one of the world’s best film festivals here, we have great access to independent film year-round through the Utah Film Center and the Salt Lake Film Society, but there wasn’t anything similar for kids. So, I started pursuing the idea in 2007, connected with the Utah Film Center, and in 2010, we launched our first kids’ film festival.”
With the Tumbleweeds Film Festival, now in its fourth year, already making waves with its age-appropriate programming with locals, the efforts of Hubley and his colleagues were noticed by an even larger organization, the Sundance Film Festival. “I’ve been talking with programmers at the Sundance Film Festival for four or five years about this idea of showing kids’ films ever since I left, and I think it reached a point they decided it was a good time to include these types of films in the festival,” says Hubley. The 2014 Sundance Film Festival will be the first year to include the newly adapted Kids Section, which will include two world-premieres, Ernest & Celestine and Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang. The screenings for these films are scheduled at the Redstone 8 Cinemas in Park City and at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Downtown Salt Lake City on the weekends of the festival to make it easier for parents. “We’re really excited about partnering with Sundance. It’s an internationally recognized organization, so for them to be working with us, a local organization, on this level is huge. It really elevates what we’re doing, and brings a lot more recognition to the type of kids’ programming that we’re presenting here locally. Not to mention what it means in general for non-mainstream kids’ films. It just elevates it, because it’s an international platform and it’s the biggest film festival in the United States,” says Hubley. To encourage parents to bring their children to the screenings, Sundance has lowered the ticket price for this category to only $10. “It all comes down to how can people who have children participate with Sundance other than finding a babysitter?” says Hubley.
One of the greatest elements in the state of Utah is its fondness for the art of filmmaking and the support given to that art form. The labors of organizations like the Utah Film Center and the Salt Lake Film Society should be noticed on a much larger scale. Sometimes I feel we may take their presence for granted, because many independent films would not have the opportunity to be screened without their existence. “Hopefully, it brings a new level of awareness to quality children’s programming. For us, it’s an extension of what Tumbleweeds is doing. It’ll elevate the festival, and, hopefully, that’ll increase the Tumbleweeds profile internationally and allow us to bring more films and allow us to grow as well,” says Hubley.
Hopefully, parents across the state of Utah realize the greatness that resides in their own backyards and make their way to the showings in order to encourage Sundance to continue this partnership. Films have the power to educate as well as entertain and Hubley agrees. “Film is an introduction to other cultures and ideas. Watching foreign films, the stories are somewhat universal, they’re just told in different styles and in a different language. It introduces the idea that there are stories from around the world that kids can relate to,” he says.
After Robert Redford and the rest of Hollywood vacate the premises until January 2015, Hubley and his co-workers will be back to busy business as usual with their Tumbleweeds Film Festival slated for March. “We’re still going to offer our festival and continue working with Sundance. I hope this continues on for years to come. Hopefully, it just elevates the whole idea across the board,” he says. Here’s hoping!
You can find additional information for the Tumbleweeds Film Festival at their official website at kidsfilm.org.