Cinema Franca: Salt Lake City Film Center�s Quest to Bring Together Diverse Communities Through the Language of Film

"We serve a public that is underserved and give the opportunity for these voices in film to be heard." Levi Elder, Communication Manager/Programmer of SLFC. Photo: Sam Milianta

Scene A: Any multi-bajillion-dollar megaplex named after a multi-bajillionaire on any Friday night. Streams of young, reasonably attractive couples promenade out of the movie they just saw about a young, extremely attractive couple who surmount seemingly insurmountable (yet hilarious) personality quirks and foibles to end up with each other while at the same time selling clothes, cars and music through multi-bajillion-dollar corporate product placement.

Scene B: The public library. A stream of young, old and culturally diverse men, women and children walk out of a free documentary about a problem facing their community. Two older men are holding a fierce debate in the corner, hands gesticulating wildly as each make their point. Two women embrace and clasp hands after striking up a conversation after the movie finished. Although strangers before the film are from radically different backgrounds, they realize the film’s topic affects them in the same way.

The Salt Lake City Film Center gives our city a choice between these two possible scenes. Film can be either a mindlessly entertaining mirror of our culture, or it can be a medium through which differing views and underrepresented voices are heard and our perceptions are challenged.

The Salt Lake City Film Center is committed to “building community through the power of film.” They do this by exposing Salt Lake City to films that it would rarely get to see any other way. Levi Elder, Communication Manager/Programmer, says, “We aim to serve a public that is underserved and give the opportunity for these voices in film to be heard.” The SLFC accomplishes this by screening films that have little or no theatrical distribution. Most of these screenings are free and are designed to bring Salt Lake City’s various populations into conversation with one another by showing films from a variety of voices. “We often bring in filmmakers or have a panel after the film and invite people to come together and talk. The by-product of our initial goal is to create this dialogue to bring people together,” Elder says.

After the hotly contested 8: The Mormon Proposition debuted at Sundance in 2010, the SLFC partnered with the Utah Pride Center to screen the film at the Tower Theater to lines that wrapped around the block. 8, which explored the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ involvement in the passing of Proposition 8, elicited strong responses from both LDS members and members of the LGBT community in Salt Lake City. The sometimes explosive opinions expressed by both groups were given a forum in the Q&A session following the film. “I hope that the people who stayed for that part of the screening were able to take what they heard back to their communities with a better understanding and validation of their feelings, and were able to express them with alacrity. And hopefully changed some minds … That’s how it should work ... And I believe that it does,” Elder says.

With technology making media consumption a more insular activity, the SLFC works with a variety of organizations to lure people off their cozy couches or away from the glowing screen of their laptops to actually come together. Aside from individual screenings, the SLFC hosts a series of festivals and groups of films that explore similar themes. The SLFC has hosted an Asian film festival, the annual LGBT film festival Damn These Heels!, and has recently shown several Spanish language science fiction films called “Cinema Extrema.” In December, they screened a series of documentaries exploring the state of education in America in conjunction with the release of Waiting for ‘Superman.’ The topics featured and films shown strive to reach a broad audience while spotlighting a specific group that is underrepresented in mainstream media outlets and removed from our everyday experience.

While the Salt Lake Film Center has been integral to bringing renowned talent to Salt Lake for presentations (Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman and Michael Cunningham to name a few), the SLFC is also a major boon for local filmmakers looking to make or finance a film. The SLFC created a fiscal sponsorship program in order to connect filmmakers with organizations with the capital to help make their film and to manage their assets. Plus, Founder/Board Chair Geralyn Dreyfous, who won an Academy Award for Born Into Brothels, is willing to meet with any filmmaker who is looking to get a project off the ground.

With the Salt Lake Film Center in our backyard, film is used as a tool to bring people under the same roof, if only for a few hours, and share something that can make us laugh, cry, wring our hands with rage, or most importantly, turn to our neighbor and say, “What did you think about that?” The overall health of Salt Lake City may depend on it.