According to a press release the five-day film festival kicks off Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the St. George Downtown Square with a documentary that showcases the tremendously difficult undertaking of the creation of the Virgin River Gorge I-15 pass, "My Father's Highway: Building I-15 Through the Virgin River Gorge".
Documentary director Phil Tuckett said the film began many years ago as a tiny seed in the back of his mind. He said he could still remember the first time he traveled through the Virgin River Gorge and how deeply he was impacted by the experience.
“Somewhere along the line, my wife and I came back to visit after we had moved to New Jersey,” he said. “We flew in to Las Vegas and were driving up there, and I almost took a left hand turn at Beaver Dam to head up over Utah hill, but all of a sudden I-15 just kept going.”
Tuckett said he could remember all of the stories he had heard about “this magnificent gorge” that rested just below the city when he was a college student living in St. George. Though he never hiked the rugged terrain, he said he knew from the first moment his car traveled through the delicately constructed interstate pass there would be a story to share one day.
“I was vaguely aware of the existence of the place, because I had heard stories about how inaccessible it was,” he said. “You couldn’t hike down through there, because it was a slot canyon that had places where you had to be a rock climber just to get through there.
“And here, all of a sudden, my wife and I were driving through this other-wordly canyon on a four lane highway – in my mind, in that moment, it just became this magical, mystical place where I thought to myself – somebody pulled off a miracle here,” he added.
Though it would take nearly 40 years for Tuckett to begin to attend to the dormant seedling awaiting his attention, he said his interest in telling the story of the workers who built the pass never waned.
As a DSU assistant professor of communication, Tuckett said he wears many hats that allow him to work with aspiring filmmakers who have a determined passion for learning the craft. He said that working with the students at Dixie has been an insurmountable blessing.
“They are all bright, eager, interested, passionate, and bright eyed,” Tuckett said. “Everything we do at Dixie State University and the Center for Media Innovation – anything you see that comes out of our program that you admire – it has to do with the hard work and the contributions of the students.”
DocUtah Executive Director Christina Schultz said board members chose “My Father’s Highway” as the premiere documentary for the festival, because it had close ties with the City of St. George and its history. She said it was an important goal for those at the festival to help create a community connection to the film festival.
Though the premiere flick is one that hits close to home, Schultz said that this year DocUtah would feature 67 films that represented 45 different countries around the world. The festival, as a result, is incredibly diverse, she said.
“There really is something for everyone,” she said. “Everything from Icelandic horse to feral cats in Abu Dhabi, from Indian crickets to Thai boxing in Luxemburg, the list just goes on and on.”
Schultz said DucUtah is unique in the way they screen the hundreds of entries they get every year. She said the film festival relies heavily on screening groups who watch the films and use a rubric to rate them based on a precise set of standards provided to the viewer.
“We use community volunteers to screen all of the films as they come in,” she said. “This year we have 278 volunteers who devoted 645 hours screening films.”
Screening Volunteer Brian Christiansen said the screening group that he participated in watched two to three documentaries on at least eight separate occasions that he could think of.
“Some might be seven minutes,” he said. Some might be an hour to two hours.
“The packets that get distributed to the screeners are programed to be around two hours per packet so that it’s not too strenuous on the screeners,” he added.
The way that the screenings were done helped to reduce the pressure of responsibility from the shoulders of the volunteers who hold a filmmakers “baby” in their hands, he said.
Christiansen said his favorite part of the festival is the discourse that takes place alongside of the films – sometimes as a part of a seminar – sometimes just the buzz in the hallway after a particular film; either way, he said the discussions are deep and thoughtful.
“When you go and you watch a documentary you’re exploring topics of a subject that maybe you never thought of before,” he said. “You’re finding out about things that you didn’t even know existed, or peoples, or health issues, or whatever the case may be, and it really creates discussion and thought and when you have things like that that you can expose yourself to it makes you better.
“When you can expose your community to it, it makes a better community,” he added.
DSU English Associate Professor Stephen Armstrong said he often incorporates material from each year’s film festival into his lessons in the classroom. He said he works with students whose focus is on professional and technical writing “with an emphasis on creative non-fiction in documentary realism,” which makes DocUtah a perfect fit for his curriculum each year.
“I screen the documentaries with the students to show them how to tell a story with facts,” he said. “This is how to augment a rhetorical claim with real material.”
Armstrong said he infuses excerpts from DocUtah documentaries with classic rhetorical pieces to expand on the concepts he is trying to get across. He said he looks forward to seeing what this year’s new “hot topic” will be, not to mention, the voracious discussions to follow.
“Every year there will be some film or some visitor who just stands out and gets everyone’s attention and it will be the talk of the campus for a while,” Armstrong said. “Something like two or three years ago, there was a film about Wayne Newton that was screened at the outdoor Tuacahn theater, and then he did a concert afterward.”
More information about the five-day festival that runs from Tues. – Sat., including a complete schedule, ticket prices, and a brief synopsis of each film, is available at http://docutah.com/
The Tuesday, 8 p.m., of "My Father's Highway: Building I-15 Through the Virgin River Gorge" at the St. George Town Square premiere is free and open to the public.