Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Accidental Sundance Filmmaker

You never know what's going to end up in the Sundance Film Festival.

Alex Mack was 17 years old and a student in an after-school filmmaking workshop at Spyhop Productions, when she found out a family member was addicted to meth.

Would that make a good topic for a documentary film, she asked her Spyhop teacher. He said, yes.

The result of that conversation, co-directed by Mack and Diana Montero, is a 22-minute piece called "Mother Superior," a documentary about why so many women use meth.

Mack's family doesn't make an appearance but she does talk about family matters on videotape.

"The family didn't really want to talk about it," Montero said. "So this was kind of a way of healing herself."

It played the Salt Lake Library. It played local rehab clinics. And then it played film festivals.

And now it's going to be screened someplace Mack could never have imagined.

The Sundance Film Festival.

"I was shocked," Mack said.

So that private family matter is getting very public.

I remember that's what happened a few years ago to Brett Matthews.

Matthews grew up in rural Utah. He was the son of an LDS bishop. And he was gay.

After he came out, he said, he lost a close relationship with his family and he lost a military job working with nuclear missiles.

He talked about all this in a documentary about families which have religious beliefs that condemn homosexuality...and have children who are gay.

The film, to Matthews' surprise, ended up in Sundance about 50 miles away from his parents' house.

When I met him at the Salt Lake Airport at the start of the festival, he was visibly anxious. He was worried about going so public in his home state. And he was worried about losing his church membership.

But he said he didn't regret talking on videotape.

"It's worth it, everyday is worth it," he said. "Don't give up. Do your best. Do the best that you can."

(The documentary aired on PBS' POV series. On the POV website, Matthews wrote that he didn't lose his church membership, but his plan to use the movie to get closer to his family...backfired. And no one in his family, he wrote, had seen the piece. He did say that going to screenings of the film was a very positive experience.)

And then there's former KUTV reporter-producer, now filmmaker, Trent Harris.

Years ago at Channel Two, he produced a feature story about a young man from rural Beaver, Utah who appeared in drag, as Olivia Newton John, in a town talent show.

Harris remade the story on film twice, once with Sean Penn and once with Crispin Glover. "The Beaver Kid" didn't get much attention until he put all three versions into one package
The New York Times wrote about it. And it played the Sundance Film Festival.

Always looking for local Sundance tie-ins, I asked Trent Harris for a pre-film festival interview. He declined. He told me he was worried how a TV story would affect the real Beaver Kid.

Well, it's already been in film festivals and the New York Times and now it's going to Sundance, I said. It's kinda hard to keep it quiet now.

Harris said he'd never told The Beaver Kid he made two movies about him and was showing them around the country and now in one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.


The Beaver Kid did eventually find out Harris made movies about him and the story turned out happily ever after.

(This is all recounted in a radio story broadcast on "This American Life." Listen to it here. You can also find Beaver Kid clips on You Tube.)

Hopefully, things will turn out all right for Mack, as well.

"My family's supportive but it's been very hard for them to deal with, both at home and out in open, having people know about it, because its gotten a lot of attention," she said.

So be careful what you videotape. It could end up on the web. Or a KUTV blooper reel. Or even in one of the world's premier film festivals. Not that that's a bad thing.

No comments: