The Kids Are Alright | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Kids Are Alright 

Spy Hop’s LocoMotion Film Festival gives young filmmakers credibility.

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We chose [the name] ‘LocoMotion’ because we want to move forward with this festival and in this medium,” explains Melissa Robbins of Spy Hop Productions, the engine driving the second annual LocoMotion International Film Festival. “It’s so crucial to be on top of your game.”

And how better to be on top of your game, if you’re a 13-year-old filmmaker, videographer, screenwriter, director or producer, than to submit your first film short to Salt Lake City’s own film festival dedicated to nurturing and showcasing talent ages 13-18—one of the few festivals anywhere featuring filmmakers this young.

“What you see a lot are children’s film festivals that feature big Hollywood productions made for children,” explains Robbins. “Here you’ll see films actually created by youth. We have kids from all over the world submitting films to the festival.”

This brings in kids from all kinds of backgrounds, and so another of Spy Hop’s missions is to help bridge the digital divide by getting new technology into the hands of young people typically absent from the multimedia picture: the non-white, the working class and girls.

Spy Hop purposely didn’t call LocoMotion a “youth” or “teen” festival. In the first place, the kids would think it’s totally uncool. You might as well say that every film is about high school dances or Britney Spears wannabes. And perhaps just as bad, it would suggest that the festival is intended solely for young audiences.

“There is definitely a lot that adults can learn from the youth perspective,” says Robbins.

The official selections of the LocoMotion Film Festival will screen April 25 and 26 at the main branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library. Among those chosen are a narrative film about an adolescent love triangle complicated by three-way calling; an animated piece about the Darwinian world of life in a petri dish; and a “mockumentary” about seagulls that asks the question, “Seagulls seem so nice and friendly, but are they?”

The eclectic array of subjects goes to show that the films can be about anything and everything. “It’s tough to identify any trends,” says Robbins, except perhaps one: “They’re smart kids and they’re so observant. They create very funny pieces and very poignant pieces. There’s still that wonderful clarity in their voices and in the observations they make.”

Robbins points to a documentary short made by Spy Hop student Yoorhee Kang called When I Grow Up. Kang conducted interviews, asking little kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. She then interspersed this footage with that of actual professionals—firefighters, teachers, and so on—who described the reality of their work. “The fact that it was a young person who thought up this film and created it made it a very powerful piece,” Robbins notes.

The festival also helps further Spy Hop’s mission of cultivating a media-literate generation by promoting active participation and actual production. “We don’t want these kids to be just products of media,” Robbins says. “Not only are we trying to create critical thinkers, but we also want kids to express themselves and find their own voices.”

LocoMotion is much more than screenings of youth film, however, which explains the unusual Friday-Saturday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday schedule. April 18 and 19 are home to the festival’s newest and most curious offering: the 24-hour filmmaking competition. Participants produce a short film from start to finish in one day, and the winning film will screen with the other selected films the weekend of April 25 and 26.

This celluloid marathon may sound sadistic, but its organizers claim they designed it to celebrate both the frenetic energy and the bare bones of filmmaking. Besides, they don’t call it LocoMotion for nothing. “To be a filmmaker, you have to be a little bit crazy,” observes Robbins.

April 24 showcases a short screenplay competition, another recent addition to the festival. Following the model set by the Sundance Institute, Spy Hop will take the winning submission and see it through development, production and distribution.

And not only will this year’s selected films screen on April 25 and 26, but filmmakers already storyboarding next year’s submissions are invited to workshops led by an impressive list of professionals. Among them are cinematographer Dan Gold of Blue Vinyl; documentarian and music videographer Stephen Marshall of Guerilla News Network; and, most appropriately, 20-year-old filmmaker Brandon Sonnier, who was one of the youngest filmmakers to have his feature-length work chosen by the Sundance Film Festival when The Beat screened in January.

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Jenny Thomas

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