by Della Lowe
In 2010, Dixie State University (DSU) took the leap to launch the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival™ — a bold move to enter this territory in what appeared to be a crowded field of film festivals and the handful of festivals dedicated only to documentary and even less supported by and connected to a university. But bold moves are what Phil Tuckett, Professor of Digital Film at DSU and Executive Director of the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival is known for. That gamble has paid off by making DOCUTAH a destination for filmmakers and enthusiastic audiences from all over the world. Now DOCUTAH prepares for its ninth season from September 3-8.
“That first year, 2010, the Festival was two weeks long, which was a bit overly ambitious. But we did it and gave ourselves a template for the future which has steadily attracted both filmmakers and audiences to southern Utah to experience something unique,” said Tuckett.
One film screened that year was Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. It is a story about music, history, fear, and courage — a blistering combination of punk and funk music and a band out of Compton California. Fishbone demolished the walls of genre, and challenged the racial stereotypes and political order of the music industry and the nation. It was a unique offering for St. George, and DOCUTAH brought the film and the band back this May to honor their contribution.
“We always want DOCUTAH to offer our audience something unique — a window on the world, a global experience in the high desert, never sugar-coated or censored, allowing the filmmakers to express their vision of the people and topics they cover,” continued Tuckett. “In that spirit, Dreams of the Black Echo, this year’s opening film, is a co-production with Duy Tan University in Vietnam and DSU students, faculty, and staff.”
Dreams of the Black Echo is the story of the Vietnam War, told through the reminiscences and experiences of veterans from both sides of the conflict and the battle of Khe Sanh. It was envisioned as a true co-production where film students at Duy Tan University would do half the film from the perspective of their veterans and DSU film students would do half the film here at Dixie state using our US veterans as the story tellers.
“We did not want it to be this sweeping 14-year saga, so we picked one event — the battle of Khe Sanh which took place January-July 1968. Everyone in the film talks about eyewitness testimony of what they witnessed in that battle. I think it is safe to say there was plenty of propaganda pumped out on both sides, and what we found when we interviewed these veterans, was they were completely oblivious to the propaganda because they were living the reality on the ground. It comes down to a basic shared experience. We did not want to say to them, ‘Don’t talk about this or don’t talk about that.’ We wanted their perspective. I think that is what makes the film unique. This experience is not happening at Sundance, not happening in Cannes. If you want to understand how DOCUTAH is different from your garden-variety film festival, this film is a pretty good example.”
This year, submissions poured in at a record rate from 42 countries with a remarkable span of subjects. The judges choices have been validated over and over with the awards those included in DOCUTAH garner from other festivals and, indeed, even nominations and Oscars from the Academy Awards.
In 2014, White Earth, directed by J. Christian Jensen, won the DOCUTAH Raven Award for Best Director and was nominated for a 2015 Oscar in the Short Documentary category. In 2018, two films from the 2017 DOCUTAH were nominated for Academy Awards, Last Men in Aleppo and Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405. Heaven is a Traffic Jam won the Oscar in the Short category.
The DOCUTAH monthly series of documentary film screenings has become a staple in the St. George art scene. As the city grows, it seems its appetite for a wide variety of quality entertainment and access to art in all its forms also grows. The rest of the monthly season promises to be just as well-received by loyal fans and those who find the DOCUTAH monthly series for the first time.
“Southern Utah has long been known for its outdoor activities and scenic beauty. For nine years, the DSU DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival has been part of the performing arts offerings available to the community. Now St. George is also a destination for the arts, and DOCUTAH is proud to have been a part of the evolution as we head towards our 2018 DOCUTAH film festival,” said Tuckett.