Preview: Tumbleweeds grows a young film audience in Utah
Despite its name, the Tumbleweeds Film Festival is taking root.
The event, which brings international films aimed at children and family audiences, marks its fourth year when it plays this weekend in Salt Lake City and Park City.
It's a year when the event received a significant boost being linked as curator of the new Sundance Kids program at January's Sundance Film Festival.
Because of that Sundance link, and the global attention that comes with it, the stakes have been raised for Tumbleweeds.
"With the exposure of Sundance Kids, to help heighten awareness of what we're doing in the community and the importance of film and growing film lovers, I think we're going to see a really good festival this year," said Holly Yocom, executive director of the Utah Film Center, which presents Tumbleweeds.
"There's definitely more pressure than there's been in the past," Yocom said. "The film world, as well as just our community more people are paying attention to what we're doing."
Tumbleweeds is bringing back the two movies that debuted at Sundance Kids: the Spanish adventure "Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang" and the Oscar-nominated French-Belgian cartoon "Ernest & Celestine" (which will be screened in the original French voices and the English-language dub).
"Not everyone got to experience those films [at Sundance], so we're hoping the word-of-mouth from everyone who did see them will continue to travel and more people will get to see those films," Yocom said.
Five of the movies on the slate come from German-speaking countries: three from Germany, one from Austria and one German/Swiss co-production.
"Obviously, there is an audience there [in Germany]," said Xavier Koller, the Swiss-born director of the German/Swiss film "The Black Brothers."
"The Black Brothers," adapted from a beloved children's book in Europe, tells of boys in a poor Swiss region in the 19th century. These boys were sold into indentured servitude in Milan, forced to work as chimney sweeps. The movie tells of these boys banding together to confront their slave trafficker (played by the German actor Moritz Bleibtreu, who appeared in "World War Z" and "The Fifth Estate").
Telling a story aimed at a younger audience can be challenging, said Koller, whose 1990 adventure "Journey of Hope" won the Oscar for foreign-language film.
"It has to work emotionally," Koller said. "Any story you tell for children, [you must] focus on them and take them seriously, listen to them and get them involved."
A young audience "will connect to the actors who represent them in the story" more readily than an adult audience," Koller said.
Other German-language films the Tumbleweeds programmers are excited about showing are the fantasy adventure "The Little Ghost" and the coming-of-age drama "Windstorm," about a girl and her horse.
Making youth films for an international audience is different than making one for American viewers, Koller said.
"In American movies, there's much more violence in there than in this movie," Koller said. "Because ['The Black Brothers'] is a more realistic story, it might be emotionally more draining than 'Star Wars' or any of these [films]."
Yocom has found Tumbleweeds audiences sometimes have reacted to the content in foreign films that international audiences let slide.
"There's one swear word in 'Zip & Zap,'" Yocom said, adding that a few parents were upset by that. "Do you know what I hear on TV every night? I watch 'Glee' and â¦ I think, 'When did these swear words become OK for TV?' "
Because of such sensitivities, the festival programs films for a range of ages from all-ages screenings to movies aimed at kids 12 and older.
Another obstacle for American audiences is the language barrier but that's one Tumbleweeds has overcome quite creatively.
For subtitled films, Tumbleweeds employs a reader to speak the dialogue to audience members (who wear headphones, so as not to disturb viewers who don't want the service).
"The kids love it," Yocom said. "After three minutes into it, they don't even realize that what they're hearing is someone in the back is reading it. They get so engrossed in the film that they're not paying attention [to the reader]."
And the Tumbleweeds screenings are not limited to one weekend. The Utah Film Center schedules monthly screenings year-round at several stations around the state, and it organizes educational screenings for Salt Lake-area school field trips.
"Getting teachers to think of storytelling as a way to educate is one of our top priorities," Yocom said.
The school screenings made up about 40 percent of the 4,000-plus people who attended Tumbleweeds last year, Yocom said. So the word is spreading.
"[Children] know the name now, they talk about it with their friends," Yocom said. She cited the experience of one child who attended a recent preview screening of "Zip & Zap." "He walked up to everyone and said, 'This is my favorite film yet.' And he's 6!"
You know, for kids!
The fourth annual Tumbleweeds Film Festival promises a wide range of feature films and short-film programs aimed at children, teens and families.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City; Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City; Park City Library Center, 1255 Park Ave., Park City.
Tickets • $6 per film, available at ArtTix.org or at the Rose Wagner box office; a 10-film punch card is available for $40 at http://www.utahfilmcenter.org/tumbleweeds14/.
Kids' Clubhouse • A free drop-in clubhouse, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. downstairs at the Rose Wagner, will feature hands-on LEGO robotics demonstrations, an opportunity to make your own flip book, Microsoft gaming stations (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), and Spy Hop's Animation Station (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Workshops • Learn about Minecraft or computer programming in free workshops Saturday and Sunday. Go to the Tumbleweeds website for more information.
Here is the schedule of films
7 p.m. • Opening film: TBA, Rose Wagner.
9 a.m. • "Knight Rusty" (all ages), Rose Wagner.
Noon • "The Black Brothers" (8 and up), SLC Library.
11 a.m. • Shorts Program 1: Fun for Everyone (all ages), Rose Wagner.
1 p.m. • "Ernest & Celestine" in English (all ages), Rose Wagner.
2 p.m. • Shorts Program 2: World's Best Shorts (8 and up), SLC Library.
3 p.m. • "The Tough Guys" (12 and up), Rose Wagner.
3 p.m. • "Windstorm" (8 and up), Park City Library.
4 p.m. • Adobe Youth Voices Short Film Program (10 and up), SLC Library.
5 p.m. • "Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang" (8 and up), Rose Wagner.
7 p.m. • "I Learn America" (12 and up), Rose Wagner.
11 a.m. • "Felix" (10 and up), Rose Wagner.
11 a.m. • "Ernest & Celestine" in English (all ages), Park City Library.
Noon • "The Little Ghost" (all ages), SLC Library
1 p.m. • "Ernest & Celestine" in French (all ages), Rose Wagner.
1 p.m. • "Knight Rusty" (all ages), Park City Library.
2 p.m. • "A Horse on the Balcony" (8 and up), SLC Library
3 p.m. • Girl's POV Short Film Program (12 and up), Rose Wagner.
3 p.m. • "Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang" (8 and up), Park City Library.
4 p.m. • Shorts Program 1: Fun for Everyone (all ages), SLC Library.
5 p.m. • "Windstorm" (8 and up), Rose Wagner.
7 p.m. • Closing film: "The Wizard of Oz" 75th anniversary screening (all ages), Rose Wagner.