Documentary looks at movie history in southern Utah

Published February 24, 2009 5:19 pm
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Southern Utah's redrock landscape and sage-dotted hills define the Western movie, and a pair of documentary filmmakers in St. George think it's time the movie and television industries rediscover the area.

Stephen Armstrong, an English professor at Dixie State College, and photographer Christopher Onstott are finishing a documentary titled, "Return to Little Hollywood." Its subject: the history of moviemaking in Kane County and Kanab.

They said they hope their documentary will revitalize interest in the region where more than 200 movies and television series, mainly Westerns, have been made since the 1920s, hence Kanab's nickname, "Little Hollywood."

Armstrong said the documentary dovetails with a bill this year before the Utah Legislature that would increase financial incentives to lure production companies back to the state.

"The look of the West in the movies is what we see in Utah," said Armstrong, speaking at Tuesday's Dixie Forum on the DSC campus. "We also wanted to do something to bring business back to rural areas."

The documentary is narrated by former Salt Lake City-based TV news anchor Dick Nourse, who appears in the film sporting a goatee and rumpled cowboy hat. The film -- a brief 10 minutes of the work-in-progress were shown during Tuesday's presentation -- includes a history of movies made in southern Utah and interviews with area residents who offer stories about what it was like when production companies and movie stars descended on the area.

CEBA, a rural economic-development organization with offices in Kanab, is supporting the documentary project and hopes the film can revive the industry that slowed to a trickle of movies since the 1980s.

Kelly Stowell, CEBA's executive director, is lobbying for a bill introduced this year by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, that would increase filmmaker incentives.

"Right now, we're one of the lowest [states] in the country as far as offering incentives, with states like New Mexico and Louisiana having much bigger budgets. This bill will put us in the middle and make us strategically more important," Stowell said.

For every dollar invested by the state in incentives to production companies, he said, the state could see a return of more than $2.

"It could be a huge return on its investment for the state."

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The bill

SB14 is scheduled for its second reading in the Utah Senate and appears opposition-free, according to Kelly Stowell, executive director of the Center for Education, Business and the Arts (CEBA).

Getting the film

Co-producer Stephen Armstrong said the documentary, "Return to Little Hollywood," will be available in stores by May. He said he is negotiating with public and commercial television to the air the piece.

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