A new exhibit celebrates 100 years of film and television in Utah. Here’s where to see it.

The Utah Film Commission mounts an exhibition at the Utah Capitol, and brings in some movie pros for the opening.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) An alien costume from the film "Plan 10 from Outer Space" is part of the exhibition "100 Years of Utah Film & Television" at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City, on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

In 1924, Westerns like “The Covered Wagon” and Tom Mix’s “The Deadwood Coach” were the first movies shot in Utah.

This year, moviegoers are scheduled to see the beginning of “Horizon,” a multi-part Western saga directed by and starring Kevin Costner that has been shot in various locations in Utah.

In between is 100 years of movie history in Utah — which is being commemorated by an exhibition with the theme “Utah. America’s Film Set.” The exhibition opened Thursday and will run through Dec. 31 on the fourth floor of the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission, said the idea of the exhibit began 10 years ago, when she first took her current job and did a deep dive into Utah’s film history. She said she discovered a lot by reading “When Hollywood Came to Utah,” by James. V. D’Arc, the now-retired film archivist and historian at Brigham Young University.

The exhibition is a way to show people “the breadth of what has happened” with film in Utah over the last 100 years, Pearce said.

“This is the people’s house, and film history is established in so many communities around the state,” Pearce said. “Also, the Capitol has been a filming location.” (Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods walked the Utah Capitol steps, doubling for the U.S. Capitol, in 2003′s “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde,” and the big dance in the 1999 teen romance “Drive Me Crazy” was staged in the rotunda.)

The exhibit features facts, souvenirs and images from many movies and TV shows that were shot in Utah.

The glass cases around the fourth floor hold such screen artifacts as: A saddle that John Wayne called his “favorite”; a Babe Ruth baseball from “The Sandlot”; a backpack James Franco used in “127 Hours”; a beehive-shaped alien head from Trent Harris’ cult classic “Plan 10 From Outer Space”; still-packaged Barbie dolls of Donny and Marie Osmond (who filmed their variety show in a studio in Orem); and several items from the “High School Musical” movies, including a yearbook, a copy of the script of the third film, and class Wildcat rings.

There are spotlights on such fan favorites as “Footloose” and some of John Ford’s classic Westerns, as well as fun facts about movies filmed here. For example, some of the mountain scenes from Ron Howard’s live-action “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” were filmed at Solitude Mountain Resort — and 18 Disney Channel Original movies were filmed in Utah, including “Hatching Pete” and several titles in the “Halloweentown” franchise (which made the exterior of City Hall in Salt Lake City into a Hogwarts-like school).

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission, talks about the "100 Years of Utah Film & Television" exhibit at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City, on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. In the foreground are props and photos from the film "127 Hours," which was set in a southern Utah slot canyon and mostly was shot in a former Salt Lake City furniture store.

First there were Westerns

D’Arc consulted on the exhibition, suggesting breakout panels for the exhibit — something he said was easy, because he has been living with the knowledge for more than three decades.

“It is a real, personal pleasure to see Utah recognized for an industry that I don’t think most Utahns are fully briefed on,” D’Arc said.

Utah’s movie history starts in the 1920s, D’Arc said during a panel discussion Thursday in the rotunda, when the Parry Brothers introduced the state to Hollywood — particularly as a backdrop for Westerns.

“Utah started as a very insular, withdrawn society in the pioneer days,” D’Arc said. “When the Parry brothers — Chauncey, Caleb and Gronway — opened it up to the Hollywood studios in the 1920s, in essence, what they did is they opened up Utah to the world. And what did the world do? They came here in droves.”

The exhibition notes that Indigenous representation in Westerns was usually inaccurate and often offensive. “Stereotypes, two-dimensional figures and actors in red-face demonstrated the unfortunate norm throughout the 1900s,” one panel states.

Pearce said she spoke to “a lot of tribal members” about their oral history, and the team that created the exhibition was cognizant of the complicated history of some of these films.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A series of photos by Andrea David, taken at Utah locations used in movies (such as "Forrest Gump" in Monument Valley), are part of the exhibition "100 Years of Utah Film & Television" at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

“Obviously, the representation onscreen is pretty horrific early on, so I really wanted to at least make people aware that not everything you see on screen is true, especially when it came to Native languages,” she said.

Another movie with a “complicated legacy” (as the exhibition puts it) is “The Conquerer,” the 1956 action movie that starred Wayne as Genghis Khan, the fearsome leader of the Mongols (an east Asian ethnic group).

“The Conquerer” largely was filmed outdoors around St. George, amid fallout from a Nevada nuclear test site. Many members of the cast and crew — including Wayne, co-stars Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell — later died of cancer, a fate shared by many downwinders who lived around there.

The exhibition also spotlights actor-director Robert Redford, who has lived in Utah for decades and shot such movies as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Jeremiah Johnson” here, and the Sundance Film Festival, which starts its 40th season under Redford’s Sundance Institute next week in Park City and Salt Lake City.

The TV series “Touched by an Angel” — which filmed 222 episodes in Utah, D’Arc said — and “The Chosen,” which chronicles the life of Jesus, are also spotlighted in the exhibition, along with Utahns involved in the film industry.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Actor Lacey Chabert, left, and filmmaker Amy Redford on a panel to mark the opening of the exhibition "100 Years of Utah Film & Television" at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

‘There’s a scrappiness’

The panelists speaking Thursday discussed their memories of film production in Utah.

Actor Lacey Chabert — who has made more than 30 movies for the Hallmark Channel, two of them in Utah — said she loves the environment here, and that she has worked with “some of the nicest people” she’s ever met. She said she loved filming in the cul-de-sac where her 2022 Christmas movie “Haul Out the Holly” was shot; she returned to film this season’s sequel, “Haul Out the Holly: Lit Up.”

Filmmaker Amy Redford, Robert’s daughter, said “there’s a scrappiness in the way in which you can accomplish things in the state.” She filmed her last movie, the 2022 thriller “What Comes Around,” around Park City.

Jerusha Hess, who directed and co-wrote “Austenland” and co-wrote “Napoleon Dynamite,” said she and her husband, Jared, love filming in Utah so much that they always have a dozen or so ideas ready to do so.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jerusha Hess speaks on a panel to mark the opening of the exhibition "100 Years of Utah Film & Television" at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

Danny Peykoff, the producer on “Horizon,” said Costner, who stars in and directed, was scouting Utah locations as far back as 2006.

The “Horizon” production damaged a wildlife habitat in the San Rafael Swell while filming there — one of several locations where the films were shot. Even so, Bill Winfield, a Moab local in Thursday’s audience, thanked the panelists and the film commission for contributing to the economy of rural Utah.

According to the film commission’s statistics, Utah’s film industry has contributed more than $600 million in revenue to the state’s economy in the last 10 years — creating more than 36,000 jobs worth $1.5 billion in wages, and generating some $6 billion in film tourism. One 2022 production (the exhibition doesn’t say which one) contributed $43.7 million to rural Utah’s economy.

In the last century, D’Arc said more than 1,000 films, movies and TV shows have filmed in Utah — from “Forrest Gump” and “Gravity” to “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Kinda Feel Left Out” (which premiered at Sundance last year).

As a historian, D’Arc said he doesn’t have to be a prophet, but, “if the past 100 years is any kind of indication all kinds of exciting things” can be expected of the next 100 years of film and television in Utah, especially with the changes in streaming and how people consume media.

“Utah has never gone out of fashion,” D’Arc said. “Never.”