Park City •
Every year at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, the "Life Elevated" logo of the state of Utah gets displayed prominently — in the backdrops of the red carpets and in the trailer that precedes each film.
It's a smart investment for Utah, listed among the event's sponsors as "Festival Host State," because it means thousands of moviegoers — many of them in the entertainment industry — are seeing Utah's snowy landscapes and clear skies whenever they're outside.
Certainly the Utah Film Commission takes advantage of the festival's semi-captive audience. The commission has a pop-up storefront on Park City's Main Street to show off the virtues that can't be seen in the dash from the bus stop to the ticket queue. They tout the redrock vistas of southern Utah, the city views of Salt Lake City, the eager labor force and the state's tax incentives available for Hollywood productions.
This year, though, the state of Utah has something going for it at Sundance that it hasn't before: three really good movies, plus a freaky web series called "Snatchers," all shot in the state.
The best of the bunch, and one of the best in the festival, is "Wind River." That the movie would be good wasn't unexpected, considering that its writer and first-time director, Taylor Sheridan, wrote "Sicario" and "Hell or High Water" (the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination this week).
That track record did not prepare me, though, for how good "Wind River" is. Sheridan's story, of a Fish & Wildlife hunter (Jeremy Renner) who helps a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) investigate a murder on an Indian reservation, is as deeply layered as a good novel. The characters are detailed and individual, and the story explores some challenging issues under the cover of a tight crime thriller.
(Renner and Olsen, better known as two members of Marvel's Avengers, also banked some good will for Hollywood by visiting sick children at the Huntsman Cancer Institute before they left town.)
There's very little "Brigsby Bear" has in common with "Wind River," other than the Utah locations. "Brigsby Bear" — created by "Saturday Night Live" writers Kyle Mooney, Kevin Costello and Dave McCary (who directed the film) — is a goofy comedy about James (played by Mooney), whose life is upended and he finds comfort in the children's TV show he watched all his life, never knowing he was the only one watching it.
The movie's offbeat humor and surprising sweetness are reminiscent of "Napoleon Dynamite." The locations range from perfect suburbia to the otherworldly landscapes of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The crew also apparently had a good time in Utah. Last July, photos appeared on social media of Mooney in a dunk tank at the Beer Bar for Pie-n-Beer Day.
The sleeper surprise of Sundance's Utah trilogy is director Sydney Freeland's "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train." Filmed in Ogden and Salt Lake City, with some scenes shot along and on the Heber Valley Railroad, this comedy — about sisters (Ashleigh Murray and Rachel Crow) who keep their household afloat by pinching goods from the trains that go by their backyard — shows off Utah as a suitable stand-in for any place you want to set a movie.
When filmmakers and producers see one of these movies, they can imagine the possibilities of making their next movie in Utah — and when Sheridan or the "Brigsby Bear" crew talk about their experiences with the locals, that often seals the deal. Maybe one of those filmmakers will be back to make a movie in Utah and return again when they get it into Sundance.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.