Rising COVID-19 rates force Docutah to postpone 2020 festival until next year

Docutah banner | Image courtesy of the DSU Docutah International Documentary Film Festival, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Out of an abundance of caution to keep filmmakers and patrons safe, the 2020 Docutah International Documentary Film Festival has been postponed and rescheduled for March 1-6, 2021 at the Larry H. Miller Megaplex Pineview Theatres.

L-R: TGIF co-host Hollie Stark, Docutah director Phil Tuckett and TGIF co-host Sheldon Demke pose outside the Electric Theater, St. George, Utah, May 22, 2018 | Photo by Aaron Crane, St. George News

Presented by Dixie State University, Docutah had originally scheduled to run its 2020 festival from Nov. 2-7, but a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Southern Utah and throughout the state ultimately led to the decision to cancel, Della Lowe, director of marketing and public relations, told St. George News.

“We do have a spike here in Southern Utah – actually we have a spike in Utah – and so we feel that we want to keep our patrons and the filmmakers safe,” Lowe said, adding that compared to the university, there is less ability for capacity control when it comes to the festival.

“The university is continuing classes because that is a very controlled environment. But a festival, where we also have special events, we wanted people to be able to have fun and mingle with each other and we wanted to make sure they felt safe,” she said. “The spike really just happened within the last week or so; so that’s why it was so sudden.”

Because the 2020 festival is moving to March, this means that 2021 could see two Docutah festivals. The 2020 festival will include all 67 films, special events and DOCTALK sessions scheduled for the original event. As with all Docutah festivals, student entrance is free with Student ID.

As part of Dixie State, the festival provides film students the opportunity to interact with professional filmmakers. In addition, every year, Dixie State film students create a feature-length film that plays as the opener of the festival.

Film still from “Into the Night: Portraits of Life and Death” by Helen Whitney | Image courtesy of Docutah, St. George News

For the 2020 festival, “Into the Fire” will play as the opener, a film that follows a Utah man who now travels all over as a blues musician, “which is unusual since he was raised in a little tiny town in Central, Utah, but he got interested in the blues,” Lowe said.

This film, like all student films, is owned by Docutah and will become a part of the “High Desert Chronicles,” which includes all student films that highlight and represent people and things of interest in the area.

As part of a state institution, Docutah events follow all guidelines set forth by the state and the Centers for Disease Control, and while they aren’t expecting any issues in March related to COVID-19, Lowe said, “anything can happen.”

“Right now, even with our monthly screenings, we are following all state, all CDC and all university guidelines, so we’re planning on March. If the guidelines tell us differently, we might have to do something,” she said, “but right now, we found it safe enough in March to separate people in theaters of this year, so we picked March for that reason.”

Lowe said they have had discussions about potential ways they could adapt; they even planned to bring in some of the filmmakers on Zoom for their Q&As because they couldn’t travel, whether that be from a foreign country or domestic places, in order to eliminate the additional burden of 14-day quarantines or general travel restrictions. But ultimately, they decided the festival would not be the same in digital form.

L-R: Author and filmmaker Jennifer Jordan with author and philanthropist Greg Mortenson at a private event for [email protected], Ivins, Utah, June 29, 2017 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

“We do feel, however, that the festival experience itself is unique and that a virtual or streamed festival would take a lot away,” she said. “But we are – the entire world, obviously, is in a unique situation, something that really hasn’t happened since 1918, so we all think about how we can use technology to help our people have this kind of experience, but as of now, we plan to go live.”

For those who have already purchased tickets for this year’s festival, they will be honored.

A press release announcing the postponement extends its appreciation for the continued support of Docutah.

“As a non-profit, we depend on the participation of you, our fans, and we are really sorry that we have to move the Festival at this late date, but we want you to feel safe and enjoy the wonderful experience Docutah brings to St. George.”

More information about the 2020 festival can be found here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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