‘They confront us with hard truths’: 100 films to be screened as Docutah returns after pandemic hiatus

Scene from "The Ashram Children: I Am No Body, I Have No Body," which will be screened at DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival, photo date and location not specified | Photo courtesy DocUtah, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A lot of work goes into the Docutah International Documentary Film Festival, now in its 12th season.

Docutah Director Phil Tuckett shows off the festival’s program, St. George, Utah, Oct. 27, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

The festival, which launches Monday, draws hundreds of submissions from around the world each year.

After being canceled last year due to the pandemic, the festival will screen 100 films this year. Of those films, 65 were selected for last year’s festival, and the judges sifted through 230 submissions for the 35 additional films.

Phil Tuckett, who wears many hats – from professor of film and director of Dixie State University’s digital film program to the director of Docutah – said that he’s seen every one of the films.

But Tuckett’s work was far from finished when St. George News caught up to him Tuesday afternoon. He was huddled over his computer, editing “Tomb of Joseph,” a documentary that explores the themes of mob rule, militia justice and religious persecution.

“My office smells of desperation,” Tuckett said and laughed.

File photo of a scene from “Tuacahn: Miracle in Padre Canyon” documentary, Ivins, Utah, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Docutah, St. George News

A former wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers, Tuckett said he relishes the challenges that crunch time brings.

Tuckett founded the Docutah festival when he launched the film program at Dixie State University in 2008, and he said that there was some resistance from the jump.

“When we were first trying to get the festival up and running, we asked some people how we could make the festival successful,” he said. “They told us not to do it. ‘The majority of film festivals don’t last beyond two years,’ they said. But I wasn’t asking whether I should do it; I was asking them how to make it successful.”

Tuckett said two good things came from that round of conversations. To begin with, he said, his sense of determination was piqued by the “nattering negativity” with which he was met. The second good thing was a suggestion that the festival be called Docutah.

“I knew right then that it was perfect,” Tuckett said.

And with that, he and his team launched a festival that focuses on documentary films.

“Documentarians don’t want to go to festivals where their films take a back seat to narrative fiction with big budgets,” Tuckett said. “They want their work to be showcased, and they like doing it here in this beautiful desert.”

The festival offers Tuckett the opportunity to pay it forward. He was hired by Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films more than 40 years ago, and as each Docutah festival kicks off with a film made by Dixie State University film students, Tuckett said he mentors his students in much the same way that Sabol mentored him.

“We train our students to keep an open mind and to get the footage they need to tell their stories,” he said. “Then we teach them how to craft that story in the editing room.”

The students get to see their work screened alongside films made by an eclectic mix of documentarians from around the world.

Dr. Jeff Jarvis, dean of the College of the Arts at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Oct. 27, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Dr. Jeff Jarvis, dean of DSU’s College of the Arts, told St. George News he’s thrilled by the festival’s reception, as well as the films it brings to the community each year.

“This festival really taught me to love documentary films,” he said. “They confront us with hard truths that we may otherwise ignore or try to get away from.”

For instance, Jarvis said he’s still haunted by a six-minute film about a veterinarian.

“She got into the work because she thought she’d be helping horses,” he said, “but she found that the bulk of her work was putting down cats and dogs. So the film explores potential reasons for the exceptionally high suicide rate among veterinarians. It gets to an astounding depth of insight in just six minutes.”

Jarvis added that the festival is about more than films. In response to “Take Me To Prom,” a documentary that follows a group of LGBTQ people who didn’t get the prom experience while in high school, the festival will put on a “prom” in the Eccles Auditorium for those in the community who want to have another chance.

The films will be screened at the Larry H. Miller Megaplex Pineview, located at 2376 Red Cliffs Drive in St. George, as well as the Dixie State University campus. Filmmakers will attend screenings to introduce their films and participate in post-film conversations. For a complete schedule of screenings and events, as well as to buy tickets, visit the Docutah website.

Ed. note: An earlier version of this story stated this is Docutah’s 11th season, as last year’s events were canceled.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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