Hey Neighbor! Support SLFS here or join the Red Carpet Club here. | I’m Just Ryan series starts 2/2. Get tickets here. | Presenting Black Cinema series starts 2/4.

SLFS Staff: The Unique Passage of Time in a Movie Theater

At Salt Lake Film Society, we believe that the visual stories of film are at their best on the big screen. Whether it’s the dark room, the imposing visuals, or the access to movie theater popcorn, the unique experience of watching a movie in a movie theater is not lost on our patrons, or our staff members. In our blog this week, we hear from Ally Lantz, Theater Manager at Broadway Centre Cinemas, on the amplified experience of watching her favorite director, Celine Sciamma, on the big screen.

“Why do we enjoy spending our time watching movies at a movie theater? While it’s a seemingly simple question, there are a wide variety of answers depending on who you ask. For some, it might be the popcorn and snacks, while for others it might be the communal and social viewing experience. For myself, I like watching in a theater because I enjoy being immersed in the pace of a film. Watching at home, time is beholden to our control and to our terms. You can pause and disrupt the film experience at any moment.

But in a theater you must entirely relinquish your control of time. You allow yourself to be swept up in the story’s passage of time, often experiencing time in a different way. If you are lucky, you will find yourself leaving the cinema feeling as though you have just emerged from a cocoon, where the film’s relatively brief runtime has materialized into an epic cinematic journey. 

Sciamma in The Movie Theater

This unique passage of time is why I love watching films in a theater, and is no better exemplified than through the work of Celine Sciamma, a favorite of mine. Sciamma manipulates time in the service of elevating the emotional weight of her stories. Earlier this year, she released a new film, Petite Maman, which follows an 8-year-old named Nelly after her beloved grandmother passed away. She helps her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home and what follows is a tender meditation on grief and familial relationships. 

a photo of SLFS Staff member Ally Lantz standing next to a movie theater poster for Petite Maman
Lantz standing next to the Petite Maman poster at the Broadway

Petite Maman is a film that has led me to months of decryption and contemplation. If you asked me how long a movie should be to fully explore the complex thematic content typical of Sciamma, I would say you would need something akin to a 3-hour narrative. Yet Sciamma manifests a layered epic within a brief 72 minutes.

The young girls’ interactions occur beyond the sphere of chronological time, but these characters are not in stasis, and the full weight of emotion that the more traditional passage of time would imply is still communicated effortlessly. I saw this film at our own Broadway Centre Cinemas and even with an unusually short runtime, I drifted into a sort of limbo; where literal time passage was irrelevant, it felt like days or even weeks had gone by.

The Passage of Time in Portrait of a Lady on Fire

In another Sciamma film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, there are only a few indicators that time has passed at all, in reality and in the story. The clearest is the presence or absence of the Mother character, and upon her departure, our two female leads find themselves suspended in a timeless bubble. Within this space the characters are free to indulge in infatuation, their mutual experience undisturbed and their love permitted to develop.

When the Mother returns, this bubble suddenly bursts, and with a twisted urgency, it all begins to move too quickly. Time starts running out, and our characters become aware of the impending and unavoidable conclusion. We watch their experiences begin to transform into memories, which are altered by the emotions and complexity of their circumstances.

still of Celine Sciamma, Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel on the set of Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, and director Celine Sciamma on the set of Portrait of a Lady On Fire

This memory of mine was made possible by the insulated and attentive nature of the movie theater viewing experience (and the following dream-like state). If I had not experienced the story within the controlled theatrical environment, the impact of Sciamma’s story and the connection I felt to it would not have been possible.

If you look at Portrait of a Lady on Fire as a story told from the memory of Marianne, one of the two main characters, the intent behind the malleability of time is clear. It is her memory that alters time and the pace of this story, blending moments and experiences into the physical passage of time itself. I remember walking out of the theater after watching this film, feeling like I had just emerged from an emotional fever dream.

The experience of watching Celine Sciamma’s films has been described as “unwrapping a present from someone who loves you”; tender and intimate, and occupying not just the linear flow of moment to moment, but the space of memory and feeling. The best way to immerse yourself in this playful rendering of time is to give yourself fully to the experience. The spell may be broken if you hit pause, so please next time Sciamma or any of your favorite filmmakers releases a film, head to your nearest cinema (like Broadway Centre Cinemas). These films are made to be seen in theaters and being in one is a part of the experience you will not want to miss out on.”

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.

SLFS: Showing the Films You Love (As a Non-Profit), With Your Help

At Salt Lake Film Society, our love of cinema and belief in its power to entertain and engage our community drives the very purpose of our non-profit organization, and its mission. As a non-profit, we must make considerable and constant effort to raise the funds necessary to show the diversity of films you love on the big screen.

Our seven screens in two iconic neighborhood venues offer unique and wonderful arts experiences everyday of the year, not a small feat for a non-profit organization to accomplish. What many people may not realize is that the income from these venues covers less than ½ of our operating expenses. To bring you the best in independent, international and art house films, we must rely on the generosity of  donations from compassionate and charitable film fans and art lovers like yourself. 

We are well aware that every charitable organization and their mother is making requests for donations and support during this thanking and giving season. So instead of adding on to the pile, we just want to boast a bit about the unique impact and offerings SLFS provides to our community and suggest that after giving thanks on Thursday, and buying a few more things you probably don’t need on Friday and Monday, that you consider supporting your community’s access to independent film on Giving Tuesday (Donations on Giving Tuesday will be matched through a very generous donation from our Board Chair, Brian Rivette).

What Makes Salt Lake Film Society Special

still of Michelle Yeoh in the film Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film screened at the non-profit organization, SLFS
Contributions from supporters like you is why we can screen amazing films like Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

As a non-profit organization, our operation of two theater venues with seven total screens is quite distinctive in the art house cinema world. Not to toot our own horn too loudly, but we humbly consider SLFS to be an expansive oasis in a cinematic desert. You would be hard pressed to find another independent theater that offers more screens than the Broadway in any other state in the country not named California or New York.

This somewhat unprecedented access to quality, independent film offerings is a key component to the growth and future of the SLFS mission. It is why we have been able to continually bring a wide variety of high-quality independent films to the Salt Lake City community for over two decades.

In all of this time, we have worked diligently to strengthen our community, and showcase incredible and inspiring visual stories to as many people and underserved communities as possible. No other theater in the state of Utah has: 

    • Screened as many independent films, international films, or films that represent marginalized voices (BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, etc.)

    • Provided as many free or dramatically reduced admissions to underserved populations and non-profit community partners

    • Hosted as many culturally-focused film tours (FilmMexico, Czech, Masima, L’Chaim)

    • Programmed more unique films that weren’t screened anywhere else in the state

Sign up for the Red Carpet Club today and get discounts on tickets, and concessions!

How You Can Help Our Non-Profit

These incredible and distinct venues enable the positive impact we make on our community.  But as vital as they are to our operation and identity, we can’t rely entirely on them: less than ½ our annual expenses are covered by ticket and concession sales. Income generated from these venues is crucial to our organization’s ability to show independent film, but the fact of the matter is that we rely much more so on the contributions of generous people and organizations to keep our doors open and our projectors running.

So if you have any funds leftover after the indulgent, capitalist pursuit that always occurs in the days following Thanksgiving, we’d love for you to consider supporting independent cinema, by contributing to your local, non-profit art house theater! And there’s more than a few ways you can do this:

Red Carpet Club – One of the best ways to support SLFS (and support your access to independent cinema) is by becoming a member of our Red Carpet Club! Get discounts on tickets and concessions, and build up rewards to save even more, all while supporting your local art house cinema.

Gift Membership – Rushing to find a good last-second gift? Shopping for someone who wants experiences over items? Consider a Gift Membership to our Red Carpet Club! Give your loved ones even more reason to support independent film, and combine it with a concessions package to really deliver a memorable experience that everyone can enjoy.

Ask Your Employer to Sponsor – The Salt Lake City business community does a good job of looking out for each other, and we always love to make more connections! Bring up the idea of sponsorship with SLFS at the organization you work for, and be the first domino that helps your local independent theater receive local support in a big way.

Donate – Whether it’s a one-time add-on to your next ticket purchase or a recurring monthly donation through our Red Carpet Club program, every little bit helps! Your support is why we are able to do what we do, and whatever you can manage means more to us than you know. (But we’ll be sure to thank you many times over, with some sweet perks throughout the year.)

Support SLFS Today

If you enjoy the visual stories of independent film in friendly, locally-run venues, and you appreciate the passion and perspective SLFS provides to the Salt Lake City community, support us today. Take a real step to show that access to cinema matters to you. Support Salt Lake Film Society this holiday season and enjoy great cinema all year long.

To join our Red Carpet Club, click here.

To purchase a Gift Membership, click here.

To learn more about sponsorship with SLFS, click here.

To make a donation, click here. And if you would like to see your donation matched, all donations given on Giving Tuesday, November 29th, will be matched through a generous donation from our Board Chair, Brian Rivette.

How Films Make Us Feel Emotion

While some folks might not readily admit to it, many of us have cried while watching a movie. These could be tears of sadness for the looming passing of the family dog in Marley and Me, or of exultation during scenes of joyous reunion and relief at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. For many people, (cinephiles and non-cinephiles alike), there is at least one movie scene at some point which has overwhelmed them with an acute wave of emotion.

a still from the final scene of the film It's a Wonderful Life
For many, the iconic ending of It’s a Wonderful Life is a guaranteed tear-jerker

The stories that film tells and the immersive way it tells them have always had a capacity to foster our sympathetic and empathetic tendencies, help us grow emotionally, and connect more with others. Whether you watch a documentary about human suffering thousands of miles away or a narrative that reveals the less than evident truths about your own life, watching a film can be emotional, and that is a good thing. How does film do this and what exactly about the art of film makes us feel the emotions we do when we watch? 

This powerful quality of film sits at the heart of why we love it here at SLFS, and why we are committed to providing access to independent film to our community. We are proud to show a wide variety of independent films that help our patrons not just think, but also feel. The more we can understand and discuss this emotive-inducing power of film, the better all of us in our community can be at engaging with the diverse and thought-provoking benefits of cinema.  

Independent Film = Your Brain On Empathy

Emotions are a vital aspect of the storytelling ability that a movie has. Emotions are also vital characteristics of the larger human experience; they are a fundamental part of what makes us sentient, complex creatures. In the modern age of scientific research and medical technology, emotions can be more precisely defined and measured through brain scans of our neural networks and what we know about the different chemicals that our brains release to cause emotional states. And as it turns out, movies are more than capable of inducing and effecting these states.

Humans are naturally empathetic beings; when we see or hear something sad, we are likely to feel sad. When we watch a story on the big screen, we automatically generate some investment in the characters. The way we absorb their depicted plights and decisions often invests us in an emotional cinematic reality, even if we are not directly experiencing the situations in question.

There are countless studies that demonstrate a link between storytelling and empathy, but it also doesn’t take a scientific study to know that movies offer one of the more effective forms of storytelling in human history. In fact, film is so effective at inducing empathy and emotion in people, it is used by researchers as a method to actually induce emotions in subjects, in order to study the brain simultaneously as they feel them. 

Different neural networks activate different types of empathy in research participants who watched an intense scene from Black Swan

For neuroscience researchers like Talma Hendler at Tel Aviv University in Israel, movies offer a useful tool to study how emotions fluctuate in real time and what’s going on in the brain when we feel certain ways. Hendler and her team have been investigating neural networks in the brain and their role in empathy, and have found evidence for two types of empathy. Mental empathy, when people step outside of themselves to think about what another person is thinking or experiencing, and embodied empathy, more of an in-the-moment internalization and adoption of an experience and its emotions.

It’s hard to say which type of empathy an audience member might be feeling during a specific scene, whether they are understanding the rationale and perspective of a character’s feelings, or more acutely feeling the character’s feelings themselves. But one thing is for sure; the empathetic storytelling that film is capable of can play with our emotions like few other forms of media can.

Playing With the Audiences Emotions

As much as there is to understand about the science of why film makes us feel emotion, what about the techniques behind filmmaking itself? How do filmmakers shape their narrative and use all the storytelling tools at their disposal to make us feel?

When filmmakers are crafting shots and dialogue, and considering how to tell the story of the scene, while they might not be contemplating the science of neural networks or the difference between mental and embodied empathy, their attention towards the emotions of their audience is quite purposeful.

“We’re always thinking about how to get into an emotional state, moment by moment, and how to bring as much of the audience along with us,” said Darren Aronofsky, acclaimed director of psychological dramas like Black Swan, Mother!, and The Wrestler in a Wired 2014 interview. It could be through stunning visual perspectives of proper cinematography, swelling crescendos of an orchestral soundtrack, or a well-written line acted and delivered to perfection; filmmakers craft their scenes and visual storylines with concentrated intent of making their audience feel.

an image of neural networks overlayed on a brain, next to a still from the film Black Swan
Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!, another psychological horror film from the mind of Darren Aronofsky

As much as the artistry of a film and its filmmaker plays a big role in this, there are also other psychological aspects of film that naturally contribute to the keen emotions that many moviegoers feel when they watch on the big screen. According to professor of psychology at Washington University, Jefferey Zachs, mimicry and music play vital roles in the emotions that film can make us feel.

“[Our brains] say that it’s a good idea to mimic the visual input that we’re seeing…if you watch somebody in the theater and there’s a smiling face filling the screen, most of the audience is going to pop a little bit of a smile…In film, a filmmaker has the opportunity to integrate those things very tightly. They can control exactly what’s shown of the face, and what else is present [on the screen].”

In regards to music in film, Zachs says the type and the timing also play a big role in inducing emotion. Sad moments in movies use slow music composed in a minor key to hammer home the sad things they depict. Minor key music can induce the same kind of sad feelings that we feel when we see people cry or watch bad things happen to people. “You put all those things together and it’s just taking the mechanisms that we encounter in real life and just really pushing all the buttons at once.” Zachs concluded.

Independent Films in Salt Lake City – SLFS

At Salt Lake Film Society, the emotional power of visual storytelling is at the heart of the impact we make in our community. Whether it’s anecdotal or based in scientific research, there is  consistently reaffirmed evidence that a compelling visual narrative can alter our brain’s chemistry. Films can make us feel, in a way that is strangely close to how we might feel if we were actually living these emotional experiences ourselves.

This invaluable form of sharing an emotional connection with others reinforces the unique and underrepresented voices inherent in our  independent film programming. This pairing helps cultivate an introspective and compassionate arts experience for the entire community, a process that SLFS has proudly been a part of for over 21 years. So come join us for an independent film at Salt Lake Film Society, and maybe you too can be a part of an emotional experience bigger than yourself.

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.

SLFS Guest Post: “The Steady Rise of Asian-American Voices in Cinema” – Alyanna Padilla

Alyanna Padilla (she/her) is a Filipina-American woman and current Utah resident. She is the creator of To Ami with Luv, a newsletter about the K-pop supergroup BTS and the importance of combating racism in pop culture with diverse artists and storytellers. Alyanna has been a loyal SLFS patron ever since she moved here to attend school 10 years ago. Both the SLFS theaters and the proximity to the Sundance Film Festival helped foster her love for independent films, as well as an appreciation for the budding film industry here in Utah. You can read her newsletter here and find her on Instagram and Letterboxd @alyannapadilla.

“Representation Matters” feels like such an overused statement these days. Discussions about diverse films on press tours and in the media almost always include the question: “What does it mean for you to be an *insert member of underrepresented, marginalized community here* in the industry? It is such a loaded, cloying question and many artists feel pressured to represent every member of their community, simply by doing their job.

This is because for years in the mainstream media, it felt like there was room for only one specific story to be told about one marginalized community, and once we have the one, we’re all set. However, there is a reason it is still important to talk about it.

There is a reason why so many videos went viral last week when little Black girls reacted to seeing Halle Bailey for the first time as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming The Little Mermaid. There is a reason we celebrate so many “firsts” in prominent roles in pop culture and politics. It is because representation really does matter. If you do not see someone who looks like you out in the world, it is that much harder for you to to understand your own experiences and believe your stories are worthy of being told.

photo of red carpet and marketing materials for the SLFS Pacific Islander cultural film tour, Masima
Opening night of the 2022 Māsima Pacific Islands Film Tour

That is why the emphasis SLFS places on exhibiting diverse films in Salt Lake City is so important; providing access to underrepresented stories and voices matters. In 2021, 71% of movies presented by SLFS feature directors, lead characters, and/or subjects that were female, BIPOC, and/or identify as LGBTQ+ (SLFS 2021 Annual Report). I watched several of these movies at SLFS theaters and I always appreciate the accessibility and affordability SLFS provides for all audiences. 

Not only that, but Salt Lake Film Society also offers a more extensive approach to exhibiting the stories and voices of other cultures through their Cultural Film Tours. These film tours are a collaboration between SLFS and diverse members of our community to encourage engagement in the arts. The films chosen empower and accurately represent the stories and experiences of members of underserved communities in our city.

SLFS cultural tour programs have been going on for over a decade now, and each year new tours are added to include even more minority populations. Last year SLFS collaborated with Mexican, Jewish, Israeli, and Pacific Island communities to showcase the talent among these diverse filmmakers. During AANHPI month, SLFS hosted Māsima 2022: Pacific Island Film Tour. The program was curated and sponsored by Utah Pacific Islands Knowledge 2 Action Resource, Utah Pacific Islands Film Series, and Salt Lake Film Society.

The lineup of films highlighted filmmakers from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Māsima is part of SLFS’ annual Cultural Film Tours to continue championing and celebrating the rich history and heritage of the AANHPI community here in Utah. I look forward to watching even more films that will be added to Māsima for AANHPI month in 2023! 

For SLFS’ Letterboxd account, I contributed my own list of recommendations for AANHPI movies. I like, if not love, all of the movies on this list and would readily recommend any of them! I included a wide range of genres, so hopefully there is something on there to attract any type of moviegoer. I even added a few children’s movies on there as well, because it is even more important for young audience members to see all types of representation in the media.

As a child, I rarely saw anybody on screen that looked like me. Watching these movies would have been so impactful to me in my youth. Even as an adult I enjoyed myself because I know how vital it is that they now exist for young, diverse audiences today. My Letterboxd list makes it apparent that the number of AANHPI movies skyrocketed after the success of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. Crazy Rich Asians was the first movie by a major Hollywood studio featuring a cast of majority Asian descent since The Joy Luck Club in 1993.


I remember feeling so many emotions by the end of the movie when I saw it in theaters. It was the first time I witnessed an all-Asian cast in every prominent role: both the romantic leads, the best friends, and all the family members. It was a joy to watch so many beautiful, talented Asian characters have rich, complex storylines all within the same movie.

I walked away from each of these recommended movies feeling proud of how far we’ve come as a society in accepting these movies into mainstream culture. It is long overdue. The success of these movies prove that sometimes the most personal stories end up feeling the most universal. I know I am not alone in this and so many other moviegoers feel the same emotions that come with finally seeing your own experience represented on screen.


Hopefully this curated list will open your eyes to some truly exceptional movies made by and featuring people that may not look like you. The power of cinema is that it has the ability to challenge your biases and help you examine your own unique experiences and emotions. My favorite moviegoing experiences are when I walk out of the theater feeling changed. The importance of diverse films is that they tell stories told by perspectives different from your own, which hopefully stick with you long after the credits roll.”

 If you’d like to contribute to the discussion of independent film in SLC, like Alyanna Padilla, then you can get details by contacting Jesse Sindelar at jessesindelar@saltlakefilmsociety.org.

Arthouse Audience Survey

UPDATE: This survey is now closed. We will contact winners via email in the next week.

It’s that time of year… We need your help! We want you to tell us what you think you need and want from your movie-going experience, and how we might improve.

Help us out by filling out this Arthouse Survey by 10/23. Click on the link, fill it out, and you’ll be added to a drawing for $50 certificate and two $25 certificates:


Thank you so much for taking your time to fill this out. SLFS is looking for ways to continue bringing the best in cinema to SLC.

SLFS Staff: My Experience Watching Dune at the Broadway

At SLFS, we have always been proud of exhibiting thought-provoking films to our Salt Lake City community. And as members of this community and local film fans ourselves, the staff of SLFS have always cherished the opportunity to join in on the audience viewing experience. We asked Max Kunz, Theater Manager at Broadway Centre Cinemas, to share his experience watching Dune at the Broadway during our reopening in 2021.

The SLFS Dune Experience at Broadway Centre Cinemas

“As a staff member at Salt Lake Film Society, one of the things I like most about it is the commitment to serving the film loving community in Utah in unexpected ways. At the Broadway, we have six screens that supply a wide selection of arthouse and blockbuster cinema. Each screen is equipped with high-quality digital projection and Dolby theater surround sound systems, providing a unique high-quality entertainment experience you’d expect from the larger commercial branded theaters. 

“I can appreciate even more how seeing a film like Dune in a real theater like the Broadway Centre Cinemas makes the experience exceptional.”

Max Kunz
the film Dune playing in an SLFS theater, the Broadway Centre Cinemas
A theater screening of Dune at Broadway Centre Cinemas

To connect our audience with the large supply of new films released, we have all of our theaters on a constantly shifting show schedule. This means that if a film has completed its standard theatrical run, we have the option to return that feature for an additional run, provided it is cleared by the studio. This flexibility in our booking allows SLFS to customize our film exhibitions for the needs of its community when a film gains some attendance traction after its initial run, or earns accolades from a film institution. An example of this custom exhibition presented itself to me this year through Dune

I had unfortunately missed the initial theater run for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and didn’t think I’d get another chance to see it in the theater setting, which was how I had heard it was meant to be enjoyed. Luckily, the Broadway brought back the film after it was nominated for several Academy Awards and I was able to catch it!

Dune is the story of the noble family Atreides who is given stewardship of the planet Dune by their Emperor, but Dune is a harsh planet covered in desert and a special drug called spice. The story of the film follows young Paul Atreides who is wrapped up in the war, chaos, prescience, and death that the coveted spice from Dune brings to his family. 

SLFS employee Max listening to Dune on audiobook in the lobby of Broadway Centre Cinemas
Kunz enjoying Dune in audiobook format

I was captivated by the stunning visuals and stellar performances in what was an all around very entertaining movie. In a film that deals with gigantic spaceships and an original soundtrack that shakes with them, the state of the art theatrical systems that are used to present films at Salt Lake Film Society created an extremely overpowering experience. I appreciated what an entirely different experience it was, compared to watching it at home on a laptop screen like I had been planning on doing prior to the re-screening (especially after such a long shutdown due to COVID-19).  

Seeing Dune in this way influenced me to research the world that Frank Herbert had created; looking at Google I saw how long the saga was and YouTube videos ensnared me into its lore. Fully nerding out, I bought the books on Audible and have since listened to the story of the first three books in the six book series. Now a bonafide Dune fan, and having some insight into the scale of the story and its contents, I can appreciate even more how seeing a film like Dune in a real theater like the Broadway Centre Cinemas makes the experience exceptional.”

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.

SLFS Board: Sarah E. S. Sinwell and the Pursuit of Art House Cinema

In any non-profit organization, the Board of Directors plays a vital role in planning for funding, growth, and subsequently helping achieve their mission. At Salt Lake Film Society, our Board embodies the organization’s passion for film and art house cinema, and they are deeply committed to our mission of educating, advocating, and informing about –and through– cinema.

For local cinephile and vice-chair of the SLFS Board, Sarah E. S. Sinwell, this commitment to film and independent cinema started long before she ever heard of Salt Lake Film Society. “My family were always big film lovers growing up; I’ve been watching movies with them and going to art houses my whole life.” However, it wasn’t until college when she truly discovered her passion, not just for film, but for analyzing the art and the industry of independent cinema.

“I was studying to be a diplomat, taking political science classes and the like. In my sophomore year, I missed out on my first choice for a seminar, and the seminar I ended up taking was my first film class. When I graduated, I tried being a production assistant, made a few short films, but I soon realized that I would much rather analyze film than make it.”

Educating Through Art House Cinema Analysis

an image of Sarah Sinwell, local art house cinema expert and vice chair of SLFS board
Sinwell became a member of the SLFS Board of Directors in 2015

When she moved to Utah in 2015, Sinwell continued her cinema journey by joining the Department of Film and Media Arts at the University of Utah as an assistant professor. Now an associate professor, she has applied her devotion to art houses and film analysis through teaching, and writing books and scholarly articles. 

It didn’t take long for her art house cinema expertise and the mission of Salt Lake Film Society to align. “When I moved here, Kevin Hanson (SLFS board member and colleague at the U) immediately told me, ‘You need to meet Tori [Baker], and you need to be a part of the Film Society’, and I was invited to join [the Board] just a few months after that.”

Unsurprisingly, Sinwell’s initial interactions with Salt Lake Film Society were as a patron. “I’m a huge cinephile, I write about art houses, I write about independent films, I write about feminist and queer filmmaking, and the Broadway and the Tower are the places to go to see the best independent films in town, and the best independent films internationally, so I was pretty excited about even attending a film at the Tower/Broadway.”

For Sinwell, being a member of the SLFS Board was also an important part of her personal introduction to Utah, and the Salt Lake City film scene. “It was my first time living/moving here, so [joining the SLFS Board] was a big part of my learning about Utah, and about film culture in Utah.”

“People are seeking out the theater experience, because they’ve missed it. I was at the reopening of the Broadway in 2021, and my friends and I kept saying ‘This is the experience we have been missing’”

She was able to further supplement her studies, writings, and analysis of art houses and independent cinemas, because what better way to learn how an art house works than by being a part of one? “Being a part of the board has really taught me all about the in’s and outs of how non-profits and art houses work. I had no idea, for instance, how much a popcorn popper actually costs.” Sinwell said.

“I’ve really been involved, not just in the Film Society, but in thinking about the state of the art house at the moment when streaming is becoming more popular, and knowing this [type of] institution from the inside is invaluable to understanding the challenges that many art houses face” Sinwell continued.

Enjoying Independent Film At SLFS

The reciprocal relationship between Sinwell’s educational pursuits and her experience on the SLFS Board is an important part of her impact on the Salt Lake City film scene. But like any fan of independent film, nothing really compares to the personal enjoyment of watching an engaging and thought-provoking visual story on the big screen. For Sinwell, watching Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire at Broadway Centre Cinemas offered this type of unforgettable viewing experience.

“I saw Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019) for the first time at the Broadway. Sciamma is one of my favorite directors, and I wanted to show it to everyone. I liked it so much, I saw it again, and the second viewing was the last film I saw in a theater for two years after COVID shutdown the Broadway” Sinwell remembered.

For those who have seen it, the lasting impression of Sciamma’s critically acclaimed film would be memorable even without the subsequent lockdown that occurred due to COVID-19. But it was the theater experience, and the insights and discussions with her friends afterwards that truly cemented Sinwell’s experience as noteworthy.

“One of these [POLOF] viewings was a sneak preview I went to with some friends and colleagues, and it was so inspiring. My colleague who studies music talked to me about some really interesting things the film does with music and sound, and I used aspects of femininity and ‘gaze’ from the film in my Queer Media class that I teach.” 

Supporting the Community Role of Art House Cinema

As someone who has experienced the profound nature of the independent theater viewing experience first-hand, Sinwell is well aware of how important art houses are to their local communities, especially as COVID restrictions are lifted. “For many people, watching movies was their pandemic lockdown activity. Now, people are seeking out the theater experience, because they’ve missed it. I was at the reopening of the Broadway in 2021 when we screened Dune (2021), and my friends and I kept saying ‘This is the experience we have been missing’ you know, watching a film with others in a theater, and talking about it after.”

As an SLFS board member, Sinwell has both supported, and helped realize the larger aim of using film as a learning tool for social good. “SLFS shows unique films. We are purposefully putting these films on our screens, films that other people might not find otherwise. People are being introduced to other stories and cultures through these films.”

the cover of the book Indie cinema online, a book about art house cinema written by Sarah Sinwell
Indie Cinema Online is Sinwell’s newest book, and explores the challenges and growth of art house cinema

“Our films and cultural tours [like Czech Film Tour or FilmMéxico] let you imagine what it’s like to live in the Czech Republic, or Mexico, or live the female experience [in films like POLOF]. It’s an opportunity to explore what the future and history both hold” Sinwell added.

After stories of her introduction to loving film, writing and teaching film analysis, and how she became a vital member of the SLFS Board, there was one final piece of insight Sinwell had to offer on the age-old question: butter or no butter on your theater popcorn? “Definitely butter. But if it’s a matinee at the Broadway, I always get a slice of Pie Hole pizza and a Coke.”

Given our mission to educate, advocate, and inform about and through cinema , there are few people more suited to the task of vice-chair of the SLFS Board of Directors than Sarah E. S. Sinwell, and we are lucky to have her. 

You can read some of her scholarly articles analyzing art house cinemas and how they have handled the COVID-19 pandemic here, and here. For information about her new book Indie Cinema Online, and other published work. click here.

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.

What Is an Independent Film?

The film industry as a whole releases a wide variety of movies each year. While there is an extensive range of stories and types of film in circulation, there are also some important distinctions regarding how films are made, funded, and distributed. You might have heard of “independent films” or “indie movies”, but understanding what actually qualifies as one, and why independent theaters focus on showing them is a bit more complicated.

Salt Lake Film Society operates two independent theaters and we take a lot of pride in the films we show in Salt Lake City. Many of these films, from gripping foreign dramas to small-budget, local documentaries, can be classified as independent films. But we also exhibit and enjoy plenty of films that are created within the major studio system as well. 

This is not to say that one film type is inherently better than the other; there will always be amazing films being made and incredible stories being told, whether independently or studio-supported. At Salt Lake Film Society, we just believe that understanding and contextualizing the differences between independent films and studio films is a part of being a conscientious and engaged cinephile.  

Distinctions Between Independent Films and Studio Films

While there can be plenty of noticeable differences between the experience of watching an independent vs. a studio-supported film, the more clear cut differences usually lie behind the scenes. For the audience, these differences can be evident in the types of stories told and the contrast in creative decisions made. But the differentiating factors that can more clearly distinguish the two revolve around the production and distribution processes, and the respective financial situations of each film type’s budget. 

The definition of what constitutes an independent production can be somewhat muddled, but the most defining trait of an independent film is that it is produced and distributed outside the “major” film studio system. Studio films on the other hand, are defined by their production through a studio owned by one of the “Big 5” media conglomerates (NBC/Comcast, Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros, Sony). These studio films are also funded and distributed by massive production companies that operate under the umbrella of these media conglomerates. 

still of Daniel Kaluuya in the independent film Get Out
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, independently produced by Blumhouse Productions

While many independent films are made by individual filmmakers, many are still made by film studios, albeit smaller ones. But an important consideration is that these films usually don’t have a guaranteed distribution network or production funding like the larger studios with their parent companies. Independent films need to scrap and source for producers and distributors almost from day one.

Sometimes, these more independent-focused distributors (A24, Neon, Blumhouse) will fund a project at the beginning, sometimes they purchase it halfway through or after it’s made, but the search for funds and distribution is a relentless necessity that characterizes most independent films. That’s why these films often dominate the film festival circuit (and why most festivals even exist in the first place); these filmmakers are showing off their product to distributors with the hope of it being purchased, and distributed.

While there is no specific dollar amount that separates an independent film budget from a studio film budget, spending range is another major factor that distinguishes these two film types. Independent film budgets can range vastly, from tens of thousands dollars to tens of millions, and occasionally will even require fundraising to finish production and find distributors. Studio film budgets will also vary quite substantially, but their upper limits are astronomically higher, with some studio films working with predetermined budgets that can range up to half a billion dollars. 

Different Motivations, Different Expectations

This large contrast in monetary and distribution processes consequently leads to a variety of differences in production, artistic influence, and definitions of success. Studio films are often formulaic and controlled by senior management from start to finish, and while the production needs vary from film to film, they always maintain some form of uniformity in operation, staffing, and expenses. Independent film productions are more free-form, following the direction and desire of the producers and their artistic vision, often sourcing staff, equipment, and money as they go along. 

still of penelope cruz, johnny depp, and ian mcshane in pirates of the Caribbean: stranger tides
Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, and Ian McShane in Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides, the most expensive film ever made with a budget over $400 million

These creative and production differences understandably lead to clear differences in motivation for producing the film, and what defines a film’s release as successful. Studio films and the stories they tell are much more likely to have the biggest names and the grandest visual effects, and are often made with the primary goal of commercial success. There has never been a studio film made that hasn’t undergone rigorous financial calculations by studio executives beforehand regarding the potential money it might bring in. These films are usually designed to cater to as many people as possible, in order to maximize  attendance and box office revenue (often to recoup some of the expenditures from their immense budgets).

Independent films (and the independent theaters that proudly and consistently show them) have different motivations. These films usually put more emphasis on the art of storytelling, and presenting the perspective of a wide diversity of voices. They often don’t cater to the largest possible audience. Instead, they aim to craft a narrative that makes the audience take a mental step back and ask questions, like “Who?”, “What?”, or “Why?”. Independent films are not totally free from the industry’s financial expectations, but their purpose will usually be more driven towards the limitless freedom of artistic expression, the introspection of the audience, and the diversity of filmmakers, experiences, and stories that naturally comes from that.

Muddied Definitions of “Studio” and “Independent” Films

For any fan of film who has explored the varied types of stories and styles the industry has to offer, it’s clear that there are some distinctive differences between smaller budget, “art house” indie films, and bigger budget, franchise-spawning studio films. But just like the real world, the conversation and categorization is a bit more nuanced than that. In reality, most films do not sit neatly in one category or the other, or their content doesn’t fit the archetype expected from their production and funding.

still of John Corbett and Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding
John Corbett and Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, an independent film which grossed $369 million, with only a $5 million budget

Big studio films can spend big while still emphasizing diverse narratives and more artistically-driven creators (consider Taika Waititi now directing Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder). On the other hand, independent films with small budgets can still tell more generalized stories that aim for studio-esque commercial success (the independent rom-com, My Big Fat Greek Wedding grossed $368.7 million worldwide). While some may call these exceptions to the rule, others might say that the definitions are simply more muddied in the modern film era. And when it comes to streaming services now consistently producing and distributing their own content, the conversation can become even more complicated.

Independent Theaters in Salt Lake City – SLFS

At Salt Lake Film Society we are proud to exhibit thought-provoking stories and inspiring films to our community through our independent theaters, whether they be niche independent films or widespread studio films. Our goal as a independent cinema is less about properly defining film as “independent” or “studio”, and more about cultivating in our audience a natural curiosity about each film they see, learning more about who made it, how they made it, why they made it, and what creators or organizations they are supporting by purchasing a ticket for it. 

Our independent theaters love to present independent films that emphasize art, culture, and underrepresented voices, but we all have plenty of studio films that we adore. We just love film, and we love the questions and conversations it can produce, so come see a movie and join the discussion, and learn a bit more about different types of film yourself.

To see a list of our upcoming films and events, click here.
To join our Red Carpet Club, or to learn more about RCC levels, discounts, and benefits, click here.

SLFS Staff Picks In 2022 (So Far)

At Salt Lake Film Society, we absolutely adore cinema. Whether it’s an emotional independent film making the rounds at Cannes or an obscure cult-classic from the ‘80’s; our staff has an enduring and insatiable passion for movies, and the stories and visuals that define it as an art form. And this passion becomes even stronger when we get to watch these films on the big screen at the independent theaters we operate.

For our staff here at SLFS, we try our hardest to translate this passion into all the work we do for you, from the films we choose to exhibit, to the local film and cultural tours we are proud to host. But sometimes, we just love watching movies, and when we watch a movie we like, it’s nearly impossible for us to stay quiet about it.

It could be an unknown film from a first-time director, or a classic movie with a legendary cast that we are rediscovering; the members of our staff have watched plenty of good movies in 2022 so far, for business and for pleasure, and we can’t help but share some of our favorite picks with you, our dedicated supporters and patrons.

Salt Lake Film Society – Our Favorite Films We’ve Seen This Year

THE NORTHMAN Tori Baker, President/CEO

  • “Robert Eggers composes a shot with a visceral punch that demands attention, screen size, and community viewing. It’s jaw-dropping in its pure mastery of editing, color pallet, and magic-imagery.”

FIRE OF LOVE – Marcie Collett,  Associate Director of Development

  • “At its magmatic core, this is a love and adventure story that makes you believe that every oddball – even a volcanophile – has an oddball soulmate. Extraordinary footage and sound, especially on our Broadway big screen.”
renate reinsve running on a street in a scene from the film The Worst Person in The World
Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person in the World

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD Rachel Getts, Associate Director of Digital Content 

  • “Great take on the quarter-life crisis we all seem to have. Renate Reinsve is a star.”

BETTER NATE THAN EVER Brandon Suisse,  Associate Director of Development

  • “I don’t think a film has been more memorable or impactful for me this year than Everything Everywhere All at Once. But Better Nate than Ever had absolutely no business being as delightful as it was.”

LOST HIGHWAYStephen Simmons, Associate Director of Production

  • “The 4K restoration was like watching Lost Highway for the first time. Everything from the sound mix to the crisp visuals, this gorgeous transfer allows this dark and underrated masterpiece a breath of new life after 25 years.”

PETITE MAMANAlly Lantz, Theater Operations Manager

  • “Celine Sciamma is my favorite working director, she has this ability to beautifully depict the emotional complexities of human relationships. This one just feels like a warm hug.”

ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME – Noah Hinton, Front of House Staff

  • “It was a thrill watching how fast someone’s life can be seemingly ruined through just words and innocuous actions.”

MAD GOD – Landon Adams, Theater Operations Manager

  • “An old testament nightmare willed into existence over thirty years. Horror has never looked so beautiful.”

EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCEJesse Sindelar, Development Manager

  • “One of the most incredible human storytelling experiences I’ve seen from a movie. Loved the hotdog fingers. I’ve seen it 2 ½ times and I’ve cried 2 ½ times.”
lea seydoux, viggo mortensen, and kristen stewart in a scene from the Cronenberg film Crimes of the Future
Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen, and Kristen Stewart in Crimes of the Future

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE Susan Tive, Head of Development

  • “Cronenberg takes a dark and surprisingly humorous look at how the future might send artists looking inward to find the only blank canvas left.” 

X Patrick Charles, Theater Operations Manager

  • “Just a good old fashioned horror flick. Plus, Howard’s got the moves.” 


MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON – Amy Beth Aste, Head of Theater Operations

  • “The perfect little movie, the creativity is amazing. Leave it to a Shell to remind us to examine our community, question social media, and place importance on caring for our elders.”

OFFICIAL COMPETITION Max Kunz, Theater Operations Manager

  • “While fitting the bill of an off-beat independent film, it also has a multi-layered commentary on the people who create those types of works. Cohn and Duprat tackle this story with a great, self-aware sense of the surreal nature of such projects.”

HAPPENING – Guy Wheatley, Head Projectionist

  • “A topical, French, period film about a girl struggling with illegalized abortion. It’s a horror as a well as a drama; the best kind of horror films reflect the anxiety of the times, and this one definitely counts as that.”

TOP GUN: MAVERICK – Abby Derrick,  Front of House Staff

  • “It was just a good time. One of the best theater experiences I’ve had in a really long time.”

Art House Films in Salt Lake City – SLFS

Whether it was released this month or 30 years ago, the world of film is continuously providing an intense diversity of movies. This vast selection is a never-ending supply with the potential to engage the interests and intrigues of all types of individuals, including the wide range of tastes within our staff. And just like with every film we play at our independent theaters, we hope that these selections and suggestions help our patrons discover new films and novel stories that engage their minds and excite their hearts through the power of film.

Feel free to ask a staff member about their pick the next time you visit the Broadway or the Tower, and help us keep the discourse and discussion about film alive and well in Salt Lake City.

Open Caption Wednesdays

Open Caption, All Films, Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday we will be screening all films with Open Captioning.  This is a part of our mission to provide independent film to all in our community. Please note that some films do not have open captioning available.  We’ll let you know if a film does not have open captioning available.