Salt Lake Film Society Emerges from the Pandemic Refocused on Community

March 16, 2021 Written by Melissa Fields

When the pandemic made its abrupt arrival in Utah a year ago, the Salt Lake Film Society did what we all did: hunkered down and rolled the punches. Within two weeks of COVID-19 shuttering its beloved brick-and-mortar venues—the Tower Theatre and the Broadway Centre Cinemas— SLFS nimbly launched its online screening service, SLFS@home. And then last fall, SLFS presented a series of outdoor, drive-in theater-like screenings at Redman Movies & Stories, it dubbed the Studio Backlot Motor Cinema. But once the flurry of the holidays passed and 2020 was gratefully in the rearview mirror, Baker and the SLFS staff took a step back to reflect. “The staff and I had a conversation a few months ago where we recognized that there’s nothing ‘new’ about the normal we’ve been living for the past 12 months now,” Baker says,” and that to stay relevant to the community we serve, we need to develop programming that reflects what’s going on the community.”
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To understand where SLFS is headed, however, it’s worth it to take a look back at where it’s been. SLFS was founded by Paul and Kris Liacopoulos in 2001 around their successful effort to save the Ninth and Ninth neighborhood’s iconic Tower Theatre. SLFS took over the Broadway Centre Cinemas shortly after then—a move that established it as one of the largest film presenting organizations with permanent facilities for arthouse film in the region. In the 20 years since, SLFS established multiple other programs, both celebrating independent and foreign film, as well as those that nurture storytelling artists. All told, by 2020, SLFS was operating 28 community programs around film. “Before the pandemic, the Salt Lake Film Society was actually getting a bit too large, and falling into the trap of doing a lot of things, but not doing anything exceptionally well,” says Tori Baker, Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS) CEO. “So, when the pandemic forced us to take a pause, we thought, how can we make a bigger impact with the staff we have?” And so, moving forward, SLFS will focus on the following three key areas:

Media Accelerator Studio (MAST): In 2020, the resources behind SLFS’s MAST program were redirected to create SLFS@home’s digital streaming technology, which in addition to SLFS, has provided online screening capabilities to eleven art house cinemas around the nation. This year, MAST returns to its original mission of helping artists become “art entrepreneurs” by reviving presentations of programming, labs and contests focused on forward-thinking approaches to producing and distributing film-based content. “We are indeed returning to our artist-development programming this year, which will include several contests,” says Miles Romney, MAST founder and head. “The first of those will be a screenplay contest held in partnership with the International Screenwriters’ Association. We'll be announcing details of that fairly soon. We hope to have another animation contest as well.”

Cultural Film Tours: Eleven years ago, SLFS formed its Cultural Committee to help foster conversations around relevant issues by presenting groups of films and artist panel discussions based in a specific cultural experience. Annual SLFS Cultural Film Tours have included the Czech Film Tour, a three-day spring event presented in collaboration with the Czech consulate featuring more than 50 films; and FilMéxico, an annual collaboration with the Mexican consulate celebrating the history and heritage of Mexico. SLFS’s most recent Cultural Film Tour is L’Chaim!, seven films that tell compelling stories through the lens of modern Judaism. This spring, SLFS will present two all-new Cultural Film Tours: Māsima: Pacific Islands Film Tour, running March 26 to April 1, 2021, which will include the Fisheye Films’ documentary Slow But Sure: The Story of Tuaekaepau and the Fryfolk Films documentary Kapa Haka: The Journey Home as part of the Utah Filmmakers showcase, and the Oscar-nominated short, Kapaemahu. Inspire. Empower. Action. A Climate Change Film Tour, scheduled to coincide with Earth Day, will run April 22 to 29, 2021. (Dates for FilMéxico and Czech Film Tour are TBD.)
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Reopening the Broadway and Tower theaters: The ultimate goal in beginning SLFS’s newest chapter is, of course, welcoming audiences back to its brick-and-mortar homes. When it will be considered safe to do so remains, as of this writing, the million-dollar question. But, according to Barb Guy, SLFS director of PR and Marketing: “We are in constant and careful review [about reopening the theaters], until the moment we have news.” But even after the eventual relaunch of in-person screenings, SLFS plans to continue its online screenings through SLFS@home. “We've been digging deep into diversity, equity and inclusion and we know there are people who we can only reach by being accessible in their homes,” Guy says. For the latest Salt Lake Film Society screenings, events and news, visit