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Next Level Round 3 Recipients

Congratulations to the recipients of Round 3 of our Next Level Grant Program! Read more about the program here.

The Next Level Grant Program provides funding for local directors and producers that are currently working on a project in the state of Utah. The Utah Film Commission seeks to cultivate original storytelling by providing the extra push for filmmakers to get their film to the “next level”. This program funds projects of all stages from development to production and distribution. The pre-production phase is for projects that are focusing on development and pre-production. The principal photography phase is for projects that will utilize the grant funding during principal photography. The post-production phase is for post-production and distribution, including film festival submission fees and travel. 

Utah Film Commission is looking for filmmakers whose projects reflect excellence in storytelling and visual style, and who can articulate how the grant funding will impact the artistic goals of the project. 

Caitlin Burris – Mist

Caitlin Burris is originally from a small country town called Tehachapi, California. She attended UCLA, where she studied communications, film, and television. Upon graduating, she packed her skis and moved to Utah. Her first job was at Park City Television, where she wrote a commercial campaign that was awarded a regional Emmy for craft achievement in writing. Today, she serves as a copywriter at MRM/McCann.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?
In 4th grade, I got a VHS camcorder for Christmas, “making movies” was my favorite pastime. As I grew older, it became my excuse to keep playing pretend, with my video camera in hand no one could tell me I was too old for imaginary adventures. Over this past year, I began writing my first short, and this week we’re moving into principal photography. It’s been such a journey, and I’m so grateful for all the talented people bringing this story to life.

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?
It’s been nearly ten years since Sophie’s mom died, but her basketball legacy lives on. As high school tryouts are fast-approaching, Sophie is desperate to make the team. Along with the help of her dad, she must face her grief in order to better understand her mom and find her own voice along the way.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?
Every aspect of this grant program is a tremendous help. I can’t wait to get started with Sundance Co//ab and the support of the Utah Film Commission is invaluable as I continue to navigate this project and future pursuits. When we first embarked on this short, a couple of friends and I decided to self-fund and do our best to create something special within our limited budget. It has not been easy and this grant will make a huge difference. We feel especially fortunate that these funds will not only elevate the project as a whole but also create a better experience for everyone involved.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?
This grant will go towards the location fees and art department expenses that go into creating the world of our character’s—from the driveway where Sophie practices basketball to the old Ford her dad drives to his mechanic shop every day. It will furnish their home, provide them with clothes, meaningful props to interact with, and thoughtful set dressings to fill their world with detail and dimension. In essence, this grant provides the foundation for our story to unfold.

 

Taylor Graham – Cooley

Taylor Graham is a multimedia storyteller and National Geographic Explorer based in Salt Lake City, UT. He has produced award-winning documentary films about the impacts of melting glaciers in the Indian Himalaya, the role of women in collecting water in Rajasthan’s urban slums, and the impacts of climate change and the history of water infrastructure development in the Southwest. Graham aims to use storytelling to explore the impacts of climate change on water resources and advocate for the protection of the world’s last free-flowing rivers.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I began making short “films” with our family camera when I was ten years old, but it wasn’t until I traveled to India for a study abroad program in college that I found a passion for documentary filmmaking. For the program’s final project, I traveled to the remote state of Sikkim to shoot my first film about an indigenous-led fight to save a Himalayan river from a proposed hydroelectric dam project. The experience was one of the most challenging and rewarding of my life, and I knew afterward that I had found something I could use to create change and highlight important issues for the rest of my life.

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?
Cooley is a short documentary film that focuses on Colleen Cooley, a Diné (Navajo) river guide on the San Juan River who works to share native perspectives and issues through her work. The film features Colleen’s personal journey in order to highlight native views on issues of water resource management, which are often missing from mainstream discussions of Western water challenges.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?
I look forward to the unique opportunity the Next Level Grant provides to engage with and learn from fellow filmmakers in Utah and across the country through Sundance Co//ab and the Utah Film Commission. I have always found that discussing projects with like-minded storytellers has a tremendous impact on the quality and reach of my work.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?
My team and I plan to use the Next Level Grant funding to scout potential filming locations in southern Utah and obtain permits for our filming on Navajo Nation lands.

 

Joshua Aukai Ligairi – Owyhee

Joshua Aukai Ligairi is a documentary filmmaker and podcaster. Ligairi began his award-winning directing and producing career with the documentary Cleanflix. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. In 2011, he co-created developed Knights of Mayhem, a 6-part mini-series for the National Geographic Channel and in 2012 he launched his first podcasting endeavor, The Documentary Blog Podcast. In 2013, he was selected from 1,000s of contestants as a finalist in the documentary competition Pursuit of the Truth, where he placed 1st with audiences and 3rd with judges. Later that year, Ligairi was honored with Utah Valley University’s “Distinguished Alumni Award” for work in journalism. He also helped found the Movie Podcast Network and helped launch the very popular Horror Movie Podcast that same year. Six years later he still co-hosts and produces the podcast. Most recently, he served as Assistant Director on the HBO documentary Believer, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and as a Consulting Producer on the recently-released Long Gone Wild in 2019.

Ligairi is currently in post-production on Northern Light, a feature-length documentary that he directed over several years, working with indigenous communities in the Interior of Alaskan. He has been focusing efforts toward future projects related to his Pacific Islander heritage.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I’ve always been interested in the arts and storytelling, in particular. I remember being fascinated by film production when my mom rented “The Making of Thriller,” a simple behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the music video. Seeing how the scenes and special effects were planned and executed completely captured my imagination. In high school, I picked up a video camera and started shooting music videos, skateboarding videos, and class projects with friends. It was around that time that I started thinking seriously about how I could continue the drawing, painting, and photography that I loved and make a living as an artist. It just so happened that both a successful Cinematographer and Art Director lived in my Provo, Utah neighborhood and I was able to ask them a bit about the realities of working in the film industry. They also helped me get a job as an intern on their films and I got some real-world experience working on a film set. Those experiences were formative. While those relationships never translated into more film work after high school, my love for the process of filmmaking was set in stone.

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?
My film project, Owyhee, covers a little-known true story about Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) working in the North American fur trapping industry in the early 1800s when three of the men mysteriously turned up dead. The film reflects some of the issues that our Pacific Islander people are facing today but does so through the lens of this true-life unsolved murder, and within the framework of a genre film.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?
It’s hard to distinguish which elements would be most helpful to me reaching my goals as a filmmaker between the grant, the Sundance Co//ab Membership, and Utah Film Commission Support. Money is, unfortunately, one of those things a filmmaker always needs and something that I’ve always personally lacked. The Sundance Co//ab is an incredibly inspiring resource and I look forward to immersing myself in it. But I have to say that it is the support of the Utah Film Commission that has me most humbled and excited at this moment. There is nothing more powerful–or necessary–as a creator than to have the support of others who believe in your vision. Along with Sundance, The Utah Film Commission is the most important and influential organization in our local film ecosystem. I’m truly humbled that they would put their name behind myself and my project.


What are you planning to use the grant funding for?
This grant money will go into the development of the short film version of Owyhee, primarily through further development of the screenplay and pre-production activities like casting. This period will also include outdoor location scouting to find places that resemble the actual locations where the events of the story took place, as well as hunting down period costumes and indoor locations that fit the film’s 1820 setting. 

Zeppelin Zeerip – Joint Effort

My name is Zeppelin Zeerip, and no, I wasn’t named after the band. I’m a filmmaker, snowboarder, and conservationist. 

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Filmmaking in many ways fell into my lap. I was in the midst of an undergraduate degree in International Business at Westminster College when a few friends mentioned they wanted to make a film about my friend Brolin’s life story. He had grown up in Uganda before moving to Jackson Hole and had ambitions of competing in the Winter Olympics. Eight of us teamed up and over the next three years made Far From Home, which was Red Bull TV’s first-tier A release. Before that, I had no ambitions of being a filmmaker, but having seen how incredible the process of making a documentary was I knew it was what I wanted to do. 

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?
At 12 years old, my sister Zoe was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and though 50 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease, far fewer are willing to talk about it. The prognosis was disturbing, and beyond the comprehension of a 12-year-old Zoe as she struggled to understand the disease that she would have to live with for the rest of her life. Joint Effort is an ode to Zoe and her ability to wake up every day and defy a disease that conspires to hold her down. 

Through a narration, written to her arthritis as if it were an abusive ex, Zoe poetically details her relationship with arthritis. Her story is one of resilience and strength, the story of a young girl who refuses to be stopped. Zoe’s goal is to leverage her story as an opportunity to show that an arthritis diagnosis doesn’t mean life ends; it simply means you’ve got to adapt and move forward.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?
With an abstract topic like this, finding financial partners can be very challenging, so the Next Level grant was a huge help.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?
The grant funding will help with production and post-production expenses. 

 

Applications for the next round of our Next Level Program will be open for submissions from December 1st – January 31st. Find more information here.

Allie Russell is the Marketing Coordinator at the Utah Film Commission, based in Salt Lake City. For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at cmmartin@utah.gov

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