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Utah Celebrates 100 Years of Filmmaking—from Wild West Westerns to Yellowstone episodes


What do the movies Footloose, Independence Day, Thelma and Louise, Forrest Gump and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have in common? They were all filmed in Utah.

“This year marks 100 years since the first movies were filmed in Utah and also marks the 50th anniversary of the Utah Film Commission which was founded in 1974,” says Virginia Pearce, Utah Film Commission Director, who was in Toronto recently along with delegates from the Utah Office of Tourism (UOT) to celebrate the film milestones. “Over the last century, our landscapes have sparked the imaginations of some of the greatest storytellers in the world and have also inspired many to see these places for themselves. The 2024 celebration is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate not only the iconic film and television moments that were made in Utah but the people and places behind those moments.”

First Hollywood production in Utah

The first Hollywood production to be filmed in Utah was The Covered Wagon in 1922 followed by a second film the same year called The Deadwood Coach. Both were silent films and marked the first time that Hollywood producers considered filming in a remote location. Utah became known as the place where “westerns” were made. When John Wayne filmed Stage Coach, he is reported to have said about Utah: “So this is where God put the west.”

From deserts to mountains to canyons, charming towns and urban cities, Utah has it all when it comes to film locations. And it seems that Utah’s movie locations are a big attraction to visitors from all over the world.

“Visitors are drawn to what they see on screen,” says Pearce. “​Film Tourism in Utah has generated an estimated $6 Billion ($600 million per year) in film-motivated tourist spending in Utah over 10 years, with 37% of visitors indicating that a film or television series was among the primary motivators for visiting a particular destination in the state (based on results from a 2023 SMARI study).”

Early episodes of Yellowstone

Interesting fact: the first three episodes of the smash hit TV series Yellowstone were filmed in Utah before the production moved to a ranch in Montana where the story takes place. The list of movies filmed in Utah is long and awe-inspiring.

Asked to name the top three most visited film locations in Utah, Pearce answers:

“Bonneville Salt Flats/Wendover: filmed-in-Utah productions shot in this area include Independence Day, Con Air, The World’s Fastest Indian, Brigsby Bear, etc.;Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: filmed-in-Utah productions shot in this area include Forrest Gump, The Searchers, The Lone Ranger, Back to the Future: Part III and more. And thirdly, East High School. This iconic filming location was primarily used for Disney’s High School Musical, High School Musical 2, High School Musical 3: Senior Year and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

To make it easy for visitors to find film locations, the Utah Film Location has introduced The Utah Film Trail which is an interactive map featuring up to 20 Utah film locations, found on their website at film.utah.gov. The Utah Historical Film Trail will take visitors off the beaten path to discover the landscapes that have drawn some of the most accomplished filmmakers of the last 100 years to Utah. Visitors soon learn why Utah is known as America’s Film Set. ® 

100th Anniversary Exhibitions

The Utah Film Commission is hosting an exhibition at the Utah State Capitol celebrating 100 years of Utah Film and Television Film & Television inspired by James V. D’Arc’s When Hollywood Came to Utah. The exhibit runs until December 31, 2024.

A travelling exhibit will be available at various museums, arts & cultural centers, colleges and universities, libraries, etc. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Focus on the fUTure Film Festival

Young filmmakers in Utah can celebrate 100 years of Utah filmmaking by submitting a film to the Focus on the fUTure Film Festival. The festival will attract a new generation of Utah filmmakers, open to Utah residents either 18-25 years of age or students currently enrolled/recent graduates of Utah colleges and universities.

Iconic Film Screenings

Enjoy cinematic storytelling filmed in Utah over the last century by viewing some of the most loved films on the big screen with showings across the state.

For more information visit film.utah.gov, #Film Utah, @visitUtah #Visit Utah

Air Canada has recently introduced four flights weekly from Toronto to Salt Lake City Utah.

by Laurie Wallace-Lynch

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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