Sundance is one of the most exciting events of the year for movie lovers and Utah residents alike. There’s the feeling in the air that any movie could be a breakout hit, any talent could become the next star. Anything can happen.

And when a local hits it big, it becomes even more special.

Salt Lake City-based startup production company Vavani beat the odds with “Quiet Heroes,” by filmmakers Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga, and Amanda Stoddard. Their film was 1 of 110 selected this year, representing 29 different countries and 13,468 submissions.

It’s an official selection of the 2018 Documentary Premieres program.  The film details one doctor’s fight against stigma, shame, and ignorance through the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Utah. Salt Lake City audiences have been loving “Quiet Heroes” – the  January 21st world premiere at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center received a standing ovation.sundancepeopleWe asked Amanda and Jared about their experience, and their thoughts about getting the film accepted to Sundance.

First off, how does it feel to be selected?

We’re overwhelmed and exhausted! It was an unexpected development, because it is our first film.  We thought it will probably play locally, but did not think this would happen. Amanda got the call from John Cooper (Sundance Film Festival Director) while shopping in the grocery store and could not believe it.

Where did you get the idea for the film?

The idea came to Jared when he heard about an HIV/AIDS archive project from Terry Kogan, a law professor, who was helping to establish it in the Special Collection at the University of Utah Marriott Library. Memorializing the effort is important and it’s an amazing story, but how do we get more people to access it?

How did you convince Ries and Snyder to turn their story into a film?

They had to warm up to it. They didn’t feel they did anything special. To them, they were just doing their job. We talked about it as an opportunity to tell the story of Utah’s AIDS years — how far things have come and how far they still need to go. When we took the spotlight off of them, they were comfortable.

How long did the project take? 

Three years. We approached Ries on the 2nd day of Sundance 2015, and here we are at the film’s premiere in 2018.

What is the most important factor is in getting a film accepted to Sundance?

It’s all about timing. Quiet Heroes is a fantastic story and compelling enough to draw international audiences. There are so many incredible filmmakers who got turned away and ours got in. The festival programmers will read the Zeitgeist of what is happening in our collective culture, and base their selections from it. Our story is historical but also very timely.

What is the message you want audiences to take from it?

This is a story of hope and resilience and doing the right thing in the middle of darkness. It’s a reminder that it just took two people to stand up.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

How to make an interview come to life. There’s a timeline to the story, but then we have to talk about other things – the stigma of shame, love and family. The challenge is figuring out how these fit into the historical timeline and making it relevant, editing it but keeping the structure in-tact.

The crew was under 20 people – some were full time staff, other were contractors. It was a challenge to figure out everyone’s responsibilities when we know that some are in it for the long haul and others are short term. It is all part of the overall tapestry in making a film.

Tell us more about your production company Vavani, how would you like to see Salt Lake City’s creatives become more involved in your projects?

We have been doing a lot of local sourcing. There is a lot of untapped talent in Salt Lake City. There aren’t too many out there like us — at Vavani we want to keep the conversation forward. Vavani’s film/TV ethos is to tell timely, compelling, authentic, and socially conscious stories from underrepresented perspectives.

Advice for budding filmmakers?

As a filmmaker it’s really hard to get a sense of the business side of things. Learn as much as possible about other aspects of the business – marketing, budgets, how contracts work, how lawyers can support the film. Artistically we would say finish all of your projects. It might not be the best version right now but just finish them. If you’re not finishing work you’re not a filmmaker.   

What’s next up next?  What projects are in the pipeline?

We have 10 fiction episodic and various features in the pipeline. We’ll shoot 1-2 in the next 18 months. As far as documentaries we always have ideas running, we keep our ear to the ground.  We never know when the next story will find us.