Utah celebrates its rich film history in Vancouver

The spectacular natural landscapes of Utah have inspired film makers for many years, and certain locations have become proven attractions for some tourists.

In 2024, Utah tourism authorities have decided the time is right to officially pay tribute to these locations, and to formally identify them as film hotspots for both film enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. This will be done on a Utah Film Trail that is now being established.

The current tribute has taken the form of an anniversary celebration – a 100-year birthday to be precise. Reps from the Utah tourism and film commissions recently orchestrated a three-city road show through Canada, west to east, to present this latest film-based campaign. The reps brought a highlight reel of movie moments that feature Utah’s striking geography, and they made stops in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto last week. Baxter Media’s Ted Davis was in attendance in Vancouver.

A history of film in Utah

One century ago, in 1924, was when the first feature-length Western movie, called “The Covered Wagon,” was released, featuring those dramatic Utah landscapes. This was a silent movie, and was quickly followed by “The Deadwood Coach,” starring the mega-star of the day, Tom Mix, plus more Utah surroundings.

But Utah’s geography was given its most prominent roles when it was revealed to famed film director John Ford, who specialized in the Westerns genre. He ended up directing no less than 11 movies in Utah, including “Stage Coach,” starring a young John Wayne, and “The Searchers,” another landmark Western by Ford with a leading role by Wayne.

Since then, there have been many memorable movie moments that have arisen in the midst of Utah’s striking geography. There is the breathtaking view of Monument Valley observed by Tom Hanks as he runs across the state on Hwy. 163 in a scene from “Forrest Gump”; Susan Sarandon’s last drive with Geena Davis at the end of “Thelma and Louise”; a canyon scene near Zion National Park with Robert Redford and Paul Newman during “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”; and scenes on the salt flats from “Independence Day” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” to name a few.

Informational signage is in the process of being erected at these movie moment locations across Utah, with the first one set to be unveiled in June of this year. US$6 billion is earned from film tourism, said Virginia Pearce, executive director of the Utah Film Commission.

Getting to Utah

And it is now easier to reach Utah, with the resumption of a seasonal schedule of flights by Air Canada from Toronto to Salt Lake City, the capital of the state.

Flights will operate four times per week, departing YYZ at 6:20 p.m. and arriving in SLC at 8:50 p.m., on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays by Airbus 223.

The schedule will operate to Oct. 25, 2024. There is already a daily service from Vancouver to SLC on Delta Airlines.

Photo: Virginia Pearce, executive director of the Utah Film Commission, with Zach Fyne, global markets specialist at the Utah Office of Tourism, pose with Hollywood A-listers during the recent Utah tourism mission in Vancouver.