CEDAR CITY – A movie production in Cedar City and the surrounding area calls for volunteers as a Southern Utah University alumna-turned-acclaimed-film director, makes her return to a place she once called home.
Mitsuyo Miyazaki, the director, writer and producer of the film “Where We Begin,” graduated with her bachelor’s degree from SUU in 1999 – majoring in theater arts and minoring in dance performance and fine arts – before moving to California to earn her Master of Fine Arts in film and television production from the University of Southern California. She has since earned over 40 awards and nominations from various film festivals and organizations all over the world.
She had several inspirations for her upcoming film, “Where We Begin,” Miyazaki said, one of which was her experience spending one last night with her grandmother before her passing. She wrote about her experience on the film’s website and said she will be incorporating aspects of it into the film.
“’Where We Begin’ is about an old woman who is about to move on to the next chapter after her life,” Miyazaki said, “and in her last breath, she takes a look back on her life and her lover who she lost during the war.”
Practicing dance at SUU was another inspiration for Miyazaki’s film, which will have many dance scenes choreographed by Kay Andersen, associate professor of dance and department chair of theater and dance at SUU.
Dancers traveling from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and St. George will meet up with local performers from SUU and Canyon View High School to work together on what, Miyazaki said, she hopes will be a film with epic proportions.
“I couldn’t think of any better way to share this (story) than through dance movement,” Miyazaki said. “Some people can say it’s abstract … but my goal is to make a film that is more emotional; that an audience will see it and feel emotion.”
Yvonne Jimenez, producer of “Where We Begin,” said her team has been working hard to get this production started. Along with the help of some local volunteers working as production assistants, progress is coming along smoothly, she said.
“So far, they have worked on everything from office work to editing footage,” Jimenez said. “And for the shoot itself, we’re going to need all hands on deck as far as production is concerned.”
While the director and producers have been the brains of the operation, Peter Maestrey, assistant director and producer of the film, said the real backbone of the project is the production assistants who have volunteered their time.
“Between the three of us – Yvonne, Mitsuyo and I – we’ve been able to hold a solid foundation for this (production),” Maestrey said. “But it wasn’t until we got the volunteers that we were able to create with velocity.”
The process for picking where a volunteer belongs in the production is important because, Maestrey said, he wants to ensure both the film and the assistants take something away from the experience.
“What I normally do, when choosing a volunteer, is I interview them to find out what is important to them, what they are hoping to get out of this and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he said. “So depending on who they are and who they want to be in the world determines where we use them.”
Though Miyazaki has traveled to many different places throughout the world, she said she eventually chose this area of Southern Utah as the main shooting ground for her production because of the land’s natural beauty.
“When I first moved to Cedar City it was a shock because I came from a big city in Japan, but at the same time I’d never seen anything so beautiful in any other place I’d been at that time.” Miyazaki said. “It was like a no-brainer. I just wanted to come home to shoot a film because I want to share this beauty with people around the world.”
Along with the beauty of the area, Jimenez said, she has been drawn in by the kindness and support of the community and businesses of Southern Utah, all of who assisted in making this film possible.
“Everyone has been so generous and welcoming to us, so we want to make sure the community knows how much we appreciate that,” Jimenez said. “We want to continue to build that because they are on this journey with us.”
Official filming for “Where We Begin” is set to begin Aug. 19-23. Afterwards, the finishing touches and editing need to be completed before the film can make its debut at film festivals. However, Maestrey said he assures the people of Cedar City that there will be a community screening where the public will be able to view the final production.
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