Staff blog: A limp won’t stop us

After the reality of the March 29th fire that destroyed the Utah Film Center office sunk in, many staff members took to writing to express how they felt about the fire, but more importantly reflected on how the Film Center has impacted them and the community they serve. Each week a different Utah Film Center staff member will share their personal feelings with you through this blogging platform. Thank you for reading and believing in the Utah Film Center staff, board, and community.

The blog below is by Utah Film Center Programming Manager Jeff Horne

Jeff Horne’s Desk, March 29, 2016

It was the middle of September 2011 when I first stepped into the office at 122 South Main Street. I was still limping from an injury sustained a few weeks prior during a Special Olympics Basketball Game.  I had joined the team six months earlier while working for UAID (Utah Association for Intellectual Disabilities). We took the silver metal and that was my last chapter at UAID before I joined my new team at Utah Film Center. I have been fortunate to have spent my professional life working for nonprofit organizations; from the tiny two-person operation at UAID to the ever growing-out-of-it’s-britches, Sundance Film Festival. I find it much easier to swallow that 40-hour a week pill when I know I am working for the community in which I live.  At UAID, I spent two years working to give low-income people living with an intellectual disability an opportunity to enrich their lives through activities, sports, and the arts. The last 4 years, at Utah Film Center, I have been working to enrich the lives of Utahns across the state by sharing stories of the world through film. It took a team effort to win the silver medal in 2011, and it will take a tremendous team effort to recover from the March 2016 fire that consumed the entirety of the Film Center office.

My memories of the Main Street office begin with parking every morning before work. When I started at Utah Film Center, the parking lot we used was under a sign reading, “ASS FACTORY.”  The sign used to read “GLASS FACTORY,” but over time the G and L were lost and with the “new” sign as well as the parking alley gained an instant reputations. The fenders of all Utah Film Center staff cars sat under the FACTORY sign and nosed up against a building that used to be The Dead Goat Saloon. The building stood vacant serving only to give us, and other passersby, a chuckle as we walked around the corner under the ASS FACTORY sign. Anyone who entered the Utah Film Center’s Main Street office knows the layout felt like a carpeted bowling alley and even at times served as an impromptu runway for staff.  A well struck putt could easily roll the straight 75 yards from the back door to the front without hitting a single thing. A green carpet the color of sickly peas covered the floor in the beginning. It was the kind of carpet used in elementary schools as it easily covered the mud prints and vomit stains. The vomit was understandable as the building used to house a police station and then served as a political campaign headquarters. A few visits from office dogs ,and we were grateful for the carpet’s chameleon properties. The walls were painted in a color that was usually only sold to bars to hide the stains from years of tobacco smoking patrons; A color I believe is called, Nicotine Mustard. The colors blend together to create a palette eerily similar to a 1970’s Dee’s restaurant. To use the restroom one had to go to the basement. The basement was an unfinished area that held the bathrooms but also 1,000 square feet of dark corners and creepy sounds. You didn’t linger in the basement, you did your business and left.  

At the bottom of the stairs heading into the basement was a wall with lines drawn with a Sharpie that marked present and past staff members heights. Beside the lines were names and dates. My name was at the top. “Jeff Horne” it said, with the date September 2011 written next to it. Below my name were many others. At the bottom of the stairs, between the bathrooms and the abyss of our dungeon was the heart of our center; a list of names that were and still are the lifeline of our work.   

On March 29th, the day after my birthday, I entered our building for one of the last times. The walls are now scarred unrecognizably black with smoke and fire. Everything is covered in a staggering odor of melted plastic and charred support beams. Nearly all the tools that we used to do our jobs are now destroyed. The weight of desolation hangs in the air and swallows the echoes of past conversations. It may have been a building that only a mother could love, but it was ours. Our building, our home, is now gone. As I stood at the bottom of the structurally unstable stairs one more time I glanced over and unsurprisingly saw that our list of names was also gone, consumed by the blaze. The devastation remains overwhelming.  

But amid the ruin of the office on Main Street, we have found a path to persevere. The show will and must go on for our community. Because of our unyielding supporters and my/our belief that film is important and life-changing, we will recreate what we once had. Our team is creative, we are resourceful, and we will find a way forward even if we limp for a little while. We will find new walls and I eagerly await the day when I can once again put my name up with those who have endured one of the toughest challenges in the story that is Utah Film Center.