This 2023 Sundance Film Festival selection was filmed entirely in Utah

In his Sundance Institute organicfilm director and producer Jake Van Wagoner claims “you’ve never heard of” the small Utah town where he resides (and it’s true, I hadn’t). But perhaps it was an intimate knowledge of his mountainous home base that made it the perfect backdrop for his latest film, “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out,” which premieres next weekend at the 39th annual Sundance Film Festival.

The film, which is called “ALIENS” for short, has a lot of Utah ties. “We shot everything here in Utah, and helped of the cast … are Utah locals,” says writer and producer Austin Everett. About 80 percent of the film was shot in “rural” Utah, Van Wagoner says, listing small towns like Kamas, Echo, Wallsburg, and Palmyra—all perfectly unassuming communities for some sci-fi action.

“ALIENS” follows the story of Itsy, a teenage girl who resents the small town to which her family moved. The town of Pebble Falls becomes a lot less boring, of course, once she befriends a boy who believes he saw his parents get abducted by aliens.

“He’s not even mad or sad that these aliens took his parents. The thing he’s most upset about is that he didn’t get abducted, too,” Everett explains. “His whole thing is that he’s tracked down when the aliens are going to come back, and when they come back, he wants them to take him with them.”

Everett and Van Wagoner wanted to make a movie that wasn’t necessarily created for kids but that contained an element of magic and was appropriate for families to watch together. Overall, it’s a coming-of-age story infused with teen comedy, some drama, and some sci-fi, Everett says.

“We are very much tapping into that 90s-teen type of movie that we love,” he continues, which makes sense, given that Everett and Van Wagoner—who both studied film at Brigham Young University—met on set in Park City while working on a Nickelodeon pilot. Then, about two years ago, Van Wagoner phoned Everett to loop him into a future project. “I called him back a month later and said, ‘What about a movie called, “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out?”’ Before I had written anything, I was like, ‘This is the title.’ ”

The film, which started production in November of 2021, wasn’t complicated by Covid as much as it was complicated by filming during a freezing Utah winter. “All of our December shoots were up above Midway, and we were shooting in the middle of the night in the mountains,” Everett says. “It was 15 degrees, and we were trying to shoot these very emotional scenes. Of course, the actors pulled it off.”

Other than that, shooting went smoothly—in part because much of the cast and crew work and grew up in Utah. “As far as shooting locations go, everything was in our backyard,” Everett says. “And the Utah film community, as small as it is, really came together to help make this movie.”