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Need a filmed-in-Utah Sundance pick? Try ‘Aliens Abducted My Parents’

Steve Olpin
Jespers Comet Films, LLC
From left to right, Emma Tremblay as Itsy and Jacob Buster as Calvin in the sci-fi comedy "Aliens Abducted My Parents And Now I Feel Kinda Left Out."

The Sundance Film Festival is back (and) in person! For the first time in two years, cinephiles will be able to rub elbows with famous faces and screen new films in Park City.

If you need help with your 2023 lineup choices, there’s one that was filmed entirely in Utah: “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kind of Left Out.”

It’s a sci-fi comedy that focuses on two teens and their unlikely friendship: Calvin, who is convinced aliens took his parents when he was little, and Itsy, who just moved in from the big city — and can’t wait to get out. The aspiring journalist befriends Calvin just to write an article about how weird he is.

“The moral of the story is: You can make every situation work for what you need and [be] happy with who you are,” said director Jake Van Wagoner, who lives in Wasatch County.

“[Find] the people that you gravitate towards and that you relate the most to. I think that's the lesson that we learned — you don't need to change. … You can be who you are and live that life right from where you are.”

Steve Olpin
Jespers Comet Films, LLC
From left to right, Kenneth Cummins as Evan and director Jake Van Wagoner on the set of "Aliens Abducted My Parents And Now I Feel Kinda Left Out."

Van Wagoner wants audiences to come away from the film uplifted. Even though at times Calvin and Itsy’s situations feel hopeless, they connect with each other after discovering they have more in common than it initially seemed.

It might not turn out exactly how you thought, but there is someone rooting for you, and there is someone out there that you can team up with,” Van Wagoner said.

The Sundance Institute Local Lens program will put on a free screening of the movie on Jan. 24 at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City. To get in, you’ll need to sign up and bring your Utah ID.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ciara Hulet: Is this something you've had to struggle with? The pull between your dreams and just appreciating what you have? 

Jake Van Wagoner: That's a great question. I feel like for a long time I was like, “Oh man, I need to move to L.A. or I need to be somewhere else.” We actually did move to New York. I'm not from Utah, but we've lived here for quite a while. But for a portion of our marriage, we went and lived in New York, and I was a writer on a TV show out there for a while, and strangely enough, the pull was actually the opposite way. I felt like I missed this slower life. … I work all over the world anyways. And so having this home base here in this rural town in Utah, it's really actually rejuvenating to me, and it's something that I've come to appreciate a lot more.”

CH: In some ways, the movie feels like a love letter to rural life. 

JVW: In this town that I live in, there [are] people that have lived there for a hundred years. It's so fun to see how they live and how content they are and what kind of life you can live. It's not for everybody, but it is that message, “Yeah, this is what we want and this feels good and we're able to make it work and be happy.”

CH: What's your favorite moment from the film? 

JVW: I'm not going to give any spoilers, but I feel like the end sequence. It just came together really well. I love the performances and I love how we tied things up in a way. Not everything gets solved in the movie. Life is not perfect.

Ciara is a native of Utah and KUER's Morning Edition host
Emily Pohlsander graduated with a journalism degree from Missouri State University and has worked for newspapers in Missouri and North Carolina. She was recognized by the Missouri Press Association for her series on budget cuts in six adjacent school districts.
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