A Utah film entitled ‘Ninety-Five Senses’ is an Oscar contender

Mar 10, 2024, 5:24 PM | Updated: 5:30 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A short film designed to give young animators a leg up got them a lot more – an Academy Award nomination.

The Salt Lake Film Society’s media accelerator studio, MAST, ran an animation contest. The best animators won the chance to make a movie, entitled “Ninety-Five Senses”, with Utah directors Jared and Jerusha Hess, the husband and wife team that made the hit, “Napoleon Dynamite.”

MAST commissioned University of Utah assistant professor and screenwriter Hubbel Palmer and his writing partner Chis Bowman to write the movie. They had been watching interviews of death row inmates for research for a horror movie.

“Watching these videos, we were really surprised, because, you know, these are people who in some cases had committed heinous acts. But by the end of it, you realize that a lot of them did those things when they were young,” Palmer said. “And they’re completely different people now, you know, you sort of see a real redemption arc to their lives. And you actually have a kind of sympathy for them.”

They wrote a monologue for actor Tim Blake Nelson in which a fictional death row inmate tells his life story through the lens of his five senses.

Six teams of animators, each in a different animation style, visualized the story. The teams spanned the globe from Utah to Florida to Mexico to Brazil and the United Kingdom.

Palmer said they didn’t have great expectations for the film. It was accepted into a few festivals and then a few more for a total of 40 festivals around the world, including an Oscar-qualifying showing in Florida. In late December, they got word that, after a slate of more than 90 contenders had been narrowed to 15 they were still in the running. A few weeks ago, they gathered on a zoom call to hear their film announced as one of the five nominees.

“We were just hoping to give them (the animators) something for their reel that they could show people that they’d worked on. And now they have like, you know, Oscar nominee on their resume,” Palmer said.

You can watch “Ninety-Five Senses” for free on the Documentary + streaming service.

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A Utah film entitled ‘Ninety-Five Senses’ is an Oscar contender