Local filmmaker pours heart into ‘Rite of the Shaman’ | ParkRecord.com

Local filmmaker pours heart into ‘Rite of the Shaman’

Story inspired by son’s fight with cancer

Local filmmaker Alicia Oberle Farmer's feature "Rite of the Shaman," which was partially shot in Park City, was inspired by her son, Tyrell Oberle, who plays the lead role of Kai.
Courtesy of Zepstone Media

Salt Lake City-based filmmaker Alicia Oberle Farmer remembers how emotional it was filming the final scene of her upcoming feature, “Rite of the Shaman,” at an office of Point Productions in Park City a few weeks ago.

“The last scene is between the film’s bully and a high school counselor, and it was such a memorable moment for people on set, because you’re getting a perspective from the bully’s side of why he lashes out,” Farmer said.

While that scene pulled at the heartstrings, it’s safe to say the whole film, which is scheduled for theatrical release on May 27, is an emotional and personal project for Farmer.

The story was inspired by Farmer’s 22-year-old son, Tyrell Oberle, who fought a two-year battle with cancer when he was in his teens.

“He’s very much a shaman,” Farmer said. “He’s into nature. He loves animals. He’s very kind. He practices healing and is hiking all the time, and when he was battling cancer, those things were how he overcame the whole experience.”

As Farmer began piecing together a story, she also took inspiration from a children’s book called “The Shaman” that she started writing a few years ago.

“I started working on my PhD, and didn’t have time to finish the book, but I had this vision of a short film that I could make about a shaman boy,” she said. “So I combined that with who my son is.”

Farmer calls her son a hero.

“He was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma when he was 15 1/2 , and they started him on chemo that ended when he was 17,” she said. “And while he has been in remission for five years, it’s still terrifying for us when he has to go back to do scans. He’s a wonderful person inside and out.”

As the story started taking shape, Farmer mentioned it to a friend, Janice Spencer-Wise, who is a high school teacher.

“She said she would love to help me flesh out the story,” Farmer said. “The high school perspective in the film comes from Janice, one of the writers of the script, and it delves into what it is like to be a teenager in high school and the struggles they go through.”

Throughout the writing and filmmaking, Farmer wanted to take on the topic of cancer and how it affects families, but she didn’t want to exploit her son.

“So instead of the boy having cancer in the story, we decided that it would be the mother who does,” Farmer said with her voice full of emotion. “My reasoning is because I wish I could have taken it from him. I wish it had been me who had it and not him.”

Once the first screenplay was finished, Farmer asked her son if he would like to take on the role as Kai, the film’s title character.

“He’s never acted a day in his life, and got shy and nervous,” she said. “I told him if he wasn’t comfortable with that, I still wanted him to be part of the casting process so we can find the right person. But he came back to me a few days later and said he would do it.”

Throughout the filming, Farmer tried to be sensitive about her son’s feelings, and let him do what felt right.

“He was a natural, because he would use the memories of his experience,” she said.

The first version of “Rite of the Shaman” was a 60-minute feature and won best picture, best cinematography, best editing, best music score and best supporting actress at the 2022 Utah Film Festival in January.

The film’s reception surprised Farmer, whose friend told her to expand it for a possible theatrical release. So they expanded the script to better describe the characters and story arcs.

“The first version of the film was 60 minutes long, and we decided to expand it by 15 minutes or so,” she said. “The second half the characters needed some fleshing out. We really wanted to make it as perfect as it could possibly be and get closure with some of the other characters.”

One of the closures is with the film’s bully, portrayed by Ethan Bracken, and the high school counselor, played by Nicholas Perez, who is also known as X96 radio’s Sgt. Perez, in the scene that was filmed at Point Productions, Farmer said.

“I loved the scene, because it gets at the root cause of why the bully is who he is, and that he is making a step forward to change,” she said.

Park City-based author and actress Trish Walker introduced Farmer to Point Productions, and General Manager Ben Pieper, who became one of the executive directors of “Rite of the Shaman.”.

Walker, a producer of “Rite of the Shaman,” was an extra on Farmer’s first feature film, “City of Salt,” which was released in 2020, and Farmer, founder of Zepstone Media, a production company, has worked with Walker on a Disney project.

“I have what I call a Zepstone Army that is made up of everyone who has worked on our films and who have supported us, so we’re like a huge family,” Farmer said. “Trish was helping me come up with a gala and crowdfunding. We hit it off, and she told Ben, and he wanted to get involved. They are not only huge assets for the film, but also for our futures.”

As Farmer prepares for the May 27 release, she and her crew are currently in the middle of an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for advertisement and promotion for “Rite of the Shaman.”

“We’re currently about $20,000 short of the goal, so we’re ⅓ there,” she said. “We weren’t planning on a marketing or P.R. budget for this personal project, so we’re building the plane while we’re flying. The campaign is raising funds for us to get the film into as many theaters as possible — not just in Utah, but potentially looking at regional release.”

Farmer hopes as many people as possible will be able to see the film.

“Every part of it came from the heart of everybody on the team, because it was an important and inspiring story,” she said. “My son is a hero. This film is on a hero’s journey, and the people who have helped us are heroes who are making this miracle happen.”

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