‘Snowland’ depicts former polygamist’s fantasy sanctuary | ParkRecord.com

‘Snowland’ depicts former polygamist’s fantasy sanctuary

Crowdfunding campaign announced

Cora Lee Witt, sitting, is surrounded by some of her grandchildren and their friends during a holiday fair in Short Creek. Witt created a fantasy world called "Snowland" as a coping mechanism while she lived in a strict, polygamous and Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint community.
Photo by Jill Orschel

Jill Orschel, an award-winning Park City-based filmmaker, wants to introduce the world to Cora Lee Witt, a visual artist who, after three decades, was able to break out of a Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint community on the Utah and Arizona border.

Orschel plans to reveal a film trailer and announce a crowdsourcing campaign for “Snowland,” which is taken from the name of a fantasy world Witt created inside her mind and thorugh art to cope while living under the strict religious and patriarchal rules of the polygamous sect, at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18, during an online presentation with Park City Film.

“We will do a visual presentation about the project and talk about what we’ve done for the past seven years,” Orschel said. “We will (also) do a Q and A with Park City Film Executive Director Katharine Wang, and introduce the people I’ve brought on board.”

Registration for the presentation, which is part of the Made in Utah Film Series, is required for a suggested minimum donation of $10 to the crowdfunding campaign. The funds raised through the crowdsourcing campaign, which will be through seedandspark.com, will help Orschel move the project closer to the finish line, said filmmaker and “Snowland” marketing manager J.R. Hardman.

Orschel recruited Hardman because Hardman has experience with crowdsourcing campaigns in her own filmmaking career.

“I felt like I could give Jill some advice and help her produce materials so people could learn more about the project,” Hardman said. “Part of the crowdfunding campaign is, obviously, raising money for the film, but it’s really building an audience.”

Hardman said she knows how important it is for Orschel to get Witt’s story onto the screen, and amplify Witt’s voice as an artist and as someone who has experienced emotional and physical abuse.

“(This shows) you can overcome trauma and own your past experience and make something beautiful out of it,” she said.

From left, filmmaker Jill Orschel, Cora Lee Witt, and Witt’s daughter Rebecca Fischer, share a smile during the filming of “Snowland.”
Photo by Julie Shipman

Witt joined the polygamous community when she was almost 12, and became the second wife of polygamous family when she was 14, according to Orschel.

The family broke up after Witt mothered eight children due to abuse allegations, and she got into another marriage as the third wife of another man and had four more children, Orschel said.

To cope with the abuse and traumatic lifestyle, Witt began creating the fairyland, Snowland, under her artistic alter ego C. Raven, a self-taught craftsperson, painter, costume designer and author.

Snowland allowed Witt to transport herself away from her abusive marriage and find healing and power in her creativity, Orschel said.

“Cora’s story is so unique and so specific,” she said. “(I found) she is a beautiful person who has hopes and dreams, and fears and insecurities.”

Orschel met Witt while the filmmaker was making her 2009 award-winning documentary short “Sister Wife.”

Witt is the aunt of DoriAnn, who as the subject of “Sister Wife” answered questions about what it was like being a wife in a polygaous family. Witt visited one of the shoots and had brought a notebook filled with drawings of fairies and castles.

“When I got done with the festival circuit for ‘Sister Wife,’ I was looking for another film to make (and) exploring my own creativity,” Orschel said. “Always in the back of my mind were those pictures that Cora brought.”

Orschel began thinking about making a documentary about Witt that addresses how somebody can stay positive and create beautiful art while dealing with domestic abuse and living under strict religious rules.

While Orschel said she could watch Witt create art all day, she always wanted Witt to talk about her past in front of the camera.

“I wasn’t sure when that was going to happen, but three years in, while she was making transition in her life, she put down Snowland for a little while to reflect,” Orschel said. “She seemed to be in a place to work through these things.”

For four days, Orschel and Abby Jenkins, a Park City High School graduate who went on to become a production manager for ABC’s “Modern Family,” filmed Witt as she opened up about her life.

“That interview was so revealing and she moved me to tears with how delicate she talked about it,” Orschel said. “She was very sensitive about what she wanted to reveal, because she has children who still live in polygamy, and she has loved ones who still believe in it. So we tried to keep it with her experience. There is no finger pointing.”

Orschel’s goal for the film is to show the twists in Witt’s life, and how she developed the courage to speak out about what happened to her behind closed doors.

“She comes out a stronger person, because she learns to believe in herself and go with her gut,” Orschel said. “I think this (film) is going to speak to audiences.”

“Snowland” trailer and crowdsourcing campaign reveal

When: 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18

Where: online

Registration: parkcityfilm.org or.seedandspark.com/fund/snowland#story

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