To say that Dr. Alicia Oberle Farmer’s life has been hard may be an understatement. Yet, what she has achieved despite it may be even more remarkable. Farmer, a former 15-year-old mom, and abuse victim, previously earned a doctorate, started a film production company, and directed a feature film. And now, the Salt Lake City, Utah-based filmmaker has commandeered a second feature film, Rite of the Shaman.
And it is going to be in theaters after taking film festivals by storm.
Watch the trailer of the film below:
“It’s crazy – this tiny, low-budget film that was this mother and son (project), this poem to him, it’s blowing up,” Farmer said. “I’m really grateful.”
Farmer’s son Tyrell Oberle beat cancer. That inspired the film. Farmer says she “would as my son’s mother have taken (cancer) upon me if I could (have).”
Shaman is about a mute high school boy named Kai taking care of his fatally ill mother before he discovers his true calling. Farmer paused its festival run since it would be released theatrically. However, before that, it won 23 awards internationally, including six for best picture in one form or another, she said.
The Distributor Who Picked Up Rite of the Shaman Speaks
Brandon Purdie, the founder of Purdie Distribution, saw Shaman at the Utah Film Festival (where it won five awards, including best picture). Community support for the film impressed him, he said. And Tyrell and Farmer were struggling through his bout with cancer, and Farmer then responded by making the film – starring Tyrell – “worked from a theatrical marketing perspective,” Purdie said.
“People like those stories,” he said. “But number two, there was something inspiring about it, an against-all-odds story. … to make this movie and the distribution for the movie, it’s blown me away.”
Those involved in making the film “are really engaged in building something together and it’s worked,” he added.
Also, Purdie saw that Rite of the Shaman was “different,” he said. Folks stayed through the credits of Shaman and gathered together after that. That was different from other films at the festival, he said.
Also, Purdie, who is “always looking for filmmakers who are ambitious”, said, “I’ve never in my entire career never worked with somebody … as ambitious as Alicia.”
Purdie said Farmer has what he is looking for in a theatrical partner: “the stamina and the drive and the passion, and she really knows … what she is doing.” He had said that a theatrical release is “a marathon.”
Other Observations of the Distributor
Purdie also noted the crowdfunding behind the film – it raised $38,300, 16% beyond its fundraising goal, on Indiegogo. He thought that Shaman had “the key to a theatrical release”: connecting with its audience. Farmer has “a knack” for that, Purdie said. Purdie noted that he has been putting films into theaters for 20 years,
“The audience was laughing and crying. That doesn’t happen often with independent films,” he added.
Purdie was also impressed by Farmer’s efforts online in building the company of which she is the founder and CEO (Zepstone Media) and in preparing for Shaman’s release.
Purdie added that given what Farmer and her team are doing with their budget, it would be remarkable what they can do with a larger budget. Through only making low-budget films so far, Zepstone has won more than 40 awards since 2018. Farmer is the founder and CEO of the company.
Rite of the Shaman
Farmer kept the project quiet while working on other projects. That’s because Shaman was so personal to her. Then the Utah Film Festival accepted the film. (There will be significantly more scenes in theaters, Farmer said.)
Despite how personal the film is for Farmer and Tyrell, it’s bigger than them, she said.
“People are gravitating towards it,” she said. “It’s kind of like how CODA won best picture at the Oscars … people are needing inspiration right now.”
Farmer called the film “very experimental in the sense that it makes the everyday epic,” saying that she and her team took Kai’s problems at school and home and made it “a hero story.”
“There are so many people who are heroes in the everyday and they don’t get the recognition they deserve … whether (they are) people taking care of people who are sick or teachers or first responders … but they should be recognized, right?” Farmer said.
In the film, Kai has selective mutism because he lost his father and grandfather at a young age. As a result, he starts to push loved ones away and he gets advice from his grandfather through memories of him. Kai then realizes that even though he is going through dark times, he can change the lives of others around him even through small acts of kindness.
Farmer said we are in an age “when everyone is a keyboard warrior.” She also said that people “are putting out hate and cancel culture and everything is bad and terrifying.” “What if we … flipped it and we can spread positivity online?” she then asked.
“(Kai) knows that using technology, he can do these things,” she said. “He can spread positivity through social media and technology and also, outside of that.”
The second half of the film sees Kai reversing the negative effects of what he brought about in the first half and following in his grandfather’s footsteps, who was a shaman.
“It very much is a hero’s journey,” Farmer said. “There are shaman(s) in every culture and usually, they have to come close to death or a really dark, dark place in order to be initiated … that is kind of what happens in the film; he discovers that he needs to be this beacon … it’s a tear-jerker.”
Farmer said she needed to put out “tons and tons of fires” in post-production.
Farmer called Donovan Colton, who composed the score, “the next Hans Zimmer.”
“Even when I heard the demo suite, all the lightbulbs went off and I realized that this is going to be an epic … fantasy film,” she said.
Farmer wrote the script for the film’s trailer.
“As a director, being able to write (your film’s) trailer script is very rare,” she said. “I had an epiphany and the whole trailer played out in my mind and I was like, ‘I have to get this done.’”
Farmer had no idea that the film would make theaters but is glad not just because it is an inspirational tale, but because Tyrell “killed it,” she said – without acting experience. At the Utah Film Festival, he was asked how he was able to give such a strong performance. He said that he got it from personal experience, Farmer said.
“He was being himself, essentially,” she said.
Dr. Alicia Oberle Farmer, Shaman Director, Escaped Abuse and Was a Teen Mom
At 15 years old, Farmer looked a lot older than she was and she liked older men. One of those men was physically abusive. That relationship trapped her for five years. She was shot at, she said.
“A lot of traumatic things happened,” she said, noting multiple “near-death experiences.” She never thought she would go anywhere and was living in a cycle.
But then she decided to set an example for her children – as an overachiever.
“Being a teen mom and in an abusive relationship, I felt like I had to turn that completely around,” she said.
She went back to college at 21 years old. Now, she has doctorate and master’s degrees (in education) and a bachelor’s degree (in English).
“As dark as it may seem in (people’s) lives … there is hope and that you can turn it around,”
Farmer has had the opportunity to speak to teen moms at her high school.
“That’s been really rewarding to do, just to motivate these young women that their life is over. It’s not,” she said. “They feel like that at the time … but my goal is to help people know that they’re not alone.”
Farmer’s Advice for Abused Folks
Farmer advised those who are in abusive relationships to “never stop trying to get out” given that it takes many attempts before succeeding.
“You deserve better,” she said.
Speaking about being able to earn a doctorate and her successes in filmmaking after enduring such difficult challenges, Farmer said that “A lot of people just don’t realize the resources that are available to them and a lot of people don’t realize the community that is available to them.”
“When it comes to being the victim of abuse, no matter what state you are in, there are organizations and safe places you can go, and when it comes to affording college, they have grants for single mothers; they have state grants; if you prove yourself, they have scholarships,” she said. “You are not alone … and even online communities like Facebook groups, network, connect with people because you aren’t alone.”
When it comes to moving ahead in life after being abused, “you can’t try to gobble the whole pizza at once,” she said. She pointed out that filmmaking is like that.
“Be kind to yourself,” she said.
Farmer’s Film Production Company
Farmer started Zepstone as a photography company in 2016. But when she started doing some producing, she decided to abolish her sole proprietorship and turn it into an LLC.
Now, “it keeps growing,” and there is “a vast network of cast and crew that we can pull from” given that she is in the film and modeling industry and her husband John Farmer, the Zepstone president, is in the radio station and music industry, she said.
“We call it the Zepstone army,” she said. “They are not employees or anything like that. They are just supporters.”
Farmer’s First Feature Film
The name of the first film that Farmer, who was raised in Salt Lake City, directed was City of Salt. It’s about how a community in the city is turned upside down when a popular high school girl disappears during her dad’s political campaign. Farmer called it “almost a cliffnotes version of Utah issues” and it features figures who speak against the dominant culture in the state.
Farmer believes Zepstone is improving since City, while winning 27 awards, didn’t get into theaters like Shaman is.
Tyrell has had another big challenge since beating cancer. After he got hit in a pedestrian hit-and-run accident, his whole wrist had to be rebuilt. Farmer called him and herself “survivors.” They will celebrate at a red-carpet premiere of Shaman on May 24 at the Sandy, Utah location of Megaplex Theatres. The film’s official opening night in Utah will be May 27 at Cinemark Theatres and Megaplex locations in the state. The film’s opening night in Arizona will be June 3 at the Superstition Springs, Ariz. location of Harkins Theatres. Farmer also believes there will be more locations.
Shaman’s entire theatrical run will benefit Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.