Mahersala Ali (standing in water) won the 2017 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Best Picture-winner “Moonlight.” [Image courtesy of A24]

It may come as a surprise that the final movie in the summer block of the Utah Film Center’s free film series in Moab won the 2017 Academy Awards’ Best Motion Picture of the Year and the Golden Globes’ Best Drama.

A film that can take Hollywood by storm isn’t typically a perfect fit for an arts program focused on meaningful, quality films that had limited release.

But the independently produced fictional drama “Moonlight” certainly isn’t typical, according to the Moab film series spokespeople and film critics worldwide. Shown in only a handful of theaters before the major awards shows placed it in an international spotlight, the film will play in Moab on Thursday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m. at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.

The film’s rise to recognition is in keeping with its overall uniqueness. Adapted from an original stage play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” the film, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, unfolds as the story of the life of a black, gay man, starting from his boyhood as the child of a single, drug-addicted mother in a rough neighborhood in Miami. That may sound like a familiar Hollywood story, but it isn’t, says Utah Film Center Program Coordinator Davey Davis.

“The way the main character, Chiron, is depicted, he’s seen in environments we as cinemagoers have viewed over the years,” Davis said. “But because the film slows down and takes him through human development from childhood to adulthood, you understand how this could happen in a real life … I think that’s this film’s real power – to take a mainstream understanding of black culture and do something with it that’s honest.”

The film moves as a life chronicle told through a series of scenes rather than as a story told with traditional plot mechanisms. It makes for a challenging but beautiful film, Davis said.

“It’s thoughtful, poignant and worth it,” Grand County Library Assistant Jessie Magleby said.

“The film asks questions all of us go through,” Magleby added. “What is manhood; what is it to be an adult? And it offers insight into a way of growing up many of us may have no experience with.”

New York Times movie critic A.O Scott wrote last October that it is true “Moonlight” is a movie depicting a man growing up poor, black and gay, and his experiences with abuse, mass incarceration and school violence. But that isn’t what the movie is about, he said.

“It would be truer to the mood and spirit of this breathtaking film to say that it’s about teaching a child to swim, about cooking a meal for an old friend, about the feeling of sand on skin and the sound of waves on a darkened beach…,” he said.

The Utah Film Center film series’ offerings this year have ranged from challenging current affairs documentaries like last month’s “All Governments Lie,” to international films telling stories about people we all relate to like the Swedish drama-comedy, “A Man Called Ove.” Part of the purpose of the film series is to help bring new characters and stories into the conversation stimulated by cinema, Davis said, and “Moonlight” exemplifies that mission.

At the screening, the Utah Film Center will unveil the next four films in the series this year, Davis said. The films are chosen based on audience interest, but also based on relevant current events conversations. At least one in the new series will include a live question-and-answer session with some of the filmmakers via Skype, he said, offering the audience an opportunity to ask questions.

Presented by the Grand County Public Library and the Utah Film Center, the film series is supported this year by the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission, and individual donors who support the program with a modest annual gift. Donations at the screening are appreciated but not expected.

“We’re pleased to be able to offer these award-winning movies in Moab,” Magleby said.

When: Thursday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m.

Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.

Cost: Free

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