Students from the University of Mississippi competed in the journalism school’s first annual 48-hour documentary film festival the weekend of Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to tell the true stories of those closest to them.
This competition, proposed by Emmy-award-winning documentary producer and Ole Miss alumnus Terry Ewert, was designed to push students to conceptualize, shoot and edit a four-to six-minute film within 48 hours.
Gracie Snyder, Sam Gray and Alec Keyzer-Andre won with a piece called “Guilty by Association” about a sexual assault survivor trying to find comfort after the attack. A film called “Being Here with You,” which told the story of Kelvin Carlson, an Ole Miss student who is known for holding inspiring signs around campus, won second place.
Co-facilitated by Ewert and Ji Hoon Heo, an assistant professor of integrated marketing communications, the festival also required participants to meet a set of deadlines throughout the 48 hours that included loglines, a shot list, a production schedule and a final cut of their films.
“It’s a challenge to all participants to be able to not only create an idea but to fulfill it,” Ewert said.
Although the idea of a 48-hour film festival is not new, this was the first time a competition of its kind was conducted by the School of Journalism and New Media. Ewert said it was the first time he had heard of the festival being for documentary films.
”It made sense to make it a true story and not just a feature film since it was through the school of journalism,” Ewert said. “Normally it’s a fictional kind of film, but this was a story that they are close to that they can get access to.”
Ewert said that most of the participants turned people they were close to, whether it be roommates, friends or family, to share their stories. Graduate student Madelyn Johnson’s team turned to her sorority sisters from her undergraduate years at the university to explore what it meant to be a part of a sorority.
“I was a (Kappa Alpha) Theta undergrad, and I felt like since recruitment was going on during the contest it was very timely,” Johnson said. “It’s something that can be shown during future recruitment (weeks).”
Other students, like those on graduate student Eli Buguey’s team, looked to the history of Oxford to take a modern look at an iconic figure.
“We wanted to look at how William Faulkner was relevant today (using) the visuals of Rowan Oak, his grave, his statue,” Buguey said. “I think we were very visually motivated, and that’s how we tried to tell the story.”
Both Johnson and Buguey said that one of the hardest parts of putting their projects together was finding people to interview or having interviewees not show up or cancel. Along with the struggle of being pressed for time came a competitive edge that drove the teams forward to finishing their films.
“It was just a real trial by fire because of the time crunch,” Buguey said. “But I think that competition breeds creativity and I definitely wanted to do better because I knew there were eight other groups that were trying to be the best.”
Ewert said he hoped the students participating in the contest would learn that they were capable of completing a project like this so quickly, and he was right.
“When I first came into this, I didn’t think it was possible to be able to produce a documentary within 48 hours,” Johnson said. “But afterwards and watching everyone’s documentaries I see that you can put something together and find some very interesting stories in a sort of last minute project.”
Overall, both facilitators said they were happy with how the festival turned out. Twenty students participated, producing seven films which were shown at the end of the festival.
“Many of the students were stressed during the competition, but when they saw their finished product in the Overby Auditorium (on) Saturday evening, I can see that they were proud,” Heo said. “We are all very proud of them.”
Ewert said the point wasn’t to make a perfect film because producing a film at all in 48 hours is a tough challenge, but that he hopes students take these ideas and continue to grow in their filmmaking.
“I was impressed with the enthusiasm and the dedication that all of the students brought to this particular challenge,” Ewert said. “And the people in the department that wanted to make it a successful idea really impressed me. Hopefully this won’t be the last (documentary competition) that we see for the school of journalism.”