PosterThe Stronger Than Fiction Film Festival celebrates the work of students graduating from the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism.  2017 marks our very first graduating class. Our talented students have spent nearly a year developing their own short films for the festival. Each student has directed his or her own documentary, collaborating with other students in the program who serve as their cinematographers, editors, producers and more. The festival will play all the shorts from graduating students, including question and answer sessions following each block of films and an awards program at the end of the festival.

All films are free. The schedule for May 10 at the Missouri Theatre is:

Block A: 10:00 am-noon
Sam & Jess  
dir. Shannon Little
It is often said that Broadway dancers begin looking for new careers around age twenty-nine. Samantha Zack, who has been living her dreams as a dancer for over a decade, is nearing her 30th birthday. Her hometown friend Jessica recently dropped out of college and is moving to New York City to pursue her own career in the spotlight. With almost ten years between the two women, will this turn into a mentorship or a bitter rivalry?

Last of the Last Days
dir. Jordan Inman
This personal and experimental film juxtaposes scenes of home video recordings with letters from the director’s mother sent 20 years later. The director’s decision to leave the family’s faith results in an ultimatum from her mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness: either return to Jehovah or never see her again. As the choices are revealed, the film discovers what has been lost and questions why subsequent generations often repeat the past.

A Conversation Between Parents  
dir. Adam Dietrich
Thadd and Shannon begin a long-distance relationship after a weekend trip with some mutual friends. After traveling to each other’s hometowns a handful of times Shannon becomes pregnant. With plans to have the baby and start a family together, Shannon moves from central Illinois to Columbia, Missouri to live with Thadd. As the couple struggles to make things work for their new family, the threads begin to come undone and uncertainty sets in. Eighteen months of their lives culminate in one conversation.

Then and Now  
dir. Majiyebo Yacim
An exploration of social justice in the 20th and 21st centuries, the film examines the coverage of, tension in and monumental moments that defined protests and movements in the United States, from suffrage movements in the early 20th century to the multifaceted Civil Rights protests of the mid-twentieth century to this year’s Women’s March in Washington. Though each movement is different and deeply embedded within its own historical contexts, the parallels between all of them are striking.

Lost Paradise  
dir. Marc Nemcik
This nonfiction meditative drama follows a learned man to the heart of Kansas as he enters the Survival Condo Project, an Atlas “F” missile silo turned luxury condominium. Built to house a nuclear warhead from 1961 to 1965, the site now serves as a survival bunker for the ultra-wealthy. Imagining life as the last man on earth, the man contemplates doomsday and the enduring spirit of humanity.

Block B: 1:00 pm-3:00 pm
dir. Alexandra Watkins
A crew of teenage boys attempts to satisfy and perform in a world of high expectations as they prepare mentally and physically for competition. Shot through the lens of an older sister, this intimate nonfiction portrait observes the interplay of the boys with their carefully-controlled world.

dir. Varun Bajaj
An experimental, minimalist portrait of four significant moments in the life of Virginia, who grew up in and out of the foster care system. The story unfolds as Ginny recalls snippets of her life, as the camera examines the dissonance between internal psychological spaces and the external spaces in which she exists.

Green Chiles  
dir. Lindsey Miller
Green Chiles follows the people connected to Rio Grande Community Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico. These individuals are determined to make the world a better place by getting closer to nature, but reality gets in the way of this idealism. Soon the members of the farm begin to question if the farm can sustain itself solely on the optimism of the community it tries to serve.

Kinetoscopic Memory  
dir. Steve Gieseke
In 1894, Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera, and the world would never be the same again. The Edison Company produced roughly 350 films over the next three decades. Considered together, this collection tells the story of an idealistic young America, one that dreamed of a better world for all, but created something very different. Kinetoscopic Memory is a documentary investigation of early 20th century American history seen specifically through Edison’s camera lens.

Block C: 4:00 pm-6:00 pm
Welcome to Normal  
dir. Kellan Hayley Marvin
After the town of Normal, Illinois alienates her over her spiritual beliefs, a woman turns inward to cope with the tragic loss of her best friend and regain the life she pictures for herself.

Betti Angela  
dir. Marisa Anz
The film explores the pressures of a woman’s career on all aspects of her life. As she attempts to separate herself from her work, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain detached. Betti Angela reveals the lengths one will go to satisfy needs of intimacy and security.

dir. Joe Petersen
On May 25th, 2008 Parkersburg, Iowa was hit by an F5 tornado, killing seven people and leaving hundreds homeless. After leading a successful effort to rebuild, tragedy struck when high school football coach Ed Thomas was killed by a former player in front of his students. Parkersburg looks at back at the history of Parkersburg, Iowa by observing the town as it is today. This short film chronicles how a town faces unprecedented tragedy and attempts to rebuild and recover.

Anxiety and the Monster  
Dir. Az Rudman
For decades, filmmakers have used anxiety as a device to manipulate the audience. The reason nails on a chalkboard and screeching tires work so well for relaying an emotion to mass audiences is because everyone feels anxious; it’s part of what makes us human. This film uses intense visual expressions to show how it feels to have anxiety, exploring the parts of us we often keep repressed and hidden. We explore how our perception differs from our reality. It’s an attempt to see the invisible.

dir. Morgan Lieberman
This intimately captured film features a housekeeper named Bertha, who is employed to clean large estates in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas, California. With dozens of gated communities built to protect the privacy of high profile residents such as the Kardashians, Britney Spears, and the Jackson family, the film takes viewers into places once inaccessible to reveal a day in the life of one individual maintaining this unreal American Dream.

Block D: 7:00 pm-9:00 pm
dir. Kyle Pyatt
The rural Missouri community of Weldon Spring is home to a nature preserve, a high school and a dark past. While most of its residents have little interest in their town’s shadowy history, retired teacher Tom Whelan refuses to let the old stories fade from memory. As he takes us on a tour of the area, we meet high school sophomore Dylan Busken, who lives a few miles from a looming structure known as the Rockpile. Spurred by talk of toxic water and elevated cancer rates, Dylan sets out to learn more about the Rockpile’s origins. These investigations converge when Tom and Dylan hike deep into the woods in search of ruins that may or may not exist. While they dig for the buried secrets of their hometown, they also shed light on the dynamic between fact and folklore in small town USA.

dir. Charlie Lonergan
Entropy is a first-hand account of the riots and social disorder in the wake of the inauguration of President Donald Trump. It documents the violence and confusion that have become an everyday occurrence in the streets of America. We are at a calamitous time in our nation’s history. The political elite have been defeated by an inexperienced celebrity, Democrats and Republicans are in a panic, and proxy wars rage between superpowers. All the while, self-proclaimed anarchists and communists move to burn cities to the ground in an attempt to create social entropy to fuel their revolution.

Rosebud Line  
dir. Meg Vatterott
Native American teens experience the highest rate of suicide of any population group in the United States. The Rosebud Reservation is home to Sicangu Sioux. The film follows Geraldine and Caroline, two Sioux women who run the only 24/7 suicide and crisis hotline on the reservation. The hotline is a single cell-phone that could ring at any time as these women go about their daily lives. Geraldine and Caroline reveal their everyday challenges, intimate moments, and motivations for the work they do.

That Time I Made a Movie About Brady  
dir. Katie Schnell
As a memoir to a project forgotten, this film chronicles the journey of Brady Brock, a 21-year-old competitor in the MR340 river race. As Brady battles physical and emotional obstacles to achieve his goals of becoming one of the youngest competitors to complete the 340-mile solo race, the film examines his motives and those of the filmmaker. Exploring the process through the ups and down of a first-time filmmaker, the film unravels what happens to a friendship when a camera is introduced.


Robert Greene and Frederick Wiseman

Robert Greene (left) listens as Frederick Wiseman (right) discusses his filmmaking career on April 5, 2017 at Indiana University.

BLOOMINGTON, IN – The old and new guard in the documentary world met Wednesday, April 5 at the Indiana University Cinema when groundbreaking observational filmmaker Frederick Wiseman sat in conversation with Murray Center Filmmaker-in Chief Robert Greene, himself an important voice in modern cinematic nonfiction. The event launched Indiana University’s “Filmmaker to Filmmaker: Conversations from the Director’s Chair” program.

The program included screenings of several of Wiseman’s films, including Basic Training (1971) and Boxing Gym (2010), in the days leading up to the conversations, followed by a screening of Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (2016). Before the filmmakers took the stage, IU Cinema hosted a reception where students and Bloomington film enthusiasts could discuss film one-on-one with the directors.

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Logo for Spicee program

A popular Spicee program

Two Black Men a Week.  Syria: The Legions of Holy War. Migrants: The Pacific Solution. The first piece deals with the killing of black people by the US police, the second tells a week among jihadist groups in Syria, the third tackles the burning issue of migrant camps in Australia through drawings and video. All three are digital documentaries produced by the young, French media company, Spicee.

In June 2015, two French broadcast journalists, Jean-Bernard Schmitt and Antoine Robin launched this new documentary online-only outlet. Being digital constitutes its challenge and its characteristic.

“TV: a dead piece of furniture”
According to a survey made by a TV station in France, French TV viewers are 50.7 years old in average. “TV is a dead piece of furniture for young people,” Schmitt said.

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photo of Kamau Bilal

Kamau Bilal

When Kamau Bilal was 15, he would spend 8 hours at a time in his room, using a bootleg copy of Adobe Premiere to edit movies he made with his brother. Today, he works as a professional editor and filmmaker and is the newest faculty member in the University of Missouri’s Film Studies program.

In his first semester with the program this fall, Bilal is teaching Introduction to Cinematography and Principles of Post-Production. His experience as former lead editor of the local production company Chimaeric has given him ample experience editing commercial projects. However, throughout his career thus far, Bilal has always striven to cultivate his passion for narrative storytelling.

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Scene from Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning

Renowned documentary editor Jonathan Oppenheim visited the Murray Center in October for a special screening of Paris is Burning and subsequent Q&A with filmmaker-in-chief Robert Greene at Ragtag Cinema. Students also got the opportunity to meet with Oppenheim for guidance on their specific projects and careers.

Paris is Burning is an immersive documentary set in New York in the late 1980s exploring the culture of drag queens through the “balls” in which they perform, as well as in their everyday lives.

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Eric Hynes photo

Eric Hynes (right) speaks to students at the Murray Center

Film critic and journalist Eric Hynes visited the Murray Center in October to discuss the extensive parallels he sees between the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and current trends in cinematic documentary film. Hynes used Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine as a jumping off point for his exploration of these parallels, discussing the film with Greene, and reading excerpts from a piece he wrote in Film Comment about it.

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Cima headerWomen in filmmaking face many challenges that their male counterparts may not. As a woman student at the University of Missouri studying documentary journalism, I’ve gotten the opportunity to discuss these unique hurdles with successful women in the film industry. These difficulties affect women’s abilities to succeed in the field. But does the same fate befall women filmmakers internationally.

The dynamic European film industry encompassed 91,000 companies, employed more than 370,000 people, and reaped about €60 billion in revenues in 2010. Spain is one of the “Big Five” countries for cinema within the EU. According to a recent report from CIMA, the Spanish Association for Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media Professionals, male directors of narrative films outnumber females by a ratio of 5 to 1. More startling statistics include the 2015 nominations from the Goya awards, Spain’s most prominent national film awards. Out of 143 films, 65 narrative features were directed by men while just 12 were directed by women. In the documentary category, there were 50 male-directed films and 17 female-directed films. With about the same number of male and female students in film schools, this effect must come from forces outside the filmmaking education system.

Rebeca Juesas Celorio, a former social worker from Oviedo, Spain says, “There are practically no female women directors. There is a list of 50 directors of 20 Minutes, a digital news show, and only two are women. Of course, Spain is very bad in this regard… It is clear that women do not have access to leading positions in many jobs because they are women.”

The gender disparity in media in Spain is clearly noticeable to the general public. To combat this issue, 2010 CIMA held a meeting in 2010 with more than 100 women in film and TV and new technologies to discuss concerns. Afterwards, CIMA created European Women Audiovisual Network, EWA, “to achieve progress in establishing gender equality in the audiovisual world.” Spain is making strides to fight the overwhelming gender gap and give talented women more of an opportunity in the workplace.

Despite society’s pushback, CIMA’s director, Inés París, is an actor, writer for television and film, and writer/director of three feature films. In an interview from the article Spanish women directors provide an exciting model, París told Carla Reyes, the EWA manager, journalist, and producer, “The goal is to be able to count on full visibility in all the film festivals, whatever gender we are. It’s necessary to achieve equality within the juries of those festivals. But it’s clear that in order to arrive at such an ideal situation we must go through the specific festivals as a way to promote the feminine point of view in cinematography, and as an answer to the way men film-makers often condemn women film-makers to oblivion.”

París wants to utilize women’s film festivals to promote the talent of women, but that is not the end goal for her. She stresses the importance of women’s views being held equally to men’s. This is an important goal for society as a whole. Filmmakers hold different perspectives and ideals that they portray, consciously or subconsciously, through their work. Because society receives such a large proportion of media from the male perspective, París feels the audience is lacking a certain vantage point that women bring. Through the dedication of women like París, steps are being made in the right direction to support women filmmakers in Spain and across the globe.

Sutcliffe and Cabral

David Sutcliffe (right) and Lyric Cabral (center) speak with Robert Greene (left) at the Murray Center event.

An in-depth Q&A hosted by the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism and led by filmmaker-in-chief Robert Greene, featured filmmakers Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe explaining what went into their Sundance award-winning documentary (T)ERROR. The co-directors appeared for two days at the center as the kick-off visiting artists for the 2016-17 school year in August. Their film is the first ever to detail an active FBI investigation from the inside: following the life of informant Saeed Torres as he tracks a terror suspect in Philadelphia. But the deeply engaging and revelatory film wouldn’t exist without a handful of chance occurrences, the first of which was Cabral’s first contact with Torres more than 10 years ago.

As she told the audience, Cabral first met Torres when she moved into the same Harlem brownstone where he was living, in 2002. Then an undergraduate journalism student at Columbia, Cabral said Torres interested her from the start, and she went out of her way to get his attention. But after a couple years of cultivating a relationship with Torres, in 2005 he disappeared. It was then that he confessed to being an FBI informant, something Cabral said made her feel betrayed, but also gave her a story to follow.

The next chance occurrence led to Cabral and Sutcliffe’s collaboration on the project. The two had been teaching together at an after-school program in Harlem, when the FBI arrested one of Sutcliffe’s students. The arrest and ensuing court case led Sutcliffe to make a 55-minute documentary about his student, entitled Adama, and sparked his interest in FBI informants. When Sutcliffe told Cabral he wanted to make a documentary about an informant, Cabral said she actually knew one and (T)ERROR was born.

The filmmakers explained most of the process of actually shooting Torres’s investigation only took a matter of months, from the fall of 2011 through the spring of 2012. What followed was a sequence of applying for and receiving grants, networking and getting the film into festivals and a final year of editing. The finished film, which premiered at Sundance in 2015, cohesively leads audiences through a series of questions and answers, and uses their preconceptions to set up certain façades before knocking them down. But Cabral and Sutcliffe explained it took a good deal of outside help to arrive at the finished film.

Cabral audio image

Lyric Cabral plays audio of her early conversations with (T)ERROR subject Saeed Torres.

(T)ERROR is a film that builds a reality in viewers’ minds, playing off what they think they know about the FBI and terrorism, only to effectively disassemble it completely. But the process of building this reality is one with which the filmmakers struggled. Cabral and Sutcliffe told Murray Center students the opening of the film was a crucial part of that process and that getting it to where it is now was a real struggle. They said they edited several iterations of the opening scene before settling on the one in the film. As it stands, the film begins with Torres telling the filmmakers he doesn’t want to be filmed, only to consent a moment later. It establishes the unreliable, and confrontational relationship between Torres and the filmmakers that adds an air of mystery and authority, which they later strip away.

Sutcliffe cited filmmaker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour; My Country, My Country) as an inspiration and a mentor, but also said Poitras was one of several voices who cautioned him and Cabral about the potential legal pitfalls of making (T)ERROR. Cabral herself called the film an “ethical mess,” but noted there was also the possibility of legal infractions that the filmmakers had to be very careful to avoid, including obstruction of justice. With help from legal advisors, they managed to make their film without breaking the law, but in doing so they were forced to withhold certain information from their subjects, until the film was complete.

contemporary_colorDocumentary Journalism senior Marc Nemcik is interning a Filmmaker Magazine this summer.  The publication is allowing Nemcik to contribute some content, including interviews with filmmakers.  This month, Nemcik spoke with sound designer Lawrence Everson about his work on the new Ross Bros.’ documentary, Contemporary Color.  The film chronicles the renowned color guard competition as it plays out inside massive performance arenas.  Nemcik asked Everson about how he made these seemingly daunting venues work with his sound design plan.

Read the interview here at Filmmaker Magazine.

San Diego Film FestivalAttention student filmmakers: After putting in all of this work and creating great films, it is time to share your stories with the world. So what is the next step? Though some prominent film festivals don’t accept student work, there are many that encourage students to submit their work. Listed below are several choices:

San Diego Film Festival: Located in San Diego, California, SDFF’s vision is to “…to build community around the art of visual storytelling…[by] present[ing] the viewing of films and discussions with filmmakers that inspire, entertain, educate, transform and stimulate conversation among film lovers.” With the festival running this year from September 28 to October 2, submissions opened on February 8 and close by the extended entry deadline of June 24. Entry fees start at $30 and go up to $110, and student filmmakers can receive a discount of up to $10.

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