The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.