– By Sam Hendrian –
This past January, JPCatholic directing professor Nathan Scoggins took four MBA students to Sundance, the country’s largest independent film festival. Staged in Park City, Utah, and founded in 1978, it showcases films of all genres from filmmakers around the world. The four students who attended were Mary Pelchat, Vince Salerno, Gabe Moore, and J.J. Schindler, all of whom had never attended Sundance before.
Upon arriving at Sundance, the students participated in the Windrider Forum, which is a discussion panel that brings together Christian universities to discuss how to effectively incorporate faith into film. This was the first year the forum welcomed Catholic universities. Vince explained, “Directors and producers of some of Sundance’s best movies came to talk about their films and how they dealt with the representation of the Christian community. We also had extensive discussions on race and theology.”
Of the 4,000 feature films and 11,500 short films that were submitted to Sundance this year, 110 feature films and 13 short films were screened. Many of the attendees were Park City locals, and Vince said “their enthusiasm [for movies] made it easy to have a conversation.” Vince saw eleven films at the festival, and his three favorites were Burden, Un Traductor, and Hearts Beat Loud. Burden, a film about a man trying to leave the KKK, left a particular impact on him.
Gabe agreed that it was a film to remember, saying, “From all of us who went, it was clear that Burden had won our approval. Coincidentally, it also won the festival’s Audience Award.” J.J. added, “[It] was a huge culture-changing film that I thought was amazingly engaging and disturbing.” In addition, he really enjoyed the movie Ophelia, which was a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet through the eyes of Ophelia. “It was a beautiful take on Shakespeare,” he said.
Mary Pelchat saw thirteen films at the festival, and she said some of her favorites were Tully, A Woman Captured, and Assassination Nation. “These films pushed creativity and story to bring to life characters whose stories were moving and strong,” she explained. “These films inspired me the most in terms of storytelling.”
Each student was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to attend the festival. Vince recalled, “I loved being engulfed by the film culture and being surrounded by people who were just as passionate about film as I was.” He also added with a humorous touch, “Also, seeing Nick Offerman, a.k.a. Ron Swanson… as a big fan of Parks and Recreation, that was another great moment for me.”
Gabe reflected, “If I had to pick a #1 highlight from Sundance, I couldn’t do it. There were too many great moments I experienced at the festival. I mean, a full week of seeing movies is an experience in itself. One standout moment, thought, was the festival’s ‘surprise screening.’ Every year, Sundance screens a secret movie (last year’s was Get Out), and this year was Jason Reitman’s new film Tully, which was such a great surprise.”
Mary concluded, “For me, the highlight was the panels after each film where the director and various members of the crew would come out to answer questions and discuss their film.” Finally, J.J. shared, “The #1 highlight for me was meeting producer [of Burden] Robbie Brenner in person and talking about the challenges of telling powerful true stories and the difficulties young producers have starting out.”
This was the seventh time Professor Scoggins attended Sundance, and he said that this year was particularly inspiring because “the focus [was] on the films as opposed to the celebrity aspect… and it really became more a celebration of the movies and the opportunity that some of these first-time filmmakers had to get their movies made.” Like Gabe and Vinny, Burden was also his favorite film. He said, “It’s not a perfect film, but for me, I thought it was just exceptional in terms of the themes [the director] was exploring.” Another film he enjoyed was Come Sunday, which tells the story of an African-American preacher who starts to believe and to preach that hell doesn’t exist. “I just found it really thought-provoking,” he explained.
The trip to Sundance was a rich and rewarding cinema-centric experience for Professor Scoggins and the four JPCatholic students who attended, and it will hopefully be repeated in the future with new students. Mary summed it up well, saying, “Whether they were a moviegoer or a moviemaker, everybody at Sundance was in love with film. That, to me, was powerful all on its own.”
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.