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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Film students take a seat in director’s chair

Capstone film projects reflect talent and commitment to advocacy

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2024 print edition. You can find the digital version here

As American University’s Class of 2024 watches their college career come to a close, many seniors in the School Of Communication’s Film and Media Arts Division begin their most challenging assignment — their capstone. 

“This is actually my first time directing a film like this,” said Taemin Kim, a senior in the program. “I've worked on a lot of other people’s productions, but this is the first film that I've written, directed, produced with myself at the helm.”

Kim’s film “Rest Stop” is about two characters coping with personal traumas, who have a random encounter at a rest stop that transforms their lives.

Kim, like many other film students, is creating a ten-minute film that represents the culmination of their work and studies while at AU. 

Outside of feedback from professors and mentors, they coordinate every aspect of the filmmaking.

This monumental task is made easier by the collaborative nature of the AU film community. While spread throughout different classes, everyone is looking to gain experience and improve.

“We all work together,” Kim said. “People volunteer their time and their resources or energy. A lot of people have different specialties; some people are focused on the camera; some people sound; some people are lighting or gaffer specialized people; it’s just a matter of hitting the right people up.”

Some students have partnered up to produce a film together and share the responsibilities. 

Seniors Lulu Bernard and Whitney Foote co-directed “Under the Same Sky,” a film about a college student who becomes homeless and is helped by a professor. 

“We've collaborated all the way through the process,” Bernard said. “For pre-production, Whitney is focusing on the shot lists and the mood board. I'll be doing some of the breakdown of scenes. But even with that, we're going to be getting input from one another.”

Not all of the capstone students took orthodox paths to get here; some, like Kim and Foote, came in as other majors before being drawn into filmmaking. 

“I've always loved movies, but I just never thought it was a possibility for me,” Kim said. “Until I saw a couple of interviews by this Asian American director, Lulu Wang, where she was talking about her film ‘The Farewell,’ and that just made me realize, ‘oh, people do film and they do get to tell stories.’ It's a hard journey, but you can do it.”

Others, like Bernard, came to AU to study film and found their love for the craft expanded as they joined the film department.

“I've learned a lot throughout the process that has made me more inspired to be in film,” Bernard said. “I came in interested in film but not knowing that much, but the knowledge I've gained has made me want to pursue it even more.”

Outside the classroom, students hone their craft through extracurricular film shoots, working alongside their peers in the industry.

“I started getting with my friends and being like, let's just make movies,” Cody Rogers, a senior in the program, said. “Last year, I went to Tristan Au and I was like, ‘Let’s make a movie this summer.’ And we filmed this elaborate, long, complicated film called ‘The Story’ which is currently in post-production.”

Rogers is finishing up his film, also with Au, another senior in the program, called “The Informidable Death of My Mother,” a black comedy about an orphaned girl who learns to grieve through a twisted instruction manual. 

These friendships have proved invaluable as seniors prepare to release their films and get ready for life after graduation, giving them connections, direct film experience and strong bonds with their peers. 

“Tristan’s become one of my closest friends,” Rogers said. “We’re each doing our own thing, but we've decided to tackle this by entering the film industry together and I think having a friend you can do that with is far more important than any film you can make.”

The students have high hopes for their films and plan to send them to festivals or screen them locally. This is reflected in the themes of their scripts and filmmaking process, which demonstrate a commitment to making positive change in the industry and world at large.

“We aim to spread awareness about homelessness, and also empathizing with other people in our community,” Foote said. “COVID has made the social environment even more isolated. So now more than ever, it’s important that people look out for each other and start paying more attention to the people around them.”

Kim discussed how casting and hiring crew is another way to be an advocate.  

“I’m interested in telling stories that reflect my experiences and the way that I want to see stories being told,” Kim said. “As an Asian American person, as a Korean American person, that’s the experience that I feel the most comfortable depicting.” 

So far, Kim has cast three local Asian American actors for the film’s leads and staffed their crew with other Asian American filmmakers.

“I’m enjoying seeing that identity reflected in both the people who are in front of the camera and behind the camera,” Kim said. “You have to have both for it to really mean something beyond just basic representation.”

As they get ready to graduate, the seniors have begun to reflect on the lessons they learned.

“You just have to do the thing and make what you want to make,” Rogers said. “It’s about finding what it means to you as the artist, what you need to tell and show to the world … Nobody’s going to give you a bullet point, step-by-step process to doing this. You simply need to start now and write something, pick up a camera and go film it and have it mean something. If you do that, you’re going to graduate having something to say about the world, which is the most important thing.”

Editor’s Note: Tristan Au is a former Life managing editor for The Eagle.

This article was edited by Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Liah Argiropoulos, Ariana Kavoossi and Sarah Clayton.

movies@theeagleonline.com 


As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.


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