Bridges/Larson grant supports film students with Sundance trip

Twelve film productions students attended the Sundance Film Festival, thanks to a grant from the Bridges/Larson Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Craig Detweiler)

“Wow, I would LOVE to go to the Sundance Film Festival one day when I make it big,” aspiring filmmaker and GCU student Paolo Martinez told himself.

Amazingly, he didn’t have to wait long for that day to happen.

He had the chance to attend the famed Sundance Film Festival, the Super Bowl of events for independent filmmakers, in January.

He was among 12 award-winning Grand Canyon University film majors who had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Sundance, thanks to a generous grant from the Bridges/Larson Foundation. The foundation honors actor Jack Larson and director Jim Bridges, whose classic films include “The Paper Chase,” “The China Syndrome” and “Urban Cowboy.”

The transformative gift will fund three years of the Future Filmmakers with Purpose Initiative, which includes the Bridges/Larson scholarships that students will use to fund their film projects. It also will fund Purpose in Practice Experience Grants and an annual trip to the Sundance Film Festival.

Students attended screenings, panel discussions, and question-and-answer sessions with actors and award-winning filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival in January in Park City, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Craig Detweiler)

Six students who won GCU’s Fall Film Festival and six who won the Bridges/Larson Foundation Screenplay Pitch Competition were chosen to travel to Park City, Utah, with College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler and other college faculty members. They attended screenings, panel discussions, and question-and-answer sessions with actors and award-winning filmmakers.

They also got to attend the Windrider Summit, where they networked with fellow Christian film students. They were among 250 students from 20 Christian colleges and universities at the summit.

“It’s a dream for anyone to go there (to Sundance), much less to have their film shown there,” Martinez said. “The fact that Dean Detweiler was able to put that together for us meant the world to me,” said Martinez. “I never expected that at this stage of our careers that we would have an opportunity like this, but I’m so glad I did because I can honestly say it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.”

It was an opportunity to not only make an impression but make important industry connections that could help their careers.

GCU film production students Sean Pedrick, Brayden Glascock, Paolo Martinez and Stephen Trull (from left) at the Sundance Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Trull)

Sean Pedrick, whose short film “Adolescent” won the faith-based film category at last fall’s GCU Film Festival, did not hesitate to make those connections.

“I was able to get a few contacts with directors. Some of them have invited me and my friends to come to L.A. this summer to meet their team and potentially get a job,” said Pedrick. “I connected with a few film major students from around the U.S. — some that are even considering coming to GCU.”

Other perks to attending Sundance were getting the chance to watch the world premiere of a new documentary about Golden State Warriors NBA star Steph Curry and listening to talks by several directors, including the directors of Marvel’s “Shang-Chi” and the next Avengers movie.

Pedrick quickly realized that age or experience does not define success. It was a common thread among filmmakers who approached discussions through a faith-filled lens at the Windrider Summit.

Sean Pedrick said filmmakers' passion for storytelling was his main takeaway from the Windrider Summit sessions during Sundance. (Photo courtesy of Sean Pedrick)

“There is no such thing as specific steps a filmmaker is supposed to take. One might be on step four and another could be on step one,” said Pedrick. “It inspired me to know that there is no true algorithm or way to go about film. Each person has their own story, and there are so many different ways to go about it.”

Film production student Caleb Gomez, whose pitch was one of six that won the Bridges/Larson Foundation Screenplay Pitch Competition, will use the prize money to tell the story of his great-grandmother, “Mamacita,” in a short documentary film tentatively titled "Promesas Cumplidas” (“Promises Kept”). The documentary will follow the story of Gomez’s 100-year-old great-grandmother as she finally fulfills a “manda” (or a promise to God) that she made 48 years ago.

Another GCU film student, Beka Fedderson, will use her prize money to produce an episodic comedy series about the merging of two churches.

The six-day trip was an opportunity for College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler (left) to get to know film production and screenwriting students, such as Caleb Gomez (right), as storytellers. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Craig Detweiler)

Many filmmakers who spoke at the Windrider Summit said their best ideas came from a place of passion. Gomez’s vulnerability in choosing a topic he holds close to his heart is reassurance that he, too, is on the right path as those who stood on the platform.  

“They just tell stories that they were passionate about. Those kinds of stories always have a way of working themselves out,” said Gomez. “It made me feel that I am not too far away from being where these successful filmmakers are.”

While the students left the film festival transformed, Digital Film Program Director Lisa Tervo, who joined Detweiler and film instructor Ryan O’Connell on the trip, left Utah equally as inspired.

“It was gratifying to spend so much time with the students and being able to hear what resonated with them and seeing them start to think about what could improve them as storytellers was inspiring,” Tervo said. “We see them improve throughout the year and semester, but that growth was accelerated through this one week.”

The students’ growth as filmmakers is something Detweiler expects will expand after returning to GCU from the festival.

“We brought them to Sundance to learn how other filmmakers made their excellent projects,” said Detweiler, “and now they have an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned this semester with their prize money.”

As the 2023 Sundance Film Festival came to an end, students realized it all comes down to one thing — passion.

“None of us knew that going on a six-day trip to the Sundance Film Festival would be the prize,” said Martinez. “We entered our stories for the love of the craft. We just wanted a platform to tell our stories and get them out there.”

Contact staff writer Lydia P. Robles at 602-639-7665 or [email protected].

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