Bridges/Larson scholarship finalists screen films at showcase

College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler (center) talks with students during a mixer before the Digital Film Department's Spring Showcase on Wednesday at Ethington Theatre.

Photos by Ralph Freso

“Crescendo” didn’t sing to Kennedy Beckius like she hoped it would.

“It was different in my head than it turned out,” said the freshman Grand Canyon University film major who created the short film for one of her Digital Film Department classes in the College of Arts and Media.

The class project rules: Don’t use synchronized sound, don’t exceed five minutes in length and don’t include dialogue.

Tough ground rules for a story about a piano player descending into despair — a story that’s all about music and sound.

Despite her doubts, faculty chose “Crescendo” to be screened at the department's Spring Showcase, taking its place among eight other student-produced works shown last week to an Ethington Theatre audience.

Freshman Kennedy Beckius’ short film “Crescendo” was one of the student films presented at the showcase.

The showcase was a chance for fellowship and to share some of the strong work students produced over the year.

“It’s a celebration of people that are here, the films that were made and just the memories that were made on set,” said GCU Digital Film Production Club vice president Ryan Hebert, who co-hosted the showcase with fellow film student Gage Briggs. “You’ll be able to see the quality of the program, so I’m excited for you to see the films.”

But more than a nice night to get together, the event was tied to something even more important: a chance to award students the Promising Young Filmmakers scholarship, supported by the Bridges/Larson Foundation. The organization honors actor Jack Larson and director Jim Bridges, whose classic films include “The Paper Chase,” “The China Syndrome” and “Urban Cowboy.”

The nine student filmmakers whose 5- to 10-minute works were screened at the showcase are finalists for the scholarships, which are approximately $5,500 each.

“We’re very excited to be able to offer scholarships to six of these young students,” said Lisa Tervo, Chair for the Digital Film Program, with winners to be announced later in the year.

Co-hosts Ryan Hebert (left) and Gage Briggs introduce the student filmmakers.

It isn’t the only way the foundation is investing in GCU’s students.

In 2022, the organization awarded the University $300,000 over three years to be used not only for scholarships but for Purpose in Practice Grants.

Each year, those grants fund awards for the Bridges/Larson Foundation Screenplay Pitch competition to support the production cost of student films. They also support learning experiences, such as sending qualifying students to attend the Sundance Film Festival to diversity their experiences and create networking opportunities.

“They support prominent film schools like UCLA, Columbia, NYU, places like that, so it’s lovely to be in that cohort,” said College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler at Wednesday’s showcase.

The foundation wanted to know, “Who are your promising filmmakers?” Detweiler said, so an end-of-the-year showcase was the perfect way to bring together those on-the-rise digital film artists.

Students already have benefited from Bridges/Larson. Twelve students had the experience of a lifetime at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January, and other students received financial support to turn into reality the films in the Screenplay Pitch competition.

Nine short films were screened at the showcase. Six of the nine filmmakers will be awarded scholarships funded by the Bridges/Larson Foundation.

The Digital Film Department is wrapping up the year by awarding the Promising Young Filmmakers scholarships to support students’ creative endeavors in the 2023-24 academic year.

Freshman Aldric Galicia, a communications major minoring in film, shared his work “Dream Girl,” which already saw some success earlier this year. It won the Digital Film Production Club’s 48 Hour Film Challenge, in which entrants had just two days to make a mini movie.

Galicia co-wrote, filmed, edited, produced and acted in “Dream Girl” — about a man who returns to sleep over and over again so he can see his dream girl — though he did get help from a few friends.

“It was a HUGE challenge to make. … I hadn’t really made a film I was really proud of, and so this one really pushed me creatively and technically,” said Galicia, an alumnus of Liberty High School in Peoria who took film production classes with teacher Jim Byrne and was mentored by his older brother, a videographer.

Galicia, who is pursuing a career in broadcasting but dreams of being a cinematographer, said the Spring Showcase was a chance to get to know other filmmakers and to “show off what the film department can do.”

Freshman Aldric Galicia won the 48 Hour Film Challenge earlier this year. His film "Dream Girl" was one of the works featured at the showcase.

Noah Garretson, a junior film major with an emphasis in production, screened his showcase entry, “Svechkh,” which translated from Russian means “Candlelight.” It’s about a Russian coal miner who has been so busy with work that he doesn’t have time to pursue the thing he loves, which is poetry.

“He has to figure out how to be able to work but also have the time and drive to pursue what he loves. … It’s hard to find that balance,” he said.

He made “Svechkh” as part of a class project to make a “foreign film.” Garretson, a fan of the works of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, was influenced by Tarkovsky’s slow, poetry-like storytelling style.

“It’s partially my voice, but it’s also the voice of every person that I’ve met or listened to or talked to about the things they’re passionate about.”

For Garretson, one of the important aspects of the showcase was the mixer before the films were shown.

“Every single time I come here (to an event like this), I find at least three people that I want to make a film with,” he said. “There’s also industry professionals here. … These mixers are great because it’s a mixing of ideas and people who want to pursue the same thing.”

Garretson got his first job on a film set because of one of those mixers.

Kennedy Beckius’ “Crescendo” was inspired by her own experiences as a gymnast.

“I did gymnastics all my life. I have always been a perfectionist and very hard on myself, and so the original scene I had thought up in my mind for this was the feeling of constantly being on the edge of a breakdown.”

But instead of focusing on a gymnast, she chose a pianist.

The finalists for the Bridges/Larson-funded scholarships: (from left) Carissa Santos, Noah Garretson, Cale Jayden Freeland, Brock Vignery, Aldric Galicia, Kennedy Beckius, Brayden Moritz, Conrad Wolf and Joshua Utterback.

The film follows a woman who is intent on perfecting a piano piece to honor her father who died in a car accident, but she pushes herself too hard.

“It’s an allegory or metaphor for grief,” she said of the black-and-white film.

And though it didn’t end up being what she envisioned it to be, perfectionist that she is, like the pianist in her film, the audience appreciated what it is — an emotionally powerful short film that inspired the Ethington audience to erupt in applause.

Seeing friends and family’s reaction to the work, Beckius has since come to appreciate her effort more than she first did, and she has come to appreciate her fellow filmmakers more, too.

“I love the film community,” Beckius said. “… It’s just a friendship like no other. It makes you, even on the days that you’re frustrated, it makes you want to do it for them.”

Other student filmmakers featured at the showcase and their films: Cale Jayden Freeland, “30 Days Out From Lip Sync”; Brayden Moritz, “Traverse”; Conrad Wolf, “TigerMan”; Brock Vignery, “Checkmate”; Carissa Santos, “Like a Dream”; and Joshua Utterback, “Three Counts.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Related content:

GCU News: Bridges/Larson grant supports film students with Sundance trip

GCU News: Festival unites campus’ film community

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