Student films blow away audience at Film Fest

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

There was no shortage of laughs, thrills and even a few tears Friday night at the College of Fine Arts and Production’s annual Film Festival in Ethington Theatre. 

Grand Canyon University students submitted so many films for the one-night event, it was an achievement just to make it into one of the eight categories and compete for a trophy. For the first time, the screenings were limited to three entries in all but one classification. 

Students shared a group huddle after the announcement of the final award.

“The variety of film styles and techniques showcased throughout each category really showcase the talent of our students,” said Lisa Tervo, Program Director for the Department of Digital Film. 

Another interesting twist was in the Alumni category. Both entries were created after the students had graduated rather than as a former senior assignment.

The Best Documentary, "Inside the Hive" by Alyssa Smith, took the audience into the world of beekeeping.

Senior Alyssa Smith, whose “Inside the Hive” took home the award for best documentary, was impressed to see the diversity within the film festival overall and, more specifically, in her category.

“I loved the range of documentaries that are possibilities,” she said. “I’m just grateful to have it (her film) shown and having it received well. As an artist, I know I definitely have self-doubt a lot, and so just having external love and support from people around me is always a great feeling to have.”

Smith’s documentary used well performed interviews and mesmerizing footage to take the audience into the world of beekeeping, giving a platform to a skill that doesn’t always get discussed.

“I’m just really happy that it sparked a curiosity about a topic that I never would have thought to think about and love,” she said. 

In his first ever film festival, freshman Paolo Martinez won the Animation category for “Godzilla: Decimation.”

Paolo Martinez said his “Godzilla: Decimation” was a labor of love. He brought home the festival's award in the Animation category.

“It was really a labor of love for me,” Martinez said. “A labor of love for the character and animation in general.”

Martinez’s piece paid tribute to the 65th anniversary of the famed prehistoric monster.

“I was really nervous in the crowd, but when people started clapping afterward, I was like ‘OK, I’m glad that they liked it,’” he said. “It was a fun experience and I’m going to shoot for it again next year.”

Some familiar faces were among the winners. Matthew Wagner won last year’s Thriller award for "Exhale,” so it came as no surprise to see he had directed three films entered into the festival. His comedy entry, “The Importance of Being Urnest," took home the award.

“It’s a huge honor and there are a lot of really talented filmmakers, so I’m really blessed just to be able to come away with any win,” he said.

Matthew Wagner's “The Importance of Being Urnest” won for Best Comedy.

Wagner’s film also was entered in the 48-hour Film Festival and snagged several awards in that competition as well.

The films had the audiences’ emotions fluctuating throughout the night and concluded with the evening's heartbreaking film and overall winner, Ryan Brennan’s “In All Seriousness.”

“It feels really good,” Brennan said about his wins in the Drama and Best Overall Film categories. “While it was premiering, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t care if it wins or not because I have all my friends with me.’ I know it’s really cheesy -- I just care a lot about them, and making it with them is what matters most to me.”

Using that strong message of friendship, Brennan pulled from elements in his life to create the film, which highlighted the strong bond between two friends and emotions that ensue when tragedy hit. What made the piece more meaningful to Brennan was the opportunity to create the film alongside his friends.

“I could not have done it without people,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without friends because it’s about friends.”

Ryan Brennan's "In All Seriousness" won the Best Drama and Best Overall Film awards.


Alumni: Tyler McDonald, “Portrait”

Animation: Paolo Martinez, “Godzilla: Decimation”

Comedy: Matthew Wagner, “The Importance of Being Urnest”

Documentary: Alyssa Smith, “Inside the Hive”

Drama: Ryan Brennan, “In All Seriousness”

Faith: Ian Gray, “Rescued”

Music Video: Autum Manuel, “Chinese New Year”

Thriller: Sierra Deisha Lemke, “Parasomnia”

Best Overall Film: Ryan Brennan, “In All Seriousness”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


Related content:

GCU Today: Alumni film panel helps students build connections

GCU Today: GCU students win awards in regional film festival

GCU Today: Students’ film talents readily seen in 1-night Festival



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