Students' film talents readily seen in 1-night Festival

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

There were lights, there were cameras and there was movie magic Thursday night at Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production’s Film Festival.

Students from eight different genres of film gathered at Ethington Theatre to witness some of the best films the college has to offer. The categories included Animation, Comedy, Drama, Faith, Documentary, Thriller, Music Video and a redefined Alumni competition.

Emily Saunders won Best Drama and Best Film and Janey Aponte won for Best Music Video.

“This is the first year that our Alumni category has had works produced by alumni,” said Lisa Tervo, Chair of GCU’s Department of Digital Film Production. “In the past our Alumni category was pretty much comprised of senior practicum films that then got finished after students graduated and then they would submit their practicum films.”

But the Alumni category wasn’t the only change this year. The event also was condensed to one evening rather than its former three-day format.

“We decided to compress everything into one night so that more people would be able to see all of the films as opposed to some industry professionals would just come to the award ceremony and then they would only see the winning films,” Tervo said. “This way I thought it helps all of our students get their work seen by professionals.”

For about a month, Tervo has accepted films from students for the Festival, and Tervo and other judges then narrowed the contenders for the event. The evening started with an opportunity for student filmmakers to connect with professionals, followed by viewings of the finalist from each category and an award ceremony for the winners.

Emily Saunders, whose film, "Metemorphose," not only won the Drama award but also Best Film overall, was genuinely surprised but also humbled by her win.

"I wasn't expecting it at all," Saunders said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without all the people that were involved. I'm just forever grateful." 

For Festival host/announcer Caleb Davidson, finding out his film, "If Only Howard Showered," had won the Comedy category was a shock despite pulling the cover to reveal his own project beneath the cloth.

Matt Wagner's Thriller "Exhale" took home the award for Best Thriller.

"I wouldn't have flipped the thing myself if I thought that I was going to win," he said. "I thought it would have been 'Bumble Boys,' but I guess I'm just my own worst critic in judging my own films."

Davidson also was involved with the production of several other films in the festival, including composing and writing the music for the best music video winner, "Dreamed." Though honored, Davidson still felt as if it would take some time to fully process his victory and credited the film's success to the help he received throughout the filming process.

For Matt Wagner, just being able to share his film, "Exhale," with the audience  was enough to make the Festival exciting, but winning the Thriller category made the experience that much more memorable.

"I thought it was really great this year," Wagner said. "There were some really great films that really showed GCU students stepping up their game. I think it's one of the best festivals we've had in a while and there was a lot of really great competition, and I was really honored to be able to come out with a trophy."

The films displayed a great deal of creativity, and Tervo said audiences pick up on that:

“A lot of times I end up hearing comments from people that they’ll pick one or two films and talk about it and be like, ‘How did a student produce that?’ or ‘How did a student come up with that story?’ and just are really surprised at the level of commitment shown by our students to get these projects completed and then screening in a film festival.”


Alumni: Elliott de Neve, "STOP/EJECT/REWIND"

Animation: Sydney Dennis, "Rising Courage"

Comedy: Caleb Davidson, "If Only Howard Showered"

Documentary: Jessica Montalvo, Alessandro Pilastrini, Francisco Huerta and Aleida B. Salazar, "The Gift"

Drama: Emily B. Saunders, Victoria Gabert, Gustavo Flores and Anthony Mady, "Metemorphose"

Faith: Thomas Pace, "Many Waters II. Peace/Joy"

Music Video: Janey Aponte and Caleb Davidson, "Dreamed"

Thriller: Matthew Wagner, "Exhale"

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


Related content:

GCU Today: It’s lights, camera, action for students’ films

GCU Today: Futuristic comedy wins best picture at Film Festival


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