That's a wrap for promising filmmakers at end-of-semester showcase

An audience views Tony Acevedo- and Ridger Palma-directed “Leaf It Alone,” one of six student-directed film shorts screened Monday at Ethington Theatre.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Grand Canyon University film student Nick Hawley and his roommate got sucked into conspiracy theories.

Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and, guys, what about that fake moon landing?

But what really pulled him in?

“We got invested in aliens,” said Hawley from the Ethington Theatre stage Monday night, where he and other student filmmakers presented their 10-minute short films as part of the College of Arts and Media’s academic year-ending Film Showcase.

He invested in the idea of beings from other planets so much so that he decided to base his student-directed film, “Frames,” on it.

It’s rare that film faculty give a resounding thumbs up to a contest entry – in this case, the best-of-the-year film shorts by undergraduate film majors or minors being considered for the much-coveted Bridges/Larson Promising Young Filmmakers scholarship. But "Frames” was a shoo-in.

“It was a unanimous ‘yes,’” said Lisa Tervo, chair of digital film, of moving the short to the scholarship finals.

In the mini movie, a man pulls up to a fence in the middle of a desert that blocks him from a restricted area. He’s there, with his camera, to see what he can see of the strange goings-on in the night sky, and as luck would have it, another observer is there seemingly to do the same.

Student filmmakers take the stage after the screening of their films. They are (from left) Henry Graybeal, Nick Hawley, Aldric Galicia, Daniel Ulibarri, Kennedy Beckius, Ridger Palma and Tony Acevedo.

But when his camera captures images of a military plane alongside a fuzzy image of what he thinks is an unidentified flying object, he’s compelled to cross the fence line despite pleas from the other man urging him not to.

Hawley was inspired by real-life footage from an Air Force pilot who recorded an anomaly in the sky.

"Frames" was met with uproarious applause.

It wasn’t the only film of the evening to delve into those types of hair-raising mysteries, and all in 10 minutes or less.

Sophomore film production student Henry Graybeal turned in “Wendigo,” about a mythological monster from Algonquian folklore that eats or possesses humans and turns them into cannibals.

Sophomore Henry Graybeal talks about his short film, the thriller "Wendigo."

“They are masterful hunters. They're extremely skilled,” he said of the mythological creature he wanted to share with the audience.

Graybeal, who’s from Kentucky but was living in Montana, was inspired to make the short when he was at home on Christmas break.

One of his fellow GCU film friends, Ridger Palma, just wrapped up a short film.

"I said, 'Oh, I can’t let him outdo me like that,'” said Graybeal, so he wrote a script, grabbed his siblings and, “the next day we filmed the whole thing, just me and my siblings, and had the whole thing edited before we got back to campus.”

The highlight of the academic year for Graybeal, besides getting to screen “Wendigo” for an audience, was the Digital Film Production Club’s 48-Hour Film Challenge, in which students have only two days to write, film and edit a short.

He directed a film for the challenge this spring and ended up winning best director.

“It was so fun to actually direct something and make something with all of my friends,” he said of why he loves being a part of the University’s film community.

Sophomore Ridger Palma partnered with Tony Acevedo for their plant comedy, "Leaf It Alone."

For the showcase, Graybeal starred alongside junior Tony Acevedo and senior Ridger Palma in their work “Leaf It Alone."

The showcase entry was created originally for the 48-Hour Film Challenge, which tasked students to write a script and shoot a movie short using a potted plant as a prompt and the line, “Dang, that happened to my buddy Adam once."

They came up with, perhaps a new genre: plant comedy.

In it, Acevedo buys a plant that turns out to be a drug. He goes through a series of highs and a character arc in which he’s taught not to take drugs anymore.

“Tony and I have different writing styles, but that’s why we work well together,” said Palma, who added the comedic elements to the script, while Tony added the toned-down side. "That’s why it flowed.”

Acevedo added of finding such good friends in the GCU film community, like Palma and Graybeal, “It’s a blessing. I think the community here is one of the strongest parts of the program – that and the opportunities. I think we really blend together as people. … We bonded over our love for film and our goal, our ambition, is to try to create as best we can.”

"Leaf It Alone" was awarded best director and best overall in the fall 2023 48-Hour Film Challenge.

Junior film student Kennedy Beckius made a documentary about the Havocs called "Welcome to the Family."

Sophomore film student Kennedy Beckius, whose film “Crescendo,” about a stressed pianist, was part of the Film Showcase in 2023, this time turned in her first documentary.

“Welcome to the Family” gets to the heart of the Havocs, the renowned spirit section whose all-out hysterical demeanor at nationally televised basketball games help put GCU on the map.

She filmed the documentary for a class and was told to find the story within the story.

“I grew up going to a really small school that didn’t have a lot of school spirit,” Beckius said, “so coming to GCU (and seeing the Havocs) was really jarring, and I LOVED it.”

She had an idea in her head that the Havocs were just a big party and that they do what they do for notoriety.

But it wasn’t that at all. What she discovered after investing time with them: “Everyone brings you in. It’s the last place you’d expect to find a community in,” she said. “But it was very enlightening hearing everyone talk about how much they care about the students. … They’re doing it out of the selfless love for the students and the athletes.

“The Havocs really are like no other.”

Sophomore Aldric Galicia's documentary, "What's Along the Way," follows a student film crew to California.

Sophomore communications major/film minor Aldric Galicia also decided to film a documentary, called “What’s Along the Way,” based on Beckius-directed film “Love and Beaches.”

Galicia follows the film crew from GCU to Laguna Beach, California, where creating art, as it turns out, wasn’t so easy.

The team had to deal with a beach filming site that was covered by the tide the next day, and they had to work out two film-permit issues.

But the team saw people praying, which gave them hope and, of course, in the end, Beckius captures that perfect shot and it’s a wrap.

Galicia, although he’s a communications major, said what he loves about filmmaking at GCU is “just to get these experiences.”

College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler said the Film Showcase not only helps wrap up the academic year with a bit of fellowship, but it’s also a competition for the Bridges/Larson Promising Young Filmmakers scholarship of approximately $5,000 each.

The Bridges/Larson Foundation wanted to know, “Who are your promising filmmakers?”

College of Arts and Media Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler talks with students in the Ethington Theatre lobby during the CAM film department showcase on Monday.

While capstone projects in other colleges might celebrate seniors who are about to graduate, the Film Showcase celebrates students in the midst of their film programs who have more to show.

As a surprise to the directors of the six films that were screened, Tervo announced on stage that the filmmakers weren’t the finalists but were actually the scholarship winners.

They are: Tony Acevedo, Ridger Palma, Nick Hawley, Kennedy Beckius, Henry Graybeal, Daniel Ulibarri and Aldric Galicia.

“These are the best of the year of our undergrads,” Detweiler said. “We’re showcasing film students of great promise.”

Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

Related content:

GCU News: GCU students inspired to pursue filmmaking dreams at Sundance

GCU News: Bridges/Larson scholarship finalists screen films at showcase

GCU News: Hollywood returns to GCU for film's premiere

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