BYU on the big screen at Sundance

BYU students in Park City participate in the Windrider Forum in 2011.
BYU students in Park City participated in the Windrider Forum in 2011.

Alumni, faculty and students “took BYU to the movies,” representing the university in the Sundance Film Festival and joint events.

The film festival opened with “Mitt,” a film directed and produced by BYU alumnus Greg Whiteley. The film was released for viewing on Netflix before the festival ended. Kyle Stapley, media arts program coordinator at BYU, said “Mitt” is an unusual case because it is on Netflix during the festival.

BYU students who signed up in October participated as volunteers at the festival. They worked in various capacities including as tech volunteers for screenings, ushers, ticket-takers and traffic directors. Stapley said media arts majors are encouraged to volunteer for the festival. He said about twenty BYU students volunteer every year.

Brad Barber, a BYU professor in the media arts program, accompanied a small group of students to participate in the Windrider Forum. The forum consists of about 200 students from Christian universities and seminaries located mostly in California.

“The Windrider Forum was launched … as an immersive experience between filmmakers and film lovers designed to facilitate thoughtful conversation, awaken compassion and inspire change,” according to the forum website.

The forum celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, but BYU has only participated in the organization since 2010. Barber took charge of BYU’s involvement in 2011, which he said has been a “terrific experience.”

Although only four to five students in the forum are LDS, Barber said all the students see eye-to-eye. “I was pleasantly surprised at how much we had in common.”

Chelsea Gibbs, a student in the master’s program at USC’s cinema school, valued the opportunity to be with students who share her principles. She graduated from BYU and considers herself a conservative in a liberal school now.

“It was really reassuring that there were other students of other faiths who had the same interests,” Gibbs said. “It made me feel much less alone.”

BYU also participated in a forum organized by the Utah Film Commission held in conjunction with Sundance. BYU faculty member Benjamin Thevenin was invited to speak to a panel of media educators from Utah as part of the forum.

Thevenin, who emphasizes in media education, spoke to the panel about educators in the evolving space of digital media.

“It was a great chance for me to get to know faculty members from other schools” he said.

Thevenin said he was able to meet educators from UVU, U of U and SLCC. He said it was a great opportunity for him since he is a new faculty member and is just getting to know other members of the media teaching community.

Thevenin thinks Sundance is reaching out more and more to BYU. According to him, BYU receives more invitations to participate and has more of a presence every year.

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