Virtues behind the camera

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The Laycock Center is located in the unassuming northwest stairwell of the Harris Fine Arts Center. It is difficult to find and nearly impossible to stumble upon. For most at the Laycock Center, it’s business as usual. For Jared Jakins, it may be the week that changes his life.

Soon, Jakins will travel to Indianapolis with his wife, Carly, for the Heartland Film Festival. Each year, it attracts more than 100 filmmakers and screens nearly 300 films. It receives more than 1,500 submissions from around the world, each hoping to win the grand prize in one of the festival’s five categories. In order to win a grand prize, a submission must pass a three-tier selection process, according to the festival website.

First, a screening committee, hand-selected by Heartland Film staff, watches and scores each submission. The committee then passes 15 of the highest-scoring films in each category to the Festival Award jury.

The jury, consisting of film professionals, academics and critics, then selects five films from each category to be considered for a grand prize. Less than 2 percent of the original 1,500 submissions remain at this point. For comparison, Harvard University’s 2014 acceptance rate was 5.9 percent, according to Harvard’s website.

The five nominees of each category will then be screened at the festival, where a separate, grand prize jury will decide on the winner.

Jakins’ film, “Ghosts on the Mountain,” is one of the five nominees for a grand prize in the documentary short film category. It is a 26-minute film about the lives of migrant workers in central Utah. Unlike the other filmmakers, each with years of directing experience, Jakins is still a student, and his wife studied anthropology. In fact, Jakins said he had not yet been admitted into the BYU film program when they first began shooting.

The film grew from an anthropological study conducted by Carly Jakins researching the micro-culture of migrant shepherds. All the shepherds in the film, who were all from South American countries, had left their families and homes to earn a living in the US. Despite growing up in Fountain Green, a community known for its production of sheep, Jared Jakins had never heard or met any of these migrant workers. He and his wife felt that a documentary would give these workers, who did not speak much English, a voice in the community.

An average day of shooting consisted of spending hours to simply find the workers. Calling them almost never worked because of poor cell reception. Through trial and error, the Jakinses familiarized themselves with common locations to find the shepherds.

“Sometimes you’d be driving for two hours on the mountain road before you found signs of sheep,” Jared Jakins said. “We kind of learned to look for cues, like sheep scat or markings on trees.”

The shepherds they found would usually be busy, so the Jakinses would have to schedule a later time to film. Jared Jakins recalled one particular shepherd who was always really friendly and would cook food for them and let them film him working.

Though Jared Jakins had only taken a basic media production class, he was able to put together a solid body of work.

“That class taught me some of the tricks of the trade,” he said. “The discipline of framing a shot, being patient with your subject, keeping the camera rolling and letting the scene do the work.”

After he put together a rough cut of the film, he showed it to associate chair of the film department, Tom Lefler, who was impressed by the advanced level of the work. Students typically seek guidance for a project from start to finish. Jared and Carly Jakins, however, had already filmed a large portion of their documentary themselves.

Lefler, who served as a mentor to Jared Jakins, alongside film professor Brad Barber, attributed the success of the film to Jared’s willingness to learn as well as Carly’s passion for the subject.

“She came understanding and having some passion about these stories, about these men who are away from home,” Lefler said. “So I think it was the cooperation of both of them together that made them strong.”

The Jakinses also had the help of producers Kelyn Ikegami and Ricardo Quintana. Jared Jakins brought Ikegami into the project because of his previous experience as a producer. Ikegami cited the collaborative nature of the team, which he said allowed each member to bring their strengths to the project, as a reason for the film’s success.

The Heartland Film Festival revealed the grand prize winners on Saturday, Oct. 8. Though the team did not win the grand prize, becoming a nominee was an achievement on its own.

“Being a student often means you’re just starting to hone your skills as a storyteller,” said Kenji Tsukamoto, a filmmaker and BYU graduate. “To be able to share your story as a student at such a large venue is no small feat.”

Heartland Film’s mission statement is “to inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film.” Jared and Carly Jakins hope to encourage audiences who watch their film to find the “ghosts on the mountain” in their own lives and communities.

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