BYU adjunct professor and filmmaker Douglas Cunningham finished directing his second short film, “Highway,” and is preparing for its first showing on January 27 and subsequent screening at Zions Indie Film Fest in March.
“You can only teach about other people’s ingenious accomplishments so long … in the art world or in the film world before you start wanting to try to do something on your own,“ Cunningham said.
Cunningham said his lifelong interest in film began with “Star Wars”, and led him to study and write about film with the hope of making his own films one day.
“HIGHWAY,” his most recent film, is a suspense-action thriller chosen for the Zions Indie Film Festival in March 2023. Inspired by movies such as “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” “HIGHWAY” was filmed in the Utah desert to give viewers a nostalgic vibe with a modern storyline, lead actress Lindsey Hawkes said.
Hawkes stars as former Army Ranger Amanda, who is followed by a menacing truck as she drives through the desert to meet a revenge lover. “It’s kind of a revenge story that takes a different turn, and it’s a little more emotional and I think relatable,” Hawkes said.
Cunningham wrote and directed the film, and said the first step after he wrote the script was to find people who knew what they were doing to be involved in production. These people included executive producer Nick Butler, stunt coordinator Duy Beck and cinematographer Mario de Angelis, who, according to Cunningham played “an integral role as both editor and cinematographer.”
Cunningham said his role involved a lot of logistics, which reminded him of his days at the Air Force Academy. “Working with Doug is always like a collaboration,” Butler said. “He’s always looking to make things better.”
Hawkes said she also enjoyed working with Cunningham, as he listened to everyone and took their input, which not every director does. Cunningham said he learned a lot working on the film, and kept a list of lessons learned in the process.
Cunningham said he was inspired by fellow faculty members at BYU who pursue achievements outside of their teaching careers. “It’s just a testament to, you know, the folks that we have at BYU that are able to accomplish so much and yet deliver such such a quality educational experience for their students as well,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham has directed two short films and worked on other projects, such as editing books in addition to his teaching.
“HIGHWAY” and Cunningham’s other short film, “Listen, Darkling” are different genres, but deal with some similar themes, he said. Both films have women protagonists who are facing choices that are uncomfortable, but inevitable, Cunningham said.
Viewers of “HIGHWAY” can expect to experience a wide range of emotions. “Everything from sorrow to anger to you know, tension, suspense,” he said. “I would hope delight at the resolution.”
Though Cunningham said the film starts off as a thriller, the end of the movie is something totally different, which was hard to market as they didn’t want to give away the ending. The film explores relationships and Butler said he hopes “HIGHWAY” helps people reflect on their own relationships and what they would do to maintain them.
The first showing of “HIGHWAY” is on Jan. 27 at the Towne Hub Theater in American Fork, Utah. The screening is free and open to the public, and more information can be found here.