BYU student work shown at Zion’s Indie Film Festival

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The 23rd Annual Zion’s Indie Film Festival featured four new documentaries created by BYU journalism students for their capstone projects.

BYU documentaries included “Hope for Lahaina,” “Rumbula Remembered,” “Voices Speaking from the Dust” and “Sharing Living Water.”

Trevor Myers, Anna LaTour, Alexa Elliott Johnson and Aubree B. Jennings were the students who directed and produced the “Hope for Lahaina” documentary, which premiered December 2023. All four attended the showing on Feb. 29. The documentary played in the short film documentary block “Triumph Over Trials” alongside professional documentaries by Stiry.

Joe Wirthlin and Abby Westerby created “Voices Speaking from the Dust,” and Megan Brugger and Ethan Porter created the “Rumbula Remembered” documentary. The documentaries were shown together, along with one independent professional film, under the documentary block “Despair & Hope.” All four were present for the talkback.

“Sharing Living Water” was created by Derek VanBuskirk, Liesel Allen and Alyssa Regis, but only VanBuskirk was present for the showing.

“I had no idea the caliber that we will be up against,” Myers said.

The students behind “Hope for Lahaina” submitted the news documentary to several film festivals after its premiere in December, but they said they never expected such a positive response.

“The fact that they felt like it was quality enough to be shown along with these professional documentaries meant a lot to me and really gave me a lot of confidence moving forward,” Jennings said.

These documentaries are created by students every semester for their capstone project. The “Hope for Lahaina” creators explained it is an unpaid endeavor with a small budget, and much of the team are full-time students with part-time jobs and little free time.

They said the fact these student documentaries were screened alongside professional works was a big deal.

Aubree B. Jennings, Anna LaTour, Alexa Elliott Johnson, and Trevor Myers join Stiry filmmakers and documentary subjects in a talkback after the film block. From right to left, documentary subjects were Skye and Erik Thompson, Tia Bee Stokes, and Tessie Friedli along with filmmakers Briana Johnson and Dan Davis. (ZIFF photographer)
Following the “Despair & Hope” film block, Joe Wirthlin and Ethan Porter represented their documentaries “Voices Speaking from the Dust” and “Rumbula Remembered” in a question and answer session. Megan Brugger and Abby Westerby were also in attendance. (ZIFF photographers)

“It was great to see my work on the big screen,” VanBuskirk said. “It was hard not to critique it the whole time.”

The capstone projects give them a strong portfolio and confidence, students said.

Myers said he posted his work for “Hope for Lahaina” on his LinkedIn profile, and can now add that the documentary was shown at the Zion’s Indie Film Festival.

All four students plan to walk in April for their December 2023 graduation and are entering the professional world with the documentary as a standout in their portfolios. All four are working full-time and/or applying to jobs as they transition after graduation.

Jennings, who grew up attending the Zion’s Indie Film Fest, covered it last year for the Daily Universe and was able to return this year as a filmmaker.

“I had this full circle moment of, like, I could see my own growth and see me going from being a kid to being … a young filmmaker,” she said.

“Hope for Lahaina” is a student-produced news documentary showing life after the Maui wildfires of August 2023 and premiered in December of last year.

Myers explained their group got the idea for the documentary in conjunction with their professors as Fall Semester 2023 began.

“I’m just so grateful every time for the generosity and courage and kindness it takes to tell your story … seeing them take that vulnerability was so encouraging to me in the way that I face my trials in my life,” Elliott Johnson said at the film’s talkback.

The Zion’s Indie Film Fest was from Feb. 26 to March 2, 2024, and included an awards show at the end. The full list of films and other events can be found here.

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