MU Documentary Students Join Faculty At Sundance Film Festival

Jan 29, 2018

Four students, two faculty and one documentary made their way from Columbia to Utah last weekend for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The trip was inspired by the acceptance of Assistant Professor Robert Greene's film "Bisbee '17" into the festival. 

Greene learned of his film's acceptance into the festival in late November. Both Greene and Stacey Woelfel, fellow MU professor and director of the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism, knew they wanted to take students to the festival if the film was accepted.

"Our hope is to get the students to get a sense of the industry they are interested in joining," said Woelfel. More specifically, Woelfel hopes that students will look at and learn from the short documentaries in the festival. "We didn't submit enough (student) films last year," Woelfel said. Their goal is to increase the number of student films — which are the work of graduating seniors — accepted into Sundance next year. 

The festival, which ran from Jan. 18-28, is based in Park City, Utah. Documentaries and films were shown in 23 different theaters spread through Park City, Salt Lake City and at the Sundance Mountain Resort. The festival hosts four competition categories, musical performances, upcoming film previews, artistic exhibitions and presentations throughout the 10 day event. 

"Bisbee '17" is not Greene's first film to premier in Park City. His 2016 film "Kate Plays Christine" also played in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the festival. 

The four students from the documentary program chosen to attend the festival were sponsored by Mizzou Advantage, an initiative created to help sponsor and support networking and research among students and faculty. Two seniors, Nicky Cook and Wyatt Wu, and two juniors, Olivia Jacobson and Phoebe Mussman, made the trip to Utah to experience what Woelfel describes as "probably the most important film festival in the U.S."

Students left Columbia early Jan. 19 and returned late Tuesday. This allowed the group to spend three full days attending festival events, including viewing between two and three films each day. 

"I went in wanting to get a lot of career insight for what I want to do when I graduate," said Cook. He said the trip helped him realize there is no limit to your imagination and vision, and he is excited to start his career after he finishes his degree at MU.

Wu left the festival with a similarly positive experience. "It was really great to see shorts that got into a big film festival, and kind of get an idea of what it's like outside of Columbia and Mizzou," Wu said. "I came out knowing that I actually do have a chance of getting into Sundance."

Greene's film, "Bisbee '17," first screened at Prospector Square Theatre in Park City on Saturday, Jan. 20. The film was scheduled to show a total of five times throughout the festival as one of the 16 films in the U.S. Documentary Competition.

The film tells the story of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 in Bisbee, Arizona. The town was home to a copper mine, and in the year 1917, 1200 miners on strike were removed from their homes and relocated to the New Mexico desert without supplies or resources. Greene's documentary combines interviews with the town's residents and reenactments of the original event from 100 years ago. 

The MU festival goers were also joined by MU alumni, former students who worked on Greene's documentary, and Cassidy Minarik, a student who interned with Sundance at the festival.

The U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize was awarded to"Kailish," and the Audience Award went to "The Sentence." "Bisbee '17" is awaiting distribution.