Student Filmmaker Series – Part 1 Five Young Storytellers You Have To Know

Student Filmmaker Series Part 1And I don’t just mean know. I mean this:

Turn it on as loud as you can get it. Then get down on the floor and jam your ear as close into the loudspeakers as you can get it and stay there, breathing as lightly as possible, and not moving and neither eating nor smoking nor drinking. Concentrate everything you can into your hearing and into your body. You won’t hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

James Agee said this of Beethoven in 1939 in his classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The same could be said of these five storytellers.

Their work inspired filmmakers and subjects and students and professors. Like ripples in the ocean, their techniques reach media firms and individuals, nonprofits and moms, friends and brothers, alike. You have to know them. To know where we are going, we must know where we’ve been. Film is everywhere today: companies fund them, Facebook users share them and PR firms rely on them. In this post, we celebrate five young storytellers that understand and harness the possibility of good film.

Jessica Lum

In December of 2011, Jessica Lum rented an RV and spent three weeks in a region of the California desert known as Slab City. She took pictures of people who sought “solitude, community, belonging, and escape.” Lum wrote, “In Slab City, old and modern America converges: old souls run paperback libraries and Internet cafes out of dusty trailers; an empty military lap pool is now a skate park.” According to an interview with NPR, “Residents let her photograph them bathing nude in the hot springs, and let her enter the social club whose sign proclaimed ‘No Media’.” Slab City residents called her “Berkeley”. She took pictures and videos, recorded interviews and music and sounds and encouraged them to record their stories on note cards. She produced a gorgeous, simple platform titled Slab City Stories where you can watch videos, read stories and see her pictures.

Lum entered Journalism graduate school at the University of California Berkeley in the Fall of 2010. She was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic pheochromocytoma in 2008. Lum worked to make stories for nearly five years with a rare form of aggressive cancer. On August 31, 2012, Lum wrote to her Kickstarter supporters, “I hope to continue to grow the Slab City Stories site, adding some content that I’ve been slowly working on — new photographs and videos.” On January 13, 2013 Jessica Lum died. Lum sought to tell stories with the rarest kind of courage. I think about her often. She is with me during my brightest days and my darkest moments. On good days I wish she were still making pictures because she deserved to. On bad days, I remember that she told stories when I might have wallowed in self-pity. Concentrate everything you can into your seeing and into your body. Go to Slab City Stories. Lum crystallized a world that lives to infinity online. Jessica Lum, on the nearly one year anniversary of your death, we salute you.

Matt Eich

I was a first year graduate student at the University of Missouri in 2007 when I saw Matt Eich’s Love in the First Person. I was knee deep in award deadlines and newspaper internship applications. Eich’s project, produced with MediaStorm, set me on a different path. I decided I didn’t want to take pictures with one sentence captions that printed in newspapers or won industry awards. I wanted to make stories like his, and if the industry caught up, great and if not, then I’d at least have kick ass stories. Fast forward to January 2013 and we see a media landscape that achingly mimics Eich’s raw, authentic, and personal style. Love in the First Person details Eich’s personal quest to be a photographer, a dad and a young husband. Eich is still making brilliant work, and has since developed a body of work that explores Greenwood, Mississippi titled Sin and Salvation in Baptist Town.

Jon Kasbe

Jon Kasbe’s work asks more questions than it answers. Too often, educators and critics cerebrally analyze the elements of “good” stories. Deconstructing stories shot by shot is like trying to explain why you love someone in chronological moments or days or conversations. Love, and storytelling, is part gift and part work, part intuition and part analysis; but always inductive. We only understand what happens after we’ve exhausted every road and nook and corner and voice. Only distant sideliners step back to break scenes down ad nauseum. Kasbe’s short film Life Reflected celebrates fast transitions, surreal colors, uncomfortable truths and gorgeous suffering in less than three minutes. It is a collaborative film that he completed at the University of North Carolina school of Journalism project titled Powering a Nation. In his newest project, Mipso in Japan, he sets sounds of the North Carolina bluegrass band Mipso against a Japanese landscape. Kasbe’s work embodies the power of good sound, great editing and beautiful visuals.

Alexandra Mihale

Alexandra Mihale boldly combines traditional journalistic rigor with aesthetic curiosity. Mihale facilitates conversations about race with interviews and camera verite footage at Ohio University in her 2011 Soul of Athens project All Black. I show Mihale’s work to media students and it sets the tone to explore critical media analysis with curiosity and kindness, openness and compassion, intellect and reflection. Good storytelling peels away the layers of formulaic, repetitive sound bytes of topics so that we may understand more about the world. Mihale’s style is such that we can’t turn away because she weaves intimate interviews into viscerally magnetic dance party moments as if there is no camera.

Arkasha Stevenson

Arkasha Stevenson’s Thin Gray Line opens with haunting sounds of fans, buses, moaning, oil sizzling, laughing, dancing, singing, honking and dogs barking. The story of Jesus Garcia, is the non-fiction embodiment of Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County fulcrum line, “Thank God we can’t tell the future or we’d never get out of bed.” Stevenson captures the tender moments that validate our suffering. She films love, and eventually death. In a recent interview with National Geographic’s PROOF, Randy Olsen noted that, “It’s more important how people are the same than how they are different.” Stevenson tells the story of how we appreciate love and survive loss in universal ways.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Student Filmmaker Series: So You Majored In Media, Now What? coming soon…


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One Response to “Student Filmmaker Series – Part 1 Five Young Storytellers You Have To Know”

  1. Student Filmmaker Series Part 3 | Zacuto USA on April 10th, 2014 2:32 pm

    […] Read Part 1: Five Young Storytellers You Have to Know […]

About the Author

Beatriz Wallace is currently a Visiting Professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her friends do cool stuff like take pictures of pets that need adopting at animal shelters, make movies with famous people and tell stories that matter. She worked at Cellar Stories Bookstore and Time Magazine after she graduated from Amherst College with a degree in writing and photography. She has a Master’s Degree in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri. She’s from New Orleans and she’s kind of scrappy. She might be a juicer, a yoga teacher or a software developer next. And she’s okay with that. To see her work, visit, follow her on Twitter @bigmuddyheart or friend her on Facebook (Beatriz Wallace).


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