WKU students attend Sundance Film Festival

WKU students had the opportuntiy to visit the Sundance Film Festival this past January. Dawn Hall/special to the HERALD

Andrew Henderson

Keanu Reeves, Jason Segel and Spike Lee all walk into a film festival. This is not the setup for a bad joke, but rather the reality for the students who participated in a Study Away to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah this past January.

There were 14 students who experienced the Sundance Film Festival over the winter term from Jan. 20 through Jan. 28. The group of students were led by English professor Ted Hovet and assistant professor of English Dawn Hall. Hall and Hovet said this was their second time taking a group of students to the well-known film festival. 

“It’s the most prestigious of all film festivals,” Hovet said. 

Hovet was one of the key figures in helping to develop the film major at WKU back in 2010 when he combined efforts with the School of Journalism & Broadcasting to create the major. He said SJ&B teaches the more hands-on side of the film industry while he and others in the English department focus more on the literary and content part of the major. 

Hovet said the Study Away at Sundance fits with a lot of different majors and provides three credit hours for several areas of study, including film, English and pop culture. 

Both professors agreed the previous academic preparation would pale in comparison to the real-world experience gained from attending the festival. 

“I think travel is one of the best means of education,” Hall said. 

The students who went to Sundance strongly echo these sentiments held by Hall and Hovet. 

Lexington senior Fiona Martin said her visit to the film festival was more than just a school trip. It was a chance to make real connections with the group.

“It was more than an academic experience,” she said. 

For Martin, the trip to Sundance was something that had caught her eye last year, and since then, it had been on her bucket list. Martin said the question and answer panels after the films were her favorite part of the festival. Directors, producers, actors and actresses often made appearances after their respective films to answer audience questions. 

“You get to kind of get inside their heads,” Martin said. 

In contrast, Louisville junior Michael Blackshire said the main reason for his attendance at the festival was to get out of Kentucky and meet people from other states, and in doing so, make connections in the film industry as well.

Blackshire said he learned a great deal about the financial side of the film industry and the distribution involved with films. However, he couldn’t deny the celebrity aspect of the festival definitely appealed to him as well. 

“Watching the movies in the same room as the celebrities was the best,” Blackshire said. 

While the students were starstruck, Hall and Hovet were often inspired by their students and their ability to learn and grow during the festival. 

Hall said she enjoys watching the students grow during this experience.

She said some students are able to see new careers and experiences available to them by coming to Sundance.

“I love watching the students learn and experience and be immersed in film,” Hall said. 

 Hovet said while he believes that his students need to understand film history, it’s great to also offer the opportunity of seeing what’s happening in the film industry right now. 

“We feel that studying film on any level is just a really solid, traditional liberal arts education,” he said.

Blackshire recommended that other students go to Sundance. He and others plan on going back to the festival next year because of the wonderful experience the film festival gave them.

“Even if you’re not a film major, it’s great for other majors like marketing, broadcast or journalism,” he said.