Earlier this year, Dr. Ted Hovet and English MA graduate assistant Brenna Sherrill led a group of 16 students to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The class arrived in Park City on January 20th and left January 27th, after attending the first 6 days of the festival.
Kennedy Higdon, an English literature graduate who attended the trip as her last undergraduate course, commented on the festival, saying,
“Going to Sundance was an amazing opportunity for me. Even though I’m an English major, I still got to take part in a lot of things relevant to my major, and got to learn a lot about film as well. Reviewing plot points, characterization, and structure in movies is pretty similar to reviewing them in literature, so it was a fun transition to be able to make while comparing the two. Apart from that, the experience itself was so rewarding, from exploring Park City to meeting celebrities, to making a lot of new friends. I’m so glad I went and I would encourage anyone who was interested to seize this awesome opportunity!”
Students in the course were eligible to choose from English, film, or popular culture credit. It was taught in two sections: the first, a study of the history of Sundance and independent film, was completed online before the trip began; the second was the on-site portion completed at the festival itself. For the course’s classwork, Dr. Hovet assigned journal entries, film viewing, and five reviews from events at the festival.
Dr. Hovet’s end goal of the course was for students to walk away with an in-depth, personal experience of knowledge of American independent film, a knowledge and awareness that there is more out there than simply Hollywood-style film.
While at the festival, students were encouraged to attend films, panels, and workshops where filmmakers and people in the industry were discussing film in 2016. Dr. Hovet suggested students to talk to people in lines and exchange business cards, fostering a network through contact with people in the industry.
As with any new experience, the students assuredly had to prepare for what could be a cultural shock. Dr. Hovet, however, said that the students handled the new environment well. He commented that due to the laid-back, friendly atmosphere of Sundance, students found it relatively easy to talk to people and meet actors.
Patera Cook, another student who attended the festival this year, said of the experience,
“Everyone was really friendly, especially the stars. If you ran into someone you had seen in a film on Main Street and had any questions about the film, they were always excited to talk about their work. Everyone wanted to know about students’ interests in film.”
Each student, Dr. Hovet said, saw roughly a dozen films. Some saw more, and some saw less, but all were required to see at least eight. He encouraged students to try to go to films in different categories, to gain a more wholesome experience of the festival.
This was Dr. Hovet’s third time leading a class to Sundance, and when asked what particular aspects of this trip stuck out to him from the rest, he commented on the quality of the films and the festival’s character. Some critics of the festival, he said, had begun to fear that it was getting too close to Hollywood, but this year, it firmly regained its footing in the indie world. The films and the filmmakers, he commented, were far more diverse than they had been in the past.
Of the festival, Dr. Hovet remarked,
“The WKU Study Away trip to the Sundance Film Festival is a great opportunity for students to experience first hand the premiere independent film event in the United States. In addition to viewing, students in this course attend workshops and panels, meet filmmakers, and learn about the latest developments in the world of film. It is an ideal way to combine academic and professional experiences.”
Dr. Hovet and Dr. Dawn Hall, an English professor at South Campus, developed the course together three years ago. Because of a newborn 4-month old, Dr. Hall had stayed home from the festival this year. The two have hopes of continuing to offer the course in the future because of its diversity and success. Dr. Hovet also discussed plans to lead a class to an international festival in Edinburgh, tentatively, in June of 2017.