SMAD Students Won BEA Award of Excellence  

Media Arts and Design

Professor Shaun Wright was pleasantly surprised that two student films, ‘Diego’ and ‘In Absence.’, won BEA Award of Excellence in May 2018, after having 15 student awards from his documentary film class since 2012.

Students from Wright’s Documentary Production course worked in teams to create films on an issue or topic of their choosing.

Kristin Zimney along with her team members, produce the film ‘Diego.’ The film tells a story of activism and centers itself around JMU student named Diego Salinas, who organized and helped lead a social movement on his campus and community in the wake of the DACA rescindment of last year.

“The impact that the film has had on so many people, on DACA students, on immigrants, on the general public who may have changed their minds about the issue, makes me feel like I did my job as a documentary filmmaker,” said Zimney.

On the other hand, Maeve Reiss' film ‘In Absence’ follows a young refugee from Sudan named Anas as he tries to take care of his siblings through difficult times. Reiss worked closely with the youngest member of the family by tutoring and working to build connections.

 “I loved them dearly,”Reiss says, “I wanted to be able to present [their] new perspective of life to the world.”

These projects were the first filmsReiss and Zimney’s team have created. After four months of filming and interviewing, and many sleepless nights in the editing lab, the films were completed.

Reiss looked at the film as more than a class assignment. “It’s one thing to complete a project just to complete it or to get a grade,” says Reiss. “But I loved my story and the family from the beginning which made me want to make it the best first film I could.”

The films were first featured late December 2017 at the annual student film festival in Harrisonburg called DOCfestReiss and Zimney’s films received the most favorable votes and positive feedback.  “It’s powerful when people see it- they laugh, they cry, they’re moved,” Wright says.

Receiving recognition and praise for the films at DOCfest was rewarding for Reiss. “It was very reassuring that the film was doing something right,” says Reiss.

The two groups later enter their films in The BEA Festival of Media Arts, which took place in Las Vegas earlier this year. With over at 1500 submissions, Reiss' and Zimney’s films were among the few that won the Award(s) of Excellence.

“This class and the freedom to produce a story I loved and pitched, made me realize this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” says Reiss. “Soak it all up, stretch out your brain and be as creative as possible.”

The experience remains rewarding for Zimney and says she will be proud of it for years to come. “To make a documentary in four months, you have to be dedicated to the topic and your subject, and realize, as cliché as it sounds, that you can make a difference by telling a story.” 




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Published: Thursday, September 13, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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