MISSOULA – A unique perspective and five long days of work are paying off for a University of Montana graduate student and three alumni. The filmmaking team Wheelhouse Missoula – comprising current and former UM School of Media Arts students – recently won the prestigious PBS P.O.V. Award and the Best Experimental Film Award at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto for their short documentary “20/Nothing.”
The six-minute film was produced for the International Documentary Challenge in late February – just as a massive blizzard hit Missoula. Competing teams were assigned a theme, “Behind the Curtain,” and genre, experimental, for the five-day challenge.
Second-year media arts graduate student Rachel Stevens and alumni Sarah Meismer, Josef “Tuna” Metesh and Caitlin Hofmeister produced “20/Nothing” about Stevens’ partner Evan Smith of Jackson, Wyo., who has one prosthetic eye. The film explores what it means physically and theoretically to be “behind the curtain” with just one seeing eye, and employs an experimental split-screen composition.
More than 100 teams across the world competed in the challenge, and 12 films were chosen by an elite industry jury to premiere at Hot Docs, North America’s largest film festival.
Though some finalist teams have participated in the International Documentary Challenge multiple times, this was Wheelhouse Missoula’s competition debut.
“I wanted to get into making documentary films, and I’d worked with this team before that I really liked,” Stevens said. “We decided to do this challenge on kind of a whim, but we pulled it all together.”
Stevens, of Georgetown, Texas, was the film’s director; Meismer, of Missoula, was the director of photography; Metesh, of Butte, was the sound designer and Steadicam operator; and Hofmeister, of Sandpoint, Idaho, was the editor and assistant cameraman. However, producing a film on a five-day deadline meant that everyone did a bit of everything.
The P.O.V. Award comes with a $1,000 prize, but Stevens said the team felt that participating in Hot Docs was a reward in itself.
“When they announced ‘This year’s P.O.V. Award goes to ‘20/Nothing’ directed by Rachel Stevens,’ we were absolutely shocked,” she said. “Throughout the rest of the weekend we learned to trust that strong feeling we had during the making of ‘20/Nothing,’ which was ‘this is something good.’
“We want to make more things like that, together,” she said. “You will see more from us. Guaranteed.”
The film is on the festival circuit but will be available for online viewing in August through The Audience Awards at http://theaudienceawards.com/.
Wheelhouse Missoula received a grant from the Montana Film Office and support from the Associated Students of UM to produce the film and travel to Toronto at the beginning of May for Hot Docs.
For more information email Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.facebook.com/twentynothingpremiere. More information on the International Documentary Challenge can be found at http://www.docchallenge.com/.