Two Stephens College faculty members have recently had their films accepted into international festivals. Kate Berneking Kogut, who teaches English and creative writing, is screening her short, "Nooner," this month at the Beloit International Film Festival in Beloit, Wis. And film instructor Chase Thompson's short, "Threshold," will be screened next month at the Fargo Film Festival in North Dakota.
Kate Berneking Kogut, who teaches screenwriting and other creative writing courses, turned her own original script into a film in 2011.
"For several years, I had an idea for a story about a woman sitting outside of an office building watching people go by," Kogut said. "When I looked back at my notes, I realized I was writing action for a screenplay."
Kogut pitched the idea of directing a film to her daughter, Casey, who said: "Let's do this."
The result is a charming story with numerous plots packed into about 12 minutes.
Although the film has no dialogue, viewers are immediately pulled in to Casey's character of Keely, a woman we watch watching the world from her favorite table at a downtown coffee shop. Mending a broken heart, Keely watches the aging couple, the young couple in love and a homeless man as their lives change and evolve over the seasons. After taking a special interest in a new business owner across the street, Keely must decide whether she's ready to move on, too.
"The film is about knowing when it's time to move on, but also about the power of reaching out; human connectedness," Kogut said. "It shows the importance of how people can make a difference when they don't have any clue they're making a difference. Although the retired couple never interacted with Keely, they impacted her by showing generosity to the homeless man."
Kogut found out in December that the film was accepted into the Beloit International Film Festival, but she didn't wait until the accolade to start a new film. This fall, she wrote directed, produced and acted in "Children Learn," another short about human connections.
The experiences have given Kogut a new perspective in the classroom.
"One thing I say to students who want to write for film is that it's a tough industry to break into, but today you have the technology to do it yourself," Kogut said. "If you have a great story, I say, 'Do it yourself.' Now, I've walked the walk. And I love it."
"Threshold" meshes documentary with narrative, and the two film styles collide at a climax viewers won't easily forget.
Chase Thompson wrote and directed the film, which explores the unintended loopholes of castle doctrine laws, during the Summer Film Institute.
"Students were interested in the horror genre," said Thompson, who got the idea from his wife, a law student studying strange castle doctrine cases at the time.
The film zooms in on a landowner fighting eminent domain who has a reputation for getting away with murder. Adding to the complexity of the situation is a vagabond who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
About 20 students participated in the film institute, a 10-day intensive workshop that gives them first-hand production experience. Students rotate jobs, letting them try their hands at everything happening behind the scenes.
"It's team-building like no other," Thompson said.
Thompson got the invitation from Fargo Film Festival, the first festival he submitted the film to, the day after Christmas. It's not the first time his work has been noticed. In 2011, his documentary "Zielinski" was screened at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
"It's always a good feeling," he said.