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Taylor Team Attends Sundance Film Festival

Published: Feb 05, 2014

The iconic Egyptian Theatre on Main St., Park City, Utah

For the seventh year, a team of Taylor University students and faculty got a first-hand look at independent films that will hit theatres and NetFlix in 2014 by attending the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Media Communication professors John and Kathy Bruner led the team made up of juniors and seniors from the media communication department.

The team hit the ground running. "One group got up at 6 A.M. just to see the film Calvary," said Senior Kevin Schillinger. "It was a very gripping tale about a Catholic priest who hears a confession from one of his parishioners telling him that he is going to kill the priest." The film was followed up by a Q&A with the cast/crew and it provoked a lot of discussions about its Christian undertones.

The independent films at Sundance are far from the happy endings Hollywood typically puts out. The subjects are often intense and meant to provoke thought or action. For instance, most of the Taylor team saw Return to Homs, a firsthand look at the unfolding crisis in war-torn Syria as well as the cautionary tale Web Junkies, focusing on a Chinese rehab facility for teens with internet gaming addictions.

"Someone warned me that Sundance would be like being “repeatedly punched in the stomach," said Junior Keith Cantrell. "After seeing several films, I understand why." Keith saw the film Hellion, about a teenager named Jacob, who is using rebellion as a way to grieve the loss of his mother. "Everyone I talked to on the bus afterwards said the same thing. It was a difficult and painful film to watch, but the experience of looking into this boy’s broken world was worth it."

Fortunately, the Taylor students had time to discuss films while relaxing in a hot tub at the end of the day. The team stayed with Taylor alumnus Ben Fuller and his wife Beth in their Park City home. Students also enjoyed the atmosphere of the festival and the town's Main Street, where thousands of Hollywood insiders came to hang out. Schillinger said, "We even had glimpses of a few celebrities such as Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez!"

An added bonus of attending Sundance is Taylor's participation in the Windrider Forum, a faith and film forum that meets a church in Park City each morning. "The opportunity to discuss some of the most thought-provoking films with other Christians makes the whole week more meaningful," said Kathy Bruner. "We had several filmmaker Q&A sessions at Windrider, including the director and main character from the documentary The Outsiders." The film features a pastor in Williston, South Dakota, who is trying to help immigrants arriving to work in the city's booming oil fields.

The Windrider Forum also offered a pre-screening of Son of God, the Hollywood feature film to be released in late February. Although the film was not part of Sundance, British-born Producer Mark Burnett came to the Forum to present the film. Burnett is famous as executive producer of Survivor, The Apprentice, Are You as Smart as a 5th Grader? and The Bible mini-series among others. He said friends in Hollywood told him he was crazy to make a Jesus film, but he is so passionate about telling people about Jesus’ love, that he went ahead anyway.

"The week at Sundance is always both exhausting and exhilarating," said Bruner. "It's a unique course offering for our students, and John and I wouldn't miss the chance to take them!"