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Communications Fellows relish their Sundance experience

Every winter more than 600 Elon students pack their bags and head to exciting locations throughout the world to study abroad. These students learn about the cultures of nations ranging from Ghana to China, but this year 22 students got a taste of a completely different culture: the culture of the entertainment industry.

In January, a group of Communications Fellows was given the opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, where they watched movies, interviewed filmmakers and volunteered to work at screenings.

“Leading up to it we had classes and talked about Sundance in terms of marketing, past films and how the festival evolved and changed over the years,” said trip leader and visiting professor of cinema Paul Castro.

In the pre-departure class students also learned about how to approach and network with members of the industry and were given the challenge of collecting 30 business cards from professionals.

“The real value was students passing out of their comfort-zone and networking,” Castro said. “For them to build those relationships was extraordinary.”

Since the Fellows program consists of students from all of the different communications majors, the class aimed to give every student the opportunity to gain experience within his or her given major. One way the course achieved that end was through interviews with filmmakers.


“We challenged them to go up to the filmmakers after a film and come back to our house to do some interviews,” said Communications assistant professor Ray Johnson, the other faculty trip leader. “This gave journalism students the opportunity to hold interviews and several of the filmmakers we interviewed were producers on the business side of movies.”

The students plan on taking all of the interviews and putting them on a DVD for other communications students to reference, but the value of the interviews was less in the product and more in the experience students gained through these candid encounters.

“The highlight was meeting all these fantastic filmmakers, talking to them about their work, and then running into them later during the week,” junior Olivia Dubendorf said. “They always remembered my name. It was just so wonderful to feel like you made a difference.”

In addition to Elon’s class program, six students decided to volunteer at the festival.

“We logged 25 hours each tearing tickets, forming lines and even escorting celebrities,” senior Joey Accordino said. “This opportunity gave us an inside look at Sundance.”

While there are no definite plans for the Fellows to return to Sundance next January, students and professors believe that this experience is a good way for students to get a taste of the film industry without encountering the exclusiveness of the Hollywood scene.

“The pretention you may find at a New York or an L.A. premier dissipates here because of the collaborative nature of Sundance,” Castro said.

Through candid interaction with filmmakers, students learned a great deal about the industry and made contacts they couldn’t get any other way.

“The biggest thing I took away is that, while on some level cinema is very intimidating, on another level it is very welcoming,” Accordino said. “It was so refreshing to talk to people who were both successful and down-to-earth. I am so grateful for this experience.”

- by Lindsay Fendt '11

Colin Donohue,
4/6/2011 1:59 PM