Sundance Experience leads to learning, connections and opportunity

Assistant Professor Kai Swanson and 17 Elon students traveled to Park City, Utah, and Hollywood during Winter Term for an immersion experience into the film and entertainment industries.

Seventeen Elon students, ranging from bright-eyed first-year students to upperclassmen on the cusp of graduation, traveled west during Winter Term to participate in The Sundance Film Festival Experience, studying the history and culture of the mainstream film industry and the independent film markets across the globe.

As part of their Sundance Experience course, Elon students visited the popular Egyptian Theatre, an official screening venue of the Sundance Film Festival.

Led by Kai Swanson, assistant professor of cinema and television arts, and supported by Cierra Seawright ’18, program coordinator for Elon in Los Angeles, students kicked off the short-term Isabella Cannon Global Education Center program in Los Angeles, delving into the city’s history and community.

The class took tours of the timeless Sony Pictures Studios and The Studios at Paramount, where they received an up-close look at the soundstages where many of the major motion pictures of the last century have been filmed. The students also met with Elon alumni working in the film and entertainment industry, picking their brains on their creative process, learning about their professional journeys and developing personal connections.

Among the Elon alumni who met with the students were Jordan Roman ’15, a production coordinator for Netflix, Alex Hadden ’13, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and editor, and Joyce Choi ’19, a producer for Imagine Entertainment. The trio each provided valuable perspective into life after college and moving to Los Angeles.

As she reflected on her role as a faculty leader, Swanson said she enjoys meeting students where they are at, especially important since the course includes students across academic programs and experience levels.

While in Hollywood, the students toured Sony Pictures Studios, including the iconic set of “Jeopardy!”

“Something that I love about this program is that student come from all sorts of backgrounds and majors,” said Swanson, who last year served as the festival director for the World Water Short Film Festival. “For some, this is their first film class. For others, this is an opportunity to network with the film industry professionals.”

Part of the course’s mission is to create an appreciation for Los Angeles as a whole. In this effort, the group volunteered several hours packaging hygiene kits with Valley of Change for individuals without housing in downtown LA. The students also hiked through the Hollywood Hills and spent an afternoon in Santa Monica.

Studying in the entertainment capital of the world left an impact on the students, including Callie Brodeur ’25, a sophomore studying cinema and television arts.

“My experience in LA was eye-opening,” she said. “Not only did I make some pretty great friends because of this course, I was able to gain a lot of insight after talking with people who work in the industry. After meeting with a few Elon grads who have successful careers in the entertainment industry, I realized just how many more career paths are available, and that helped me feel more comfortable with being unsure of my own career choices after graduating.”

After more than a week in Los Angeles, the class redirected its focus and headed for Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival since 1978. Sundance attracts more than 100,000 filmmakers, film lovers and industry professionals each year to watch and celebrate new and innovative works in feature films, documentaries, shorts and new media. The festival provides a platform to discover and support new talent in the film industry with opportunities for networking, distribution and exposure.

In addition to tours and instruction, the students volunteered at Valley of Change, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that fights for equality and supports community members in need.

During their time at Sundance, the Elon contingent attended screenings, panels and various sponsored events. The students watched films that eventually traded hands in $20 million deals, as well as lesser-known independent projects.

“Sundance reminded me of the value in watching films with a large audience,” said Brandon Talton ’23, a senior in the cinema and television arts BFA program. “The values of forming a short-term community to watch a story unfold on the screen and of experiencing the emotional highs and lows of said story is truly immeasurable.”

By the conclusion of the course, the students’ increased understanding of film and the entertainment industry was evident to Swanson.

“It has been an incredible experience seeing students grow so much in how they approach reading a film, their understanding of mainstream vs. independent film markets, and how they articulate their thoughts about cinema,” the professor said.

Interested in studying in Hollywood, Los Angeles and Sundance next Winter Term? Contact Swanson at

Additionally reporting and editing by Tommy Kopetskie