Arts and Culture / News

Students shine at Denver film festival

Dymar is one of the Denver Voice vendors profiled in “Vending for Change." Photo: Frazer Lockhart

It’s been a good year for University of Denver documentary film students. In September, Right Click>Find Date — a documentary made by current grad students Jesus Sierra, Pete Ellis and Keri Noll — won best student film at the Estes Park Film Festival. And on Nov. 7 and 8, recent film studies graduates Frazer Lockhart (BA ’11), Michael Schoenfeld (BA ’11) and Marty Chapman (BA ’11) will screen their short documentary Vending for Change at the Starz Denver Film Festival as part of a program of short student films.

Both shorts were made in the same two-quarter sequence in documentary theory and production in DU’s Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies.

“We’re thrilled that students from this class are achieving so much success with their films,” says Diane Waldman, an associate professor in the department who is among the teachers of the documentary classes. “Every one of the students is creative and hard-working, and they are so thoughtful about each other’s work. The critique sessions were truly amazing.”

Last year’s documentary sequence was team-taught by Waldman and film Lecturer Elizabeth Henry, whose short documentary Susan’s Horses — about a Colorado horse camp for kids — will screen at the Starz fest in advance of a documentary called Wild Horses and Renegades. Other DU connections at the film festival include film studies Associate Professor Tony Gault’s short documentary Four Cubic Feet of Space — about Colorado artist Daniel Sprick — which screens in advance of the documentary Flor de Muertos; and a Nov. 8 panel discussion titled “Life in the World’s Most Secretive Country: North Korea,” which will feature Christopher Hill, dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and Iraq; and international law professor Ved Nanda. The panel is part of the festival’s focus on Korean film.

Lockhart and his fellow students knew they wanted to make a documentary about homelessness, but it wasn’t until they discovered the Denver Voice that they found their angle. The newspaper creates work for the homeless by giving 10 free copies to anyone who wants to become a vendor. The vendors sell the papers for a suggested donation of $1. Once the initial 10 copies are distributed, vendors can buy more papers for 25 cents per copy.

“We went down there the first day and we literally had homeless people lining up to tell us their story, which was incredible,” Lockhart says. “From there on out it was just a matter of chasing the story and making the best film we could.”

Constrained by the class’ 12-minute time limit, the students could only profile two vendors, but they plan to edit the remaining footage into a longer documentary. Lockhart says some of the best stories they heard didn’t end up in the finished film.

“One of the things I was adamant about in the filmmaking process was that we had to catch at least one of these guys on their first day,” he says. “And we ended up catching two people on their first day. One of those people — who does not actually appear in the film; he was of the ones that got cut — we caught him in his first week of being homeless, let alone working for the Denver Voice.”

As much as he learned about the homeless while making the film, Lockhart says, he learned a lot about his own values as well. He went in thinking all homeless people were noble sufferers trying to get their lives on track, but for every hardworking Denver Voice vendor he profiled he also found a panhandler making a significant amount of money by holding up cardboard signs on street corners. He also saw the effects of drug use among the homeless.

“I went into this wanting to give homeless people the benefit of the doubt across the board: ‘You’re all good people,’” he says. “And while I’m sure they all are good people, they all have very different stories and they’re all in very different places.”

And while other of his former classmates and fellow film studies alums are now trying to make narrative feature films in Hollywood, Lockhart says his experiences at DU have made him a documentary fan for life.

“I didn’t think, going into documentary, that I would love it as much as I did,” he says. “There’s something about getting out there and being with your subjects and experiencing story as it happens. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors that go into narrative filmmaking, and you spend most of your time lighting and moving around; it’s a huge process. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but it loses some of the magic when you’re on set. What I’m in it for is the stories, so being out there when the stories happen is just really cool.”

The Starz Denver Film Festival runs Nov. 2–13. For information and showtimes, visit


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