Fort Morgan students see themselves in alums’ virtual-reality documentary

CSU Associate Professor Eric Ishiwata, right, looks on during the sneak preview screening of ‘Who I Am’

Three alumni from CSU’s College of Liberal Arts have made a 3-D, 360-degree, virtual-reality documentary about the work of Ethnic Studies Associate Professor Eric Ishiwata and his students in the eastern Colorado town of Fort Morgan.

And many subjects of the film — nearly 80 high school students from Fort Morgan who’ve taken English as a Second Language classes — visited the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery on April 7 for a sneak preview screening.

Director Kyle Rasmussen, before the screening

Who I Am: A Journey of Unity Through the Stories of Refugee, Immigrant and First-Generation Students will be shown publicly for the first time during the April 14-21 ACT Human Rights Film Festival.

The project

The film chronicles efforts by Ishiwata, the Key Academic Community and ethnic studies students to build relationships among the town’s three main demographic groups: Latinos, Caucasians and East Africans, including many newcomers who come from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. To assist with education and community-building in one of the most diverse towns in Colorado, since 2014 Ishiwata and his students have helped support music festivals and community forumsa workshop on translation/interpretation, bullying and interpersonal relations; professional development trainings on diversity for Morgan County public school teachers; and campus visits to CSU for Fort Morgan High School students.

The 12-minute documentary features many Fort Morgan students reading statements written during the development of “FM Speaks,” a project that CSU alumnus and FMHS teacher Elliott Johnston spearheaded with Ishiwata as a way for the young people to share personal stories that provide insight into the community.

The executive producer of the film was Amy Hoeven, who graduated from CSU with a degree in interdisciplinary liberal arts in 1995. It was directed by Kyle Rasmussen, who got his B.A. degree from CSU in 2013 and is now pursuing his master’s degree in public communication and technology from the Department of Journalism and Media Communication. The associate producer on the film was Brandon Wooldridge, who earned his B.A. in interdisciplinary liberal arts at CSU in 2015. Rasmussen and Wooldridge are co-owners of BlueShoe Media, a Fort Collins-based digital media production company.

BlueShoe intern and CSU alumna Sienna Huebner, right, hands out directions to the Google Cardboard viewers being distributed by Wooldridge, second from right.

‘Amazing story’

Hoeven — a native of Sterling, which is about 45 miles northeast of Fort Morgan — first met Ishiwata at one of the college’s Great Conversations events and was inspired by his work.

“I was floored that this was taking place in my backyard,” said Hoeven, who sits on the Liberal Arts Development Council. “I wanted to tell this amazing story.”

Wooldridge was a longtime family friend of Hoeven’s, and when he introduced her to Rasmussen, the three realized they shared a passion for empathic storytelling, or “stories that make you feel like you’re in someone else’s shoes,” as Rasmussen describes it. “I remember the first time I experienced a virtual-reality film, it brought me to tears. I said, ‘We have to tell stories this way.’”

“They just got what I was envisioning,” Hoeven said of Rasmussen and Wooldridge. “I want to help people use their voices.”

The three visited Fort Morgan four times from September through January to capture footage of CSU students — many of them first-generation — mentoring what Hoeven calls “soon-to-be first-generation students.” In addition to recording firsthand accounts of Fort Morgan students, the documentary features Ishiwata’s students describing what the community engagement experience and “near-peer” mentoring has meant to them.

The Google Cardboard viewers

The screening

At the screening, which was also attended by CSU students featured in the film, the Fort Morgan students laughed and cheered when they saw themselves and their peers on the giant ceiling screen of the OtterBox Digital Dome Theatre. After the screening, the BlueShoe team handed each student a Google Cardboard viewer with instructions on how they could watch the film again — this time in virtual reality, using a smartphone. They were also treated to a lunch donated by Z Catering Staffing & Events of Fort Collins.

In her remarks to the Fort Morgan students at the screening, Hoeven concluded by saying, “I want to make sure you know you have friends in Fort Collins.”

Viewing opportunities

The production team is exploring future options for wider distribution. In the meantime, the documentary will be shown on virtual-reality headsets at the ACT Human Rights Film Festival’s opening and closing nights, as well as during the following times:

The documentary production team, with some of the key film subjects

Saturday, April 15

Noon – 10 p.m., Lory Student Center Theater

Sunday, April 16

1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Lory Student Center Theater

Tuesday, April 18

4 p.m. – 9 p.m., Magnolia Theater, Lincoln Center

Thursday, April 20

4 p.m. –  9 p.m., Lory Student Center Theater

For a complete schedule of films and events during the ACT Human Rights Film Festival, go to the festival website. For more information about the documentary, visit