Free showcase to highlight documentaries made by CSU students

Student documentary interview

Anna von Pechmann, director of the documentary “Reclamation,” interviews Claire McWilliams regarding her work in Navajo bead jewelry art in Fort Collins on Aug. 4, 2021. (Courtesy Owen Johnson)

One look at Netflix is all it takes to demonstrate just how popular documentaries have become in recent years, and it’s something the team at Rocky Mountain Student Media continues to capitalize on.  

“What I’m trying to do is create and replicate an actual documentary film program that’s not just an academic program, but a path toward a professional career,” said Frank Boring, the adviser for Tree Stump Films and a documentary filmmaker whose piece about the 150-year anniversary of Colorado State University aired on Rocky Mountain PBS. 

Tree Stump Films was launched in Fall 2020 and is the documentary arm of Rocky Mountain Student Media, which also includes a newspaper, magazine, radio station, television station and video production team.  

The CSU Student Documentary Film Showcase on Thursday, Dec. 2, will highlight the work of some of these students and others across campus from a variety of different disciplines.   

The showcase is slated for 6-8 p.m. at the Lyric Cinema at 1209 N. College Ave., and features eight films produced by CSU students, including four from Tree Stump Films.  

Senior journalism and media communications major Owen Johnson, the director of Tree Stump Films, had a hand in all four of their documentaries that will be screened during the showcase.  

“I’ve been doing films and videos since I was 10,” he said. “When it came to this, it was: ‘Let’s just learn everything about this and how to make a good documentary film.’”  

He is also the director of the documentary “Becoming Kaz Smith,” which tells the story of a transgender student at CSU. It will be shown during the showcase.  

“For this specific showcase, I want people to see other people’s stories and to see the beauty of all of it,” said sophomore journalism student Irl Paulalengan, the assistant director of Tree Stump Films. “We cover a range of stories around Fort Collins, and I think it’s really beautiful that we can learn from one another.”  

The CSU Student Documentary Film Showcase    

The free event is on Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Lyric Cinema 1209 N. College Ave.  

Schedule of events:    

  • 5:30 p.m.: Networking opportunities with food and drinks available for purchase.  
  • 6-7:30 p.m.: Presentation of documentary shorts with student introductions.  
  • 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Meet and greet with the filmmakers.  

Featured films:  

  • “Becoming Kaz Smith,” directed by Owen Johnson 
  • “DIY: Fort Collins,” directed by Mary Grace Sheetz and Irl Paulalengan 
  • “Sticky Notes,” directed by Zeya Highley 
  • “Lasting Embers,” directed by Eric Forbes 
  • “Numb,” directed by Anna Tomka 
  • “What’s The Situation,” directed by Zach Fountain 
  • “Reclamation,” directed by Anna von Pechmann 
  • “A Complex Life,” directed by Max Straub 

The showcase will feature her documentary “DIY: Fort Collins,” which looks into the people behind an independent music venue that’s set up in a parking lot. Paulalengan partnered with Mary Grace Sheetz for the production.  

“There’s a lot of moving parts and hands involved in being part of the documentaries and planning processes, and now that I’ve made one of my own, I understand what needs to go into this work,” said Sheetz, a senior communications studies major.  

Boring said his long-term goal for Tree Stump Films is to involve more students like Sheetz, who is not a journalism major and is instead more interested in the project management side of documentary production. 

Currently, Boring hopes to bring more students with diverse backgrounds on board, including history majors to help with research. 

To make sure the videos get seen, Boring has partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS to air the student documentaries in a 30-minute special. Along the way, he worked with the students to make sure their documentaries were up to PBS’ technical standards.  

But before they air on TV, the five- to seven-minute documentaries will be on the big screen at the Lyric as a culmination of months of hard work and an introduction to Tree Stump Films.  

“Independent filmmaking is not easy, there’s no set path,” Boring said. “If you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, the path is there. Documentary filmmaking there’s no set path, but what Tree Stump Films is trying to do is give them one.”  

“There’s more to this than just shooting a video and posting it to YouTube in hopes that people will watch,” Boring said.