Headed to Hollywood: senior aims to impact
From the thousands of visitors to the carefully selected cinematographers and their creations, this year’s Hollywood Film Festival is bringing together filmmakers engaged in depicting topics with social impact. One of the films set to be shown at this year’s festival is “Over the Bridge,” written, directed and shot by senior Maria Lavelle and 2016 graduate Sarah Kocher.
Over a break, Lavelle returned home to Norway and was immediately struck by the homelessness she saw there.
“I was so used to not seeing any of it in Sioux Falls,” she said.
Lavelle took this idea and decided to see if homelessness in Sioux Falls was as absent as she was led to believe. From this experience, the documentary “Over the Bridge” was inspired.
Kocher’s connections with the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House in Sioux Falls allowed the two to find subjects who were willing to share their experiences with homelessness. They decided on the title “Over the Bridge” after realizing that homelessness in Sioux Falls becomes much more apparent on the north side of the 10th Street bridge.
The project took roughly two months to make, beginning in January this year and finishing in March. Their film premiered in the Back Alley later that month.
“The scariest part for me was presenting at Augie because you want your peers to enjoy your work,” Lavelle said.
Looking back at that first showing, Lavelle believes the immense reality of local homelessness made the film a huge success with Augustana students and faculty. Following the premiere, Kocher and Lavelle decided to take their film to the next level.
In April, they entered “Over the Bridge” in the Sioux Empire Film Festival.
“Even though we had no idea what was going on, people reacted surprisingly well,” Lavelle said. “Many people asked questions. There was a woman who’d been previously homeless in attendance for the film, and she loved it.”
Senior Naras Prameswari said knowing how much effort Kocher and Lavelle put into showing viewers what they saw on the north side of Sioux Falls made seeing the finished product an emotional experience.
“The pair are both incredibly ambitious people, and they dedicated themselves to this film 100 percent,” she said. “They worked day and night on this film, so I wasn’t surprised when they were accepted to the festival.”
That experience will serve Lavelle well as she heads to Hollywood this week.
The Hollywood Film Festival judges films based on this year’s topic of social impact. Other judging criteria include film quality, angles and shots and audio quality. As far as the festival goes, Lavelle, who’s representing herself and Kocher—who is currently working with Youth Adults in Global Mission in England—is keeping an open mind and heart.
“I truly hope that people will see that homelessness is an issue everywhere, and not solely in large regions,” Lavelle said. “It’s a humanitarian-themed festival, so it’s important to see that these issues are real.”
Augustana Journalism professor Janet Blank-Libra favors exposing the issue to a larger audience. She said Lavelle and Kocher’s dedication to the project reflects what journalists do best.
“I think, ideally, [Maria] would like, as would Sarah, to see people respond to the documentary by acting compassionately toward those who are homeless in this community,” Blank-Libra said.
For Lavelle and Kocher, raising awareness of the social issues in Sioux Falls and the world remains the goal.
And while a festival of this size is a new experience for Lavelle, she’s looking forward to meeting other people who are passionate about humanitarian issues.
With hopes to improve the situation of homelessness through volunteering, Lavelle has one point she wants make: “Just because you don’t see anything, doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” she said. “If everyone does a little bit, we can make a big impact.”