By Frances Marion Givhan
Photo by Madi Carter (C’17)
On Monday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m., the Student Union Theatre premieres a movie that will resonate with the whole Sewanee community. Ruth Guerra (C’16), a senior Theatre major, decided to create a film that she titled We Are Young for her major’s senior project. The film consists of four stories about a year at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere.
“I drew from pretty personal stuff with all these stories,” says Guerra. When she was a freshman, she went to a screening of Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, a movie that explores the nostalgia of college experiences and the events that shape students during that time. “It was so much like Sewanee that it inspired me to want to give my own tribute to our Domain,” she says.
For the next two years, Guerra created a story that drew from her own experiences as a college student. The first story, “Rite of Passage,” particularly feels most like her own Sewanee experience. The main character Georgia, played by Ally Hollis (C’16), struggles with a desire to solely explore her passion for acting, yet she attends a liberal arts college. “I wanted to go to film school and due to certain circumstances, I ended up at Sewanee,” says Guerra. “I realized though that being around people and being at a place that inspires me means so much more to me as an artist than any technical education.”
The stories also explore different topics that the Sewanee community has dealt with before. “I think film that matter are the ones that prompt discussion long after their screening,” says Guerra. We Are Young touches on social issues such as sexual assault and cyberbullying, two problems for which the community needs to find solutions. The stories “Salutatorian” and “Electric Children” address those issues and explores the effects on the people who find themselves in those troubling situations. “It starts with people recognizing there’s something wrong, even in our little safe haven here, and then we have to not just speak about it, but do something, too,” says Guerra.
As the writer and director of the film, Guerra had the challenge of trying to film a movie with limited resources. “Making a feature film as a college senior for a theatre project is crazy sauce. Point blank,” she says. The biggest challenge according to her was finding the manpower and resources to make it work. She filmed the entire thing on an iPhone with a Steadicam and a tripod. Huntre Woolwine (C’16), who also stars in the film, recorded the sound. The phone and sound equipment comprised most of the technical equipment they used. “It caused so many technical problems we had to overcome, like proper lighting,” says Guerra. Many of the scenes were exterior night shots, filmed around Sewanee’s campus at fraternities, sororities, or along pathways, which made lighting a huge issue.
Another problem arose from the number of people she needed to participate in scenes. “We had a hard time finding extras, so we really appreciate the people who kindly gave us a few hours of their life to show up and sit in a desk or dance at a party!” she says. She planned her film strategically, though, by dividing it into four parts. While the various perspectives of the characters allow the audience to learn their good and bad sides, the separate stories allowed Guerra to film one section while doing more work on another. This addressed the issue of time, a pressure that she, along with the cast and crew, still feel as filming and editing come to a close.
“I made this film with some of my best friends who do not necessarily have a lot of experience with filmmaking,” says Guerra, “but they are the most committed folks I know.” Shooting the film required plenty of Doodle polls to schedule out the cast and crew’s free time.
The cast and crew took hours during weekdays, weeknights, and weekends to shoot the scenes. The dedication of each person involved in the movie makes the project amazing. Guerra says, “I would rather work with people who are so gung ho and passionate about what they’re doing than the next Stephen Spielberg, to be honest.”
Alena Kochinski (C’18), who worked as a producer and assistant director, found herself realizing more and more about how much the people in the film mean to her. “It’s a blessing to work with all my best friends these past eight months,” she says, “and as much as I want to see the movie in its entirety, I never want this project to end.”
Sewanee students comprise the main cast and crew of the film. It stars Hollis and Woolwine, as well as Adreyauna Lewers (C’16), Max Hagan (C’16), Audrey Tchoukoua (C’16), Will Johannsson (C’16) and Tia Strickland (C’16) as the main characters. The different stories feature Elijah Brooks-Davis (C’18), Balázs Borosi (C’19), Charlotte La Nasa (C’16), and, well, me. Kochinski and Madison Jones (C’18) served as producers and assistant directors.
Come out on April 11 to the SUT and watch Guerra’s tribute to our small liberal arts university in the middle of nowhere come to life.