March 27, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Two documentary film cover photos, one with a surfer, one with historical ruins
On April 28, 2023, two Calvin University student-produced documentaries will be featured at the FREEP Film Festival in Detroit, Michigan.

Donning a wet suit in Lake Michigan, Daniel Bremmer immersed himself in the Grand Haven surf scene. In the historical ruins of Umm el-Jimal Jordan, Abi Van Doorne literally got her hands dirty and dug in.

Through these experiences, the two film and media production majors uncovered inspirational stories, stories they and their production teams decided to develop into short documentary films.

Earning a bigger platform

Those student projects, meant to culminate in the fall Media Showcase at Calvin University, are now getting quite the signal boost. The films have been selected to be shown on April 28 at the FREEP Film Festival in Detroit, Mich. in their “Real Fresh” program of student documentaries.

The Calvin students will share the screen with students from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Oakland University, and the University of Windsor.

“I am beyond stoked,” said Bremmer. “I am excited and beyond grateful to bring this story to as many people as possible, to inspire people.”

“More people than we ever could have imagined or hoped for are going to see this project,” said Van Doorne, whose work has now also been shown at the US Embassy in Jordan.

Consistently excellent

Sam Smartt, associate professor and director of Calvin’s Master’s Program in Media and Strategic Communication, said he was not surprised that two of the five class projects from his latest COMM 351 class were selected to be showcased at FREEP Film Festival.

“Our students produce excellent work, so it’s exciting when they get the proper attention,” said Smartt.

Having juried student competitions in the past for FREEP and having some his own documentaries shown at FREEP in the past, the committee knew Smartt well and asked him for recommendations. “I felt all the films from COMM 351 were worthy of being shown, so I felt bad that the committee had to choose only a couple,” said Smartt. “After the media showcase at Calvin, my colleague Carl Plantinga said that was the strongest batch of documentaries ever to come out of a single class at Calvin.”

The two films selected for FREEP are “The Search,” and “The West Church.”

“The Search” is a seven-minute long documentary that follows Great Lakes surfer Hunter Lohman on his journey to chase waves and his idea of true happiness. Bremmer produced the film along with fellow film and media production majors Josh Moyer and Kameryan Koning.

“The West Church” is an 11-minute-long documentary that documents the 50th archaeological dig season of the 2000-year-old ruins in the Jordanian town of Umm el-Jimal, where local experts, American archaeologists, and university students work to uncover what the future looks like for the community. Van Doorne and fellow film and media production major Andrew Deters co-produced the film.

Prepared for the future

While the students are beyond thrilled to showcase their work on the big stage, they are equally as satisfied with their own preparation for their future work.

“I fell in love with documentary filmmaking at Calvin,” said Bremmer. “I had the opportunity to have amazing professors and to take amazing courses that allowed me to hone my skills as a storyteller.” Bremmer was especially grateful for being taught how to tell, produce, and publish a good story, and said “I feel a lot more prepared than I thought I would have. Calvin has proven its worth.”

For Van Doorne, it was as much about the soft skills she learned as the technical skills. “It’s not just that you are making and producing this documentary, it’s also that you are doing the thinking of what is this really about. You’re creating the log line, knowing what your themes are, getting promotional materials ready, grabbing stills from the films, having headshots, having a social media account, all that helps prepare you to submit to festivals like this,” said Van Doorne. “So, when we got an email from the festival asking for all these elements, we already had all of that ready to go.”

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