SEU Documentaries—A Ripple Effect
Everyone is familiar with the analogy of comparing ripples in the water to a catalyst that causes multiple, far-reaching effects. Southeastern’s annual documentary project aims to be just that for issues that face our world today.
Each year since 2012, teams of SEU students, staff and faculty have worked with relevant organizations to produce a documentary about a topic of significance and social importance. This project started with SEU Destinations, the team that organizes and carries out SEU’s mission trips, in collaboration with SEU’s Student Development marketing department.
How it began
“When we were praying for the success of the mission trips, we felt called to start visually documenting the interactions of our teams with the people we were serving,” explained Annalee Mutz, campus communications coordinator. “Initially the goal was to showcase the mission trips and the organizations that we team with to make them impactful.”
“Soon after this project started, we saw that there was an even bigger purpose to what we were doing,” said Mutz. “We were being called to inspire people from any background that they can use their talents to advance the Kingdom of God.”
Called to a purpose
The topics of each documentary aren’t just random; they are issues or groups of people that someone feels they are called to focus on. The mission trip groups spent time in prayer, allowing God to lead them to which teams to follow and which places to showcase. As time went by members of the group felt a pull to explore topics beyond mission work, to include global issues.
“We continue to highlight our students and the work that they are doing, but by extension, we want to show the issues our students are passionate about and encourage more people to discuss these topics in detail,” explained Jonathan DeMeo, director of campus communications. “We pray that the viewers of these films will find something that’s within their own sphere of influence to do something about, and then act on it and create real change.”
“Common Cents was the first time that we took an issue that was being actively addressed by one of our alumni and took it further by creating a documentary about it,” explained Myles Shank, media producer for SEU’s Enrollment Marketing department. “Anyone can make a difference for a global issue and this documentary showed that.”
Common Cents explores the tragedy of human trafficking and how Kendall Altmyer, ’13, began The Penny Story as a means to help fight this treacherous crime. After its release, Common Cents went on to win the Gold Award at the Atlanta International Documentary Film Festival.
As We Wait
Inspired by the success of Common Cents, members of SEU Destinations and Student Development marketing began to pray for another opportunity to shed light on an important topic.
Haley Osborn, missions director for SEU Destinations, felt the pull toward exploring the refugee crisis. “We wanted to create something that was relevant not only in today’s society but also our SEU community,” Osborn explained. “We had students working with refugees, and their stories were so moving that we knew we needed to capture them on film.”
As We Wait was released in October of 2016, alongside a webpage that gives tangible ways to learn more about the refugee crisis or get involved in the cause. “We hope that the documentary gives our viewers the ability to form their own opinion on this issue and help them start the conversation of what they can do to help,” said Osborn.
“We’ve been told that our faculty have used As We Wait as a basis for class discussions. In fact one student was so impacted by viewing it that she is now going on a mission trip to serve refugees,” shared DeMeo. “That’s a huge value that is added to this; people won’t leave questioning the purpose of the film.”
The right presentation
“It’s really important to us to be as accurate as possible in how we present each topic,” explained Mutz. Throughout the filmmaking process, the group consults SEU faculty or outside organizations with expertise in these subjects.
The presentation of these films isn’t meant to be political; rather, they are presented in a straightforward and practical manner that invites further conversation but ensures that the emotions that these topics stir are still conveyed.
“The opportunity to use the camera as the window through which our audience can discover these issues is incredible,” Shank explained. “We get to experience the real emotion in these circumstances, all while educating our viewers.”
Regardless of the topic, one aspect of the process remains consistent — the documentaries are fueled heavily by student involvement. Some students are involved solely in post-production, while others may have been on a mission trip team or collaborated to obtain interviews with faculty or organizational contacts. In fact, DeMeo shared that the group is already in the process of discerning a topic for the next documentary.
Shank is encouraged by the growing level of student and staff involvement in these projects and is optimistic about the impact of these documentaries on the public as a whole. “The first showing of each documentary is the stone thrown into the water,” he said. “The ripple-effect afterward — that’s what we’re really going for.”
The annual SEU documentary is released each school year, generally during the fall semester.