Award-winning filmmakers

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The student film “Retrograde” was featured at the Sedona International Film Festival.

A distressed woman sits alone at a train station, clutching a ticket that holds the promise of new beginnings. From there, “Retrograde” – a film created by five students at Northern Arizona University – unfolds in reverse, revealing the series of events that transpired and led to her to this moment. After winning the annual 73-Hour Film Festival held on campus, the film was honored again, earning an automatic screening at the Sedona International Film Festival in February 2013.

Director Alex Thomas and cinematographer Derek Ellis, now alumni of the electronic media and film program, worked with Jessalyn Carpino – also a recent graduate of the university who plays the lead role – to make “Retrograde” a possibility.

In November 2012, Carpino encouraged Thomas to enter the 73-Hour Film Festival, but the student film director was initially hesitant to take the plunge and commit.

“Jessalyn called me that night and said, ‘Alex, we have to do the 73-Hour Film Festival,’” Thomas says. “She had been the actress in the film that had won the previous year, ‘Ruby and the Wolf.’ I wasn’t sure about it and said I would need to think it over. She called me again to tell me that we were doing it, and that was that.”

Fast filming

The basis of the 73-Hour Film Festival is embedded within the title: student filmmakers have the course of a weekend – 73 hours – to write, film, and produce a short feature. To ensure that students are adhering to the festival’s guidelines and starting production from scratch, the contest provides the aspiring filmmakers with a general theme and a quote that they must implement within the short. 

Through a partnership exclusive to Northern Arizona University, created by the faculty in the School of Communication, the audience's favorite film earns an automatic screening at the Sedona International Film Festival. 

Creating “Retrograde” required a great deal of hard work and dedication from the filmmakers. For example, ensuring proper lighting for camera work required the crew to begin shooting early in the morning.

“Derek is an amazing cinematographer, and wanted that beautiful, golden light of the morning,” Carpino says. “So, Saturday and Sunday morning, we were up at four. We really didn’t sleep much the entire weekend. It was hectic.”

The results were worth it - “Retrograde” received a majority of the audience’s vote for the best film at the festival. The experience of having their film shown in Sedona paid dividends for the team – in addition to being in the festival, the crew was granted the opportunity to network with more prominent filmmakers.

“I’ve never been in a room that large where someone is watching something that I’ve been a part of,” Ellis says. “It was a rewarding experience.”

Looking back

Carpino says having their feature screened at the Sedona International Film Festival for some of the leaders in filmmaking, like actor David Strathairn and screen legend Joan Collins, was a humbling, inspiring experience.

“It was great, because our film was played in front of ‘Chasing Ice,’ an Oscar nominated documentary,” Carpino says. “The films played back to back, and then later that night, we were able to see ‘Chasing Ice’ on the Oscar’s broadcast.”

Thomas is grateful for the positive feedback his film has received, and proud of what his crew’s feature as accomplished. He explains that the courses he took to earn his degree helped make “Retrograde” a possibility, noting that the film program at Northern Arizona University continues to grow and improve with each class of students who leave their mark on it.

“The thing I love about the electronic media and film program here is that every single semester, it grows in leaps and bounds,” Thomas says. “It’s constantly improving. I am excited to graduate and be able to look back at this program, five or ten years from now, and see where it’s at.”