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LSU on display at New Orleans Film Festival

As Louisiana has steadily become the "Hollywood of the South," LSU students, faculty and alumni have become a major part film industry's grow in the state. From acting to directing to editing and everything in between, LSU graduates are involved in all aspects of the film industry and that was no more prominently on display than during the 24th annual New Orleans Film Festival, held Oct. 10-17.

Recent LSU graduate Kenna J. Moore was recognized with the New Orleans Film Festival "Emerging Vision Award for a Louisiana Filmaker" award.

Michael Pasquier, assistant professor of religious studies, and Zack Godshall, filmmaker-in-residence, collaborated on "Water Like Stone: A Portrait of a Louisiana Fishing Village," which was honored with special jury mention in the Best Documentary Feature Category.

Through encounters with fishermen, shrimpers and lifelong residents, "Water Like Stone" profiles the cultural consequences of environmental decay due to coastal erosion and the human spirit necessary to live in a dying landscape.

An LSU cast and crew premiered the raunchy comedy "Father-Like Son" for two sold-out audiences at the New Orleans Film Festival.

A cast of alumni who met 25 years ago at LSU premiered "King of Herrings" in New Orleans, and the film was also a selection of Louisville's International Festival of Film.

Friends for 25 years, David Jensen, Eddie Jemison, Wayne Pere, Joe Chrest and John Mese look forward to working together on another film in the future.

"Father-Like Son" was written, directed and produced by LSU graduates that have gone through the Film and Media Arts program in the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences.

During the festival, a number of films with LSU ties were shown, and they did well in both audience attendance and in award recognitions.

Recent LSU graduate Kenna J. Moore premiered her film "Omitted," and was recognized with the New Orleans Film Festival "Emerging Vision Award for a Louisiana Filmaker" award.

"To have my work in such a prestigious festival is amazing," Moore said. "Being amongst such talented filmmakers has been very humbling. I definitely did not expect to win anything. So, being awarded the Emerging Vision Award was a complete shock and honor." 

In "Omitted," best friends Shelby "Skip" Skipper and Donald "Big Choo" Norris have been in love with New Orleans bounce music for as long as they can remember. Originated in New Orleans, bounce music or "that beat" (as many call it) brought these two individuals together almost eight years ago. Ghost of Elysian Films follows their lives as they dance and perform through the streets of New Orleans during Super Bowl XLVII and Mardi Gras 2013.

Constantly battling the growing misconceptions of bounce music, Skip and Big Choo have dedicated their lives to the music. From competing local acts to national competitions, they fight for their placement in the growing worldwide bounce community.

Zack Godshall, filmmaker-in-residence at LSU, and Michael Pasquier, assistant professor of religious studies at LSU, collaborated on "Water Like Stone: A Portrait of a Louisiana Fishing Village." The film was honored with special jury mention in the Best Documentary Feature Category.

Godshall was excited to have "Water Like Stone" premiere in New Orleans and said, "Premiering this film in New Orleans is ideal. Besides the fact that it's set in Louisiana and made by folks who live here, the film is 100 percent Louisiana-financed."

"Water Like Stone" is an impressionistic portrait of Leeville, La., a fishing village in coastal Louisiana. It is a story about the people who live in Louisiana's vanishing wetlands.

"Residents of coastal Louisiana, more than anyone else in the United States, understand the environmental challenges of coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and wetlands loss," Pasquier said. "'Water Like Stone' is our attempt to listen to the voices and see the faces of those with an intimate knowledge of loss."

Through encounters with fishermen, shrimpers and lifelong residents, Godshall and Pasquier profile the cultural consequences of environmental decay due to coastal erosion and the human spirit necessary to live in a dying landscape.

"We wanted to make a film that would provide a window into a world that is disappearing, a film that would allow the audience time to dwell in the place and with the people who live there," Godshall said, "and so, the film offers no easy answers, solutions or causes. Rather, the film contemplates what has been and will be lost."

Godshall also showed his short film, "A Man Without Words," based on Susan Schaller's book, "A Man Without Words," at the festival. The film re-tells the non-fiction account of Susan Schaller's encounter with Ildefonso, a languageless deaf man to whom she introduced language some 30 years ago. The film brings Ildefonso and Schaller back to the classroom where they met, where he learned that he and everything has a name, and she learned what it is to be human. The entire film is subtitled in English.

Another film written by LSU graduates Mac Alsfeld and Andrew Megison that made its premiere at the festival was "Father-Like Son." The film, which included an LSU cast and crew, was a Grand Jury Finalist and the screening sold out within the first few hours of tickets going on sale.

"Because of that, and for only the second time ever in NOFF history, we were granted an encore screening to close out the entire festival," Alsfeld said. "We sold that screening out, as well. Both screenings took place at the festival's second largest venue, the Prytania Theatre. It's quite a feat."

"Father-Like Son" is a raunchy comedy about Clark, a 24-year-old aspiring writer, who upon the death of his father is suddenly faced with a new and overbearing stepdad, Dan, who is hell-bent on raising Clark. The problem is that Dan is 24 years old, as well. The film was written, directed and produced by LSU graduates that have gone through the Film and Media Arts program in the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences.

Alsfeld served as the film's writer/director/actor, alongside Megison, writer/actor; Grayson Ward, actor/producer; Lauren Claret, producer; and Samuel "Beau" Bebeau, assistant director. Other LSU cast and crew includes Molly Conarro, Will Vocke, Michael Mentz, Chad Zibilich, Chad Naremore and Lauren Gros. Most of these young professionals with varied degrees have focused their careers in film industry and have been successful post-graduation.

The film is a coming-of-age comedy with a lot of heart, along the lines of "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

"Having my first film world premiere at the New Orleans Film Fest is very emotional for me," Alsfeld said. "This cast and crew prides itself on being homegrown talent and the NOFF's recognition of us is one of the greatest feelings in the world."

A cast comprised of many LSU alumni also premiered "King of Herrings" before at sold out audience at the Prytania Theatre. Among the LSU alumni in the film who met at LSU 25 years ago are Eddie Jemison; David Jensen; Joe Chrest, an adjunct instructor in the LSU Department of Theatre; John Mese; and Wayne Pere. The film also stars LSU alumna Andrea Frankle.

"The remarkable thing about 'King of Herrings' is that we all met at LSU in John Dennis' MFA acting class 25 years ago, and we have worked steadily in the movie business for 20 years, sometimes working together, but mostly not," Chrest said, "and we finally get around to doing our own movie a quarter of a century later." 

"King of Herrings" is an off beat look at four Crescent City layabouts, who dream big in a small change world of cards, women and endless cups of coffee. Their passionate blundering, like their rants, can be at once funny, poignant, ridiculous and heartbreaking. Filmed in black and white, this "richly textured character study could be the bastard child of Woody Allen and Tom Waits," brought to life by an ensemble of real-life character actors who have known each other for most of their lives. 

"It was the highlight for me in a very blessed career that has taken me all over the world," said Chrest, who received his Master in Fine Arts degree from LSU in 1989. "To a man, we can't wait to do the next one – which will be soon! We have never lived in the same city at the same time, but we have kept in touch as if we did.  I talk to someone in the group a couple of times a week for the past quarter of a century – that kind of history in a very transient business can't be duplicated.  I think it shows on the screen."

The New Orleans Film Festival

The New Orleans Film Festival, established as one of the most reputable in the country, was named in MovieMaker Magazine as one of the "25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee" and by Premium Beat as one of the "15 Fests You Should Enter." Born in a city known for its eclecticism and artistic vibrancy, New Orleans Film Festival seeks out bold and passionate storytellers. With top-notch programming in one of the world's most cinematic cities, the festival serves up a dose of southern hospitality that's hard to beat. For more information on the New Orleans Film Society, visit http://neworleansfilmsociety.org/.

The Program for the Study of Film and Media Arts

The Program for the Study of Film and Media Arts is an interdisciplinary program in the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences. The program integrates study of the history, theory, and practice of film and media arts.  With curricula, faculty, and students from across disciplines, the program provides a liberal arts approach to the study of subjects including history of cinema, national and international cinemas, film genres, film and media theory, video art, screenwriting, media in popular culture, the rhetoric and aesthetics of visual communication and digital video production. For more information, visit www.lsu.edu/fma/FMA_home.html.

The Film & Television Program

LSU offers the Film & Television program through the LSU Department of Theater. The program, a partnership between LSU and Baton Rouge Community College, is designed to provide students with the essential skills and knowledge not only to create and collaborate on and off stage, but on and off camera as well. The program is directly tied to the growing film industry in Louisiana, and its need for highly skilled artists, technicians and administrative personnel. For more information, visit http://wp.theatre.lsu.edu/programs/bachelor-of-arts/film-television/.