Austin Film Festival awards first prize to student short

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- University of North Texas graduate student and teaching assistant Meta Newhouse was intrigued when she discovered that two of her fellow teaching assistants were photographing animals as a class project -- but not live animals.

"They decided to photograph animals found on the side of the road, " Newhouse said. "They were really trying to give these animals dignity by photographing them in a way to capture their lives."

Newhouse, who takes master's level film courses as well as classes for a master of fine arts degree in communication design, worked with UNT master's film student Tania Khalaf to capture the story. The result was a 13-minute documentary, "Still, Life," which will be shown at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 19) at the Landmark Magnolia Theater, 3699 McKinney Ave. in Dallas. The film is being screened as part of the Deep Ellum Film Festival.

"Still, Life" follows roommates Jill O'Brien and Trish Igo, both UNT master 's students in ceramics, through several days of collecting dead animals and photographing them. The film recently received first prize in the Documentary Short Competition at the Austin Film Festival, where it also premiered, and will be shown at the Santa Fe Film Festival Dec. 7-11.

"People who see the description of the film may think that Jill and Trish are just doing something shocking, but if they watch, I hope they will realize that both artists are earnestly trying to create images that provoke thought and discourse," Newhouse said.

Khalaf, an editor and producer for television films in her native Lebanon before she came to UNT two years ago, said she wanted the film to show "that different people approach death in different ways."

"(O'Brien and Igo) make the dead animals so noble and so pretty, which is very contradictory of what our image of death usually is," said Khalaf, who works as a teaching fellow in the UNT Department of Radio, Television and Film. "They developed a ritual that goes beyond photographing them. They bury them and give them toys as gifts."

Newhouse and Khalaf originally created "Still, Life" for a documentary production course that they took this past summer.

Neither one is new to filmmaking, however. Newhouse previously created "Nietzsche Fly," a three-minute animated film about a philosopher fly that was shown at the Dallas Video Festival in August, and "Good Bingo,' a light-hearted documentary about bingo players at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denton. "Good Bingo" was shown in October at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Hot Springs, Ark.

Khalaf is currently directing a documentary about Dallas' White Rock Marathon, which has again chosen the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas as its primary beneficiary this year. Khalaf is following two patients at the hospital who are both amputees and were chosen as this year's and last year's junior race directors. She plans to have a crew of 11 students shooting the marathon on Dec. 11.

She said she didn't expect "Still, Life," which competed against films from professional filmmakers, to win at the Austin Film Festival until the last minute.

"I had a sudden feeling inside my heart that we would win," she said. "Meta and I were able to see the other documentaries, and it made us happy because they were good, and we knew our film was good to have won against them."

Khalaf will receive her master of fine arts degree in radio, television and film in December 2006. She plans to teach documentary film production at a university and create cultural documentaries, working in other countries.

Newhouse also plans to teach at a university after she graduates in May 2007, but in communication design rather than film. She will still create films as a second career.

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