‘What’s Up, Docs?’: UA event showcases student-made documentaries

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By Kristen Castillo

During a regular academic year, the School of Theatre, Film & Television at the University of Arizona holds a screening of student-made documentaries every December at the Loft Cinema called “What’s Up, Docs?”

However, due to the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will showcase 15 films and be held on the theater’s online streaming platform from February 4 to February 17, free of charge.

“I’m looking forward to the community getting to see the work that (the students) produce and getting to see the stories from all around them,” says Jacob Bricca, associate professor and head of the UA production division.

He guided junior Bachelor of Fine Arts students in the production of their self-conceptualized documentaries during the fall semester. Though operating mostly online, he instructed students in planning their films, working with the equipment and navigating through the post-production process.

To adhere to COVID-19 guidelines during production, students wore masks, conducted on-camera interviews in outdoor settings or through video chat, and filmed on-site at their own level of comfort.

“Everyone took a different approach in making the films and ended up with a pretty varied and strong bunch of work,” Bricca says.

With the assistance of Bricca, students maintained full creative control over their projects and produced their documentaries either independently or in groups of two. The topics of the documentaries vary from exploring personal family-oriented ideas to spotlighting unique features of Tucson.

“I think this is a strange time where some people have, paradoxically, had experience of great intimacy or closeness,” Bricca says. “It’s also been a very isolating time when you feel like things are operating at half energy or half speed. It feels like a bit of ghost town in some places.”

While they worked diligently to complete their projects, Bricca met with students individually throughout their process to offer advice and guidance over Zoom. However, as the semester continued, Bricca realized that the discussions with students evolved from general documentary-making questions to dealing with the turmoil of the pandemic.

“Their families have had different experiences through the pandemic,” Bricca says. “They, themselves, experienced a lot of stress. Politically, things are quite tense and (more) unusual than they were last semester and doing school like this is difficult at times.”

Despite the difficulties of the online format and stress from current events, students overcame adversities in their creation process.

“You have an idea, but then you approach things in the real world and you’re subject to the whims of chance and the whims of how things turn out,” Bricca says.

“You pivot and you adapt. … I think there was a sense of accomplishment that was felt collectively by the class by the end — having overcome this situation and produced work that was personally fulfilling in one way or another.”

Though not the ideal outlet for showcasing the final documentaries, Bricca is excited for his students’ work to be shared with university alum and the Tucson community.

“Our students are just begging and dying for a physical audience for their work, and this is not going to be it, but there are some silver linings,” Bricca says. “We have a larger community of alums who are always interested in what the current students are doing, and it’s a way for us to introduce them to our current students who will be graduating soon.”

While the main purpose of this screening is to showcase students’ work, Bricca looks forward to sharing the many stories.

“There is a lot of very rich material that is going on all around us, and I’m just excited for people to see the work and see the stories that are out there,” Bricca says.

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