Student Film Debuts at SXSW Festival

As the lights dim this Friday in the Rollins Theatre in Austin, filmmaker Julie Gould will be fraught with emotions.

Nervous and a bit anxious, she will relive her heartache and sorrow from the loss of her husband to cancer 10 years ago. As quickly as the images flicker on the theater screen, her pain will turn to joy and happiness as she sees her young daughter, and is reminded of how far she has come in the past decade.

The story of a mother and child commemorating the life and death of a father is the focus of “8,” a short film made by Gould and fellow UT Arlington graduate Daniel Laabs that will be screened in the annual South by Southwest Film Festival. The film is one of two UTA student works included in this year’s event and Gould said she is honored to be included in the Texas Filmmakers Shorts category.

“I knew I liked it but I didn’t know if other people would like it,” she said. “I’m so happy with it being in a category with other Texas filmmakers.”

Shot last fall, “8” follows Gould and her daughter Logan as they honor the death of Clay Gould, a baseball coach at UT Arlington who died in 2001, and visit his gravesite. Logan was only 10 months old when her father passed away, and Gould said making the film capped a long journey to healing and acceptance.

“By 2008, I’d resolved some things,” she said. “Writing was therapeutic for me. The film helped me move forward. It was my therapy. I see it as a gift to me and my daughter and a tribute to Clay.”

The experimental documentary began in an advanced film and video class taught by assistant professor Ya’Ke Smith. Smith — who is currently enjoying national festival attention for his own short film, “Katrina’s Son” — mentored Gould and her team, even visiting a location during one point in shooting to help with direction and lighting. Gould said the input, advice and challenge offered by Smith and assistant professor Bart Weiss was invaluable.

“They know exactly what they are doing,” Gould said. “Bart urged me to make something from my life experiences or perspective. Ya’Ke came out and helped us shoot. The film evolved. It began as a mother’s story and ended up as the daughter’s story. [The professors] challenged me to keep working on it.”

Weiss, who serves as area coordinator of the Film and Video program in the Department of Art & Art History, said he is excited about the recognition Gould, her team and her film are receiving.

“Apart from Sundance, [South by Southwest] is the next most important film festival out there,” he said. “That our students are included is a really big deal.”

Weiss is quick to praise Gould’s filmmaking partner, Daniel Laabs. Laabs, who had a film screened at SXSW two years ago, and “worked as hard” at networking at the festival and taking notes on what makes a good entry “as he did on his own film,” Weiss said.

Gould’s vision and story combined with Laabs’ experience and knowledge made “8” a worthy choice for festivals. (The duo recently heard the film would also be included in next month’s Sarasota Film Festival.) That kind of collaboration is commonplace among student filmmakers at UT Arlington, instructors said.

“We’re a very small area in a large department in a huge college,” said Andy Anderson, professor and writer-in-residence. “When anyone gets into a festival or gets an award or an exhibition somewhere, there are a 100 different hands on that piece — not just that student. In the case of ‘8,’ there are 20-30 students who helped work on that film and they all get that buoyancy and pride from the recognition and awards.

“It speaks to the idea that we’re all in this together and let’s make this great. It’s validation of the work.”

Another film, “Neal,” by student Geoff McGee will also be included in this year’s SXSW event. McGee’s film is “a dark comedy” about a young couple celebrating their anniversary that run into a menacing piece of pool-cleaning equipment.

Gould, who earned her bachelor’s of fine arts last year, said she hopes her short film resonates with audiences. She’s also excited about starting a new chapter of her life.

“After my husband died, I stayed home with our daughter,” said Gould, who had previously worked as a freelance videographer in the DFW area during the 1990s. “Seven years later I went back to school to finish. I started back at 36, which is different than when you’re 19. I got a second chance… [and] coming full circle on this film as helped us move forward.”

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