The Liberty University Zaki Gordon Cinematic Arts Center debuted its first full academic year with a premiere dedication celebration and film festival, Aug. 30 – Sept. 1. The event was free and open to the community.
The festival featured free movie screenings and panel discussions with veterans of the film industry, including screenwriter Dan Gordon (“Wyatt Earp,” “The Hurricane”) and screenwriter/producer/actor Stephen Kendrick (“Fireproof,” “Courageous”). Director/screenwriter Randall Wallace (“Braveheart,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Secretariat”) was scheduled to attend but had to cancel due to a medical emergency.
The events began Thursday and Friday with free screenings of four films, “The Passion of the Christ,” “Secretariat,” “Courageous,” and “Seven Days in Utopia,” each followed by a special Q-and-A session with an individual who worked in production of that film. The screenings were held at Cinemark Movies 10, adjacent to Liberty’s campus.
Members of the cinematic arts staff set up information tables outside the theater and spent the evenings interacting with students and members of the community.
Executive director Stephan Schultze said for those who attended the screenings and the Q-and-A sessions, the event “elevated their experience in the theater.”
“By learning about filmmaking and the behind-the-scenes process, directly from the filmmakers, it really helps them watch movies in a different way,” he said.
On Saturday, the event reached its crescendo with the dedication ceremony at the Liberty University School of Law’s Supreme Courtroom. It was followed by panel discussions by industry professionals.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. spoke about the vision for the film school, using “saturation evangelism,” a phrase his father, Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., often used, to impact the world through the most modern methods available. He said Liberty has invested in the latest equipment so students will be on the cutting edge of the industry.
Liberty announced plans to form a film school in May 2011, enlisting mentors who are not just academics, but professionals in the field. Falwell said he saw God’s hand in the process, as it happened quickly and involved the right people.
“To me it’s proof that God was in it, the way people like Stephan Schulze (executive director), Dan Gordon, Randall Wallace were suddenly available when the time came. Everything we’ve started like that over the years has been that way. … It really is ordained and meant to be. I really think we, here at the film school, will have an impact on the culture in ways we couldn’t through any other means. It’s exciting to me and it’s going to be fun to watch like so many other programs around here in recent years.”
The program offers a two-year, full-immersion cohort experience for students in their junior and senior years. It was announced during the dedication that the program has exceeded its enrollment goals, now with two fully enrolled immersion cohorts and enough core students who will populate two additional immersion cohorts. The program has also tripled the amount of online course offerings originally presented in the plans.
Liberty’s program is named for Gordon’s son, a brilliant filmmaker who died in a traffic accident in 1998 at age 22 and who gave his father the vision for a new kind of film school experience. The Zaki Gordon Institute (ZGI) was formed in Sedona, Ariz., and Liberty has used it as a model for its own program.
Gordon gave an impassioned speech at the dedication, charging students to remain committed Christians in the field.
“Our job as filmmakers, as storytellers, as artists, isn’t to create anything, that’s not what we do; we are not the creator, God’s the Creator. Our job is to be the vessel and to be worthy of what God puts through us and to maintain that openness to the Lord and perfect our techniques ... that we can be the artisan that glorifies the Lord.”
Junior cinematic arts student Kristofer Seppala said he was excited to have the chance to meet successful filmmakers during the event.
“It’s been an honor meeting these people. It’s a good opportunity to hear their stories; to see how they’ve gotten to where they are is inspiring for us. People have told us we’re the pioneers of this program, and it’s exciting to think about what we’ll be doing (after we graduate).”
Junior Robert Haggerty, also a cinematic arts student, said he relished the opportunities “to shake hands with, talk with and trade business cards with a lot of industry professionals who have succeeded in their craft and are great examples.”
The event concluded after a special screening of Gordon’s “Expecting Mary.”
The cinematic arts center plans to hold a film festival every year at the start of the fall semester.
“We really wanted to engage the greater community with this process and the festival,” Schultze said. “Every year now on this weekend we will be having our film festival and it will give the students an opportunity to screen their short films as they make them and the longer format project we do as a class, and expose the town to what we are doing here at Liberty.”