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Things Get Personal at It’s All True Student Documentary Fest

Colleen Kelly Poplin MA ’10, MFA ‘16 grew up in the Mormon Church. She says she can trace her family back to the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, complete with stories of moving across the plains in covered wagons, “so it’s a big deal in my ancestry.”

As she grew older, Poplin started to feel that LDS’s beliefs and policies were “damaging” to women, and she began to slowly pull back from the church.  She married a non-Mormon, as a graduate film student at Emerson made woman-centric work, and supported progressive politics. But still, she didn’t walk away from church that had raised her, out of a sense of tradition, family, and identity.

Then she found out she was pregnant with a little girl.

“I was like, no, I can’t raise her [in the church] the way I want her to be raised,” Poplin said.

That journey, from the testing of the “pee cup,” through her internal struggle, to the moment when she tells her mother she’s leaving the church, is captured in Poplin’s 29-minute documentary, Families Can Be Together Forever.

The film is one of eight nonfiction films being screened at It’s All True, Emerson’s annual student documentary film festival, being held Thursday, April 6, 7:00 pm, in the Bright Family Screening Room.

“In true Emerson spirit, the eight short nonfiction pieces represent a diversity of topics and styles, from a transgender student’s transition to a Chinese student’s discovery of the truth about Tiananmen Square,” said Associate Professor Marc Fields, VMA Graduate Program director and co-curator of the festival, in a statement.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee will give opening remarks at the festival. On Wednesday, April 5, 7:00 pm, also in the Bright Family Screening Room, McElwee will answer questions from the audience following a screening of his film Bright Leaves.

In Bright Leaves, McElwee returns home to North Carolina to investigate some family lore—that his great-grandfather, who developed the formula for Bull Durham tobacco, was cheated out of a fortune by James “Buck” Duke, who stole the formula from him.

Poplin, who works as an academic advisor at Emerson and teaches a class called Creating Feminist Media, investigates her own background and family lore in Families Can Be Together Forever.

The title of the film comes from a song she grew up singing in the church. The lyrics teach kids that if a couple is married in a temple and everyone in the family is a good Mormon, they will be together throughout eternity.

Implying, of course, that if one marries a non-Mormon and raises her children outside the church, there will be no happy reunion in the afterlife, a concept that Poplin and her mother have struggled with.

“It was actually miraculous, [in the film] my mom comes and I document her meeting my baby for the first time, and she was singing…that song and I was shooting it,” Poplin said. “It was an all-the-worlds-colliding-together moment.”

Anna Keyes ’17 tells the story of a different kind of personal journey in Transition, a 16-minute piece about her transition from a gender non-binary person to a transwoman, and the process of coming out, co-produced by Delilah Kaufman.

“When I started this film, I didn’t identify as a transwoman, but when I finished it I did,” she said. “It’s extremely personal.”

The doc is actually a combination of two related films Keyes made, a process she said made it “much stronger.” They were Keyes’ first foray into first-person filmmaking.

“I would say with all the films I make I always kind of drive at a core feeling that I have, or just a part of myself, and express it through different styles,” she said. “[In Transition] my life is on the screen and you see my life, instead of [my life] as a metaphor.”

Keyes was co-director, along with Dan Albright ’16, of A Living Wage, about local fast food workers’ efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The film was a 2016 Independent Film Festival Boston official selection, and was shortlisted for a BAFTA U.S. Student Film Award.

That film was a “social action document” that tries to spur people to action, or at least awareness, and Keyes said she tried to channel that same desire for social impact through this very intimate route.

“It changed me, honestly. It really changed me,” Keyes said.   

Other student films being screened are:

Extra 1104: The Story of the Rockport Train Wreck (undergraduate) – The untold story of a deadly 1925 train disaster in Warren County, New Jersey, reveals what happened and the last effects on the nearby village of Rockport. Director/Writer/Cinematographer/Sound/Editor John General

Smart About Sharks (undergraduate) – Eight-year-old Lilli is obsessed with sharks, a fascination nurtured by the Gills Club of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on Cape Cod. This group connects girls under 12 with biologists to encourage them to consider working in STEM fields. Director Savannah Hubbard, Cinematographer Tiziana Vazques, Editors Kristen Carey and Vazques

The Sisters (graduate) – Ninety-something Emerson alumna Pat runs a family antique store on Boylston Street and recalls her showbiz career with her sister in vaudeville and Hollywood. Director/Producer/Editor Guangya Zeng, Cinematographer Chen Jin, Sound: Ying Sun and Biwei Cong

The Gate of Heavenly Peace (graduate) – What happens when the stories you were taught in school are contradicted by history? A Chinese student in the United States comes to terms with what happened at Tiananmen Square four years before her birth. Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Editor Marina Zang

Untouchable Dreams (undergraduate) – For families living in the slums of Hyderabad, India, their dreams and aspirations have much to say about the country’s current state of primary and secondary education. Producer/Directors Anthony Monzon and Tatyana Kurepina

Que Sera Sera (undergraduate) – A portrait of two seniors in an assisted living home as they compare their life stories. Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Editor Thomas Steele






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