Baylor seniors Steven Yao and Molly Stanfield's short film titled Last Chance Dance won best documentary in the high school category of the Indy Shorts International Film Festival and has been accepted into the All American High School Film Festival, the nation's largest festival celebrating student filmmakers.
The festival is presented by Heartland Film and the organizers of the Heartland International Film Festival (HIFF), which is an Academy Award®-qualifying fest dedicated to the art of short film.
The film is also slated to be part of the Knoxville Film Festival in September, and was already a part of smaller short film competitions including Short to the Point and The Monthly Film Festival (TMFF).
The Last Chance Dance event is performed at Baylor each spring by Vervé. Yao says the inspiration behind the film came after a discussion with drama instructor Beth Gumnick his sophomore year and he approached classmate Molly Stanfield '21 to collaborate on the project. They filmed the event in the spring of 2019, and in the process, an interview with dance instructor Jennia Shanley '03 provided an emotional anchor to the story. "We landed on the crucial plot of Mrs. Shanley’s departure as she opened her heart and having a hard time balancing between family and work," recalled Yao.
"The amount of work that Steven and Molly put into this was considerable," said faculty member Mike Kelly, adding that Yao spent two to three afternoons a week working on the edits in Kelly's classroom in the library. Kelly joined the Baylor faculty in Hedges Library as the applied humanities librarian and teaches introduction to digital narratives and introduction to film production.
In addition to the time he spent in the library, Yao said he worked on the film virtually every day throughout the month of January 2020, editing at least three hours a day. "It was a quite intense, but thrilling process seeing the film come to life."
A resident of Hangzhou, China, Yao said he was "somewhat attracted to videography" the first time he worked with iMovie as a fifth grader, but started to fully invest in filmmaking as a ninth grader. In addition to short films, he has provided video content for The Baylor Notes and has supported the Baylor communications office on various video projects.
Yao shared additional insights on the Last Chance Dance project in a recent interview:
How much time were you able to devote to the project while also taking a full load of classes?
Intermittently, the entire film took us more than a year to finish. The most time consuming process was collecting loads of information to craft the narrative. Our commitments to school work and other activities also posed many challenges to scheduling interviews and filming.
How did Molly Stanfield '21 participate in the project?
Molly played a critical role in the production. Being a native and attending Middle School at Baylor, she had formed a much tighter bond with the subjects in the film. This greatly helped the dancers and teachers to open up and be comfortable in front of the camera. The photos Molly took in Middle School dance classes were heavily used in the final film, as well. Finally, she had very constructive opinions during editing, offering a valuable perspective to the documentary.
What have you learned about the filmmaking process from this project?
To me, filmmaking is problem-solving. During the process, I ran into countless obstacles, but my passion for storytelling always challenges me to find the most creative solution, while also helping me to find the inner strength to face any obstacles in life.
What have you learned about yourself in the process?
I am glad to find my passion in the process. While my interest is subject to change later in life, having something I love makes every day a little more exciting and gives me a goal to strive for. Additionally, the more videos I make, the more I realize the importance of learning. Art, literature, history, philosophy… these are all crucial subjects I need to learn as a filmmaker.
What else would you for people to know about you and your work?
Collaboration is a major part of the process. I love meeting like-minded friends and making films together.
Do you hope to pursue it in college and/or professionally?
Absolutely! I wish to continue not only learning and producing films, but also dabble in other media such as journalism, photography, and audio storytelling.