Faith and Film

The show has begun and it's seven years in the running.

Since 2005, the digital media arts program has become the fastest growing program at Huntington University.

More than 100 students from all across the country including yes, California have flocked to Huntington to study film, animation and broadcasting.

Last year, renovations revamped Becker Hall to create a more engaging space for students, including the addition of a sound stage, green screen, editing studios and a screening theater.

These state-of-the art facilities and equipment are empowering the students' creativity and vision. Film and animation projects are being showcased around the country and internationally, winning awards and taking festivals by storm. And now, Hollywood is taking notice.

In January, an indie film crew from Los Angeles visited the campus to shoot "Praying the Hours," a movie about a man facing death and reflecting on eternity.

Eleven HU students were selected to help the crew shoot the film's final segment.

While "Praying the Hours" is one of the overtly spiritual films that the students will produce this year, faculty and students say that their Christian faith is the basis for every project in the department.

While films about a tiger, a dance or an old model ship might not seem to be spiritual on the surface, Steve Leeper, associate professor of digital media arts, says that every animation, broadcast and live-action film is an exploration of who the student is, created by God.

"The story is about God whether they choose to put him in the credits," Leeper said. "To watch a beautiful film where people are dancing and having a good time, that's just an homage to the Maker."

As Dr. Lance Clark, professor of digital media arts film and communication, tells his students, it is their duty as Christians to serve the wider culture. Their work is just the conversation starter that leads to the faith behind the project.

Since the program was launched, the digital media arts department has grown and transformed. Today, 139 students are studying within a set for four majors: film production, film studies, animation and broadcasting (radio and television).

The recent purchase of a RED Scarlet-X camera, made possible by a trustee's donation, has pushed the digital media arts program to even higher levels of quality.

"We have one of the fastest growing programs on campus, and this (camera) is going to put us on par with any film school in the nation," Clark said.

Clark anticipates purchasing more equipment for the department through future donations. His hope is to draw in more production companies like the one that filmed "Praying the Hours" to create greater opportunities for students.

"If we build it, they will come," Clark said.

Each year, students produce new animations and live-action films that experience "fest" success across the country. Awards and accolades keep coming, even after the students graduate.

During their junior year in 2009, Jason Eberly and Nathan Hartman created "Nero Bloom: Private Eye," a classic detective film that garnered recognitions in the Cinema City International Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Columbus International Film Festival. (Movie buffs can purchase a DVD in the Huntington University Bookstore.)

This year, seniors Daniel "Sunshine" Evans, Alyson Eddy, Joel Cooper and Miles Allen created "Sail Away," a short film about a boy who loses his father and his best friend but finds a new friendship in a most unexpected way. Like "Nero Bloom," "Sail Away" premiered at Cinema Center, an independent theater in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"To film, edit and post a short movie in one semester at this caliber is a huge undertaking and demonstrates their hard work and dedication to the craft," Clark said. "I am so proud of what they have accomplished through the filmmaking process. … I have a great feeling about this film, and I believe it will do well (in festivals) over this next year."

Whether students are creating an animated short, a feature film or a news broadcast, they are taught both technical skills and the craft of effective storytelling. Students are challenged to think outside of the box or their normal "Christian bubble" and even make a mistake or two.

"We try to create a safe environment where students feel like they don't have to get it right all the time," Leeper said. As Leeper explained, faculty would prefer to see students make mistakes in college where they have mentors to set them on the correct path, rather than on the job where the consequences can be higher.

All of the department's professors, Leeper, Clark, Bryan Ballinger and John O'Rourke, foster an environment where students can think creatively while producing projects that will honor God and positively impact their culture.

"I try to help them figure out what their gifts are and what will keep them engaged as artists for the rest of their lives," said Ballinger, associate professor of digital media arts.

But they are not just artists. They are Christian artists.

As Leeper tells the students, "Be who God made you to be and make art of it."