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Award-Winning UT Student Films on Display in Annual Showcase

Elizabeth Chatelain
Filmmaker Elizabeth Chatelain says she wanted to make a film about her sister's story for some time and the thesis film project for her master's program provided the opportunity to do so.

It has been a good several months for the University of Texas at Austin's Radio-Television-Film Department. Recent graduate Brian Schwarz won a Student Academy Awardfor his short film "Ol' Daddy," Texas Ex Elizabeth Chatelain won a prestigious documentary award for "My Sister Sarah" (story below) and now Annie Silverstein is going to Cannes with her thesis film "Skunk."

"My Sister Sarah" and "Skunk" are among the short films chosen to be highlighted in this year's Longhorn Denius Film Showcase – which features work by graduate and undergraduate students.

The showcase is free and open to the public. It starts at 6 p.m. at the Student Activity Center Auditorium on the UT campus.

Original Story (March 3, 2014): Elizabeth Chatelain graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Master’s degree from the Radio-Television-Film Department last May. In December, she won an International Documentary Association Award for her short film – "My Sister, Sarah."

The documentary follows Chatelain’s sister – Sarah – a recovering meth and crack addict who has felt true pain and tragedy. 

On Sharing her Family's Personal Story:

“I think when approaching documentary you don’t push the subjects or the interviewees past their limits, at least in this context I really didn’t want to do that. It’s kind of this fine line, and you feel that you can always cut things out or you can always make that decision later. So, for my family, really, I asked them difficult questions but I never felt like they didn’t want to answer it." 

"I never wanted to push them beyond what they wanted to say mostly because I know them so well and I feel, also, that they really wanted to please me. They wanted to help me on this and they wanted the story to be told. With my mother and my sister especially, they went above and beyond being open…they trusted me a lot and they gave me a lot of flexibility in using what they had so openly given me.”

On Revisiting Painful Parts of her Childhood:

“It was a very difficult process. There were times where I had to stop because it was very psychologically difficult for me and my family, but I felt that there was so much of a drive to tell the story that even when it became difficult I took some time and I approached it again… There were definitely things that came out about my family that I didn’t know. There were painful things that I think maybe I had repressed as a child and there were a lot of things that were revealed to me that were very painful. But I think it’s good to reveal those things… I came to understand my parents and their decisions more. Coming to learn about the realities of what happened when I was a child I think helped me grow as a human being.”

On Choosing Not to Narrate and Allowing the Interviewees to Tell the Story:

“I think in all my films I try to stay away from self-narration because I feel its someone else’s story and I’m the person who’s editing it, so my contribution to the film is really picking and choosing which pieces go into the larger picture and creating the story through editing. I always tend to stay away from self-narration even though it is a personal story. I think what’s interesting about this documentary, it’s not strictly…following and documenting someone and what they’re doing, it’s a telling of past events but also adding dimension to it and seeing what is happening at present as well. That’s why I think that the voices of these different characters are so important and their perspectives and hearing it from them and not from myself. I think that’s why I gravitated toward using their words.”

On the Film’s Target Audience:

“I think ultimately the story is for my family. It was a way to kind of confront the events of the past and my sister’s struggles and talk about it. I feel in families so many times we live together, we are in the same room, we are in the same house, and yet it is so difficult for us to talk about difficult things that have happened or how we’re really feeling. In a way, it’s articulating those feelings that family members have for each other and those relationships that happen between family members that usually aren’t articulated or that we feel are so difficult to bring up with family members. I feel like the film is definitely a vehicle for all of my family to confront and work through the struggles of the past and the struggles that are continually happening. I think that Sarah, in telling her story and her struggles, it was very cathartic for her as well.”

On How the Film Affected her Sister:

“One great thing that happened is we had the screening of all of the thesis films in May and my sister and my father came to that screening. It was the best experience. My sister was sitting next to me while we were watching the film in front of all these people and afterwards people coming up to her and telling her ‘I’ve had a family member who’s gone through this, I know someone who’s gone through this, I’ve gone through this, thank you for sharing your story’ having that encouragement meant so much to her. I felt that it showed her that this is a very important story and it can help other people. I think that experience opened her eyes to that.”

On What Comes Next for the Film:

“We’ve submitted it to several film festivals and I really, really would like to do community outreach with the film in which my sister can take part as well. So I’m reaching out to different non-profits and recovery programs and drug rehabilitation programs to set up community screenings and have a Q-and-A session with my sister as well. My greatest hope for the film is that people who can benefit from it, who have gone through the same things, can view it and be encouraged by it.”

To learn more about "My Sister, Sarah" you can visit the film's website or Tumblr. You can also watch a teaser for the film here.

Click on the audio player below to hear a longer version of the interview with Chatelain.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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