November 29, 2018

Award-Winning Student Film Projects Aim for Positive Impact

Michelle Noland, a senior film and television production major at La Sierra University, recently inked a distribution deal with Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate KQED for the inclusion of her award-winning short film “She Isn’t Here” in the nationwide series, “Film School Shorts.” An air date for the film, which explores the anxiety disorder agoraphobia, has not yet been announced. 

Additionally, the North American Division (NAD) in Columbia, Maryland, United States, hired Noland to serve as a cinematographer and editor on a millennial-focused web series titled “I Am a Steward.” The 24-episode video series is a promotional campaign designed to increase awareness of the Adventist Giving app and foster understanding of stewardship through personal stories.

NAD officers expect the first episode to appear in January 2019 on the Adventist Giving app, the Adventist Giving website, on the Hope Channel, and through NAD’s social media outlets. The series will also be available to NAD conferences for distribution to churches around the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Guam/Micronesia.

“Personal stories are extremely effective at teaching stewardship, and we have had a great response from the test audiences of the ‘I am a Steward’ series,” said NAD Stewardship Ministries director John Mathews.

The NAD project took Noland to 12 US states and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “Before making this series, I had a very narrow view of what it was like to live in other states besides California,” she said. “But these trips have broadened my mind. I was invited into strangers’ homes, ate with their families, heard their stories, and saw the practical ways in which they lived out their faith. I would say that this has reaffirmed my own beliefs and reminded me of my own need for God.”

Stories That Haven’t Been Told

Noland’s film “She Isn’t Here,” which she wrote and directed under her company NeoAisling Productions, is slated to air nationally on PBS stations as part of the series’ sixth season. It will also be available for three years through the PBS video-on-demand service and YouTube channel.

“When I was first contacted by KQED at the beginning of the summer, notifying me that I had been selected to be part of their show, my initial response was to jump up and down in excitement,” said Noland. “I felt as though I was going to burst. I had never been offered anything like this.”

“I’m delighted, but not surprised, to learn of the successful distribution of Michelle Noland's film on PBS and elsewhere,” said La Sierra Department of Film and Television Production chair Rodney Vance. “She has a passion and a talent for filmmaking that has rapidly developed under the expert guidance of our faculty.” 

The fictional film draws viewers into the world of reclusive and anxious Rebecca, played by Liz Sandifer, who grapples with agoraphobia, a disorder that induces panic attacks or feelings of being trapped or helpless in public spaces or crowds. “We get to see an insider’s perspective on how difficult day-to-day life is, how debilitating the disorder can become for some people, and how Rebecca deals with pressures from work, family, and relationships in general,” Noland said.

The film falls in line with Noland’s goal of “telling stories that haven’t been told,” of touching people’s lives and influencing positive change and healing, including in the arena of mental health.  “I wish to help make anxiety disorders and mental illness something that we can all freely talk about without feeling judged or marginalized,” she said. “I hope that my film will somehow be a part of making others feel like they aren’t alone and that it is OK to bring up these topics.”

She added that inspiration for the film project derived from anxiety and awkwardness she has experienced, and from her mother’s struggle with agoraphobic tendencies when Noland was a child.

In addition to receiving the KQED contract, the “She Isn’t Here” film was a finalist and won the Best Actress award at the Eclipse International Film Festival. It was a semi-finalist at the Caribbean Market and Film Festival and won Best Dramatic Short at the NAD Sonscreen Film Festival. It was also an official selection of the following festivals: Cameroon International Film Festival; Converge Art and Music Festival Film Showcase; IAWRT International Documentary Awards; and AFC Global Fest in India. 

Noland said that she and her husband, Jesus, a software engineer who designs story-based games and apps, team up to operate the family-oriented ministry, FamGrowth.org, which aims to provide events and resources that help strengthen families. “A big influence for our work and ministry comes from our belief in God and our belief that we weren’t made to be idle and unproductive. We were created to create and reflect God’s love to others,” she said.

Noland’s interest in film production and storytelling began early in life through the influence of her family, she recalls. Her parents showed her and her brother early film classics, and the siblings made their own films with a black-and-white camcorder her brother received as a gift. “For fun, we would set up green screens, play around with visual effects, and create short films using animation and my strange character voices. It was our favorite thing to do when not in school or church,” she said. “I realized that filmmaking could be more than just a hobby for me.”

The original version of this story was posted on the La Sierra University news page.

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