The Hard Way Selected as Banff Finalist

photo shows film's subject running down a wooded trail.
The Hard Way was awarded Best Short at the September 2016 Trail Running Film Festival Seattle

The Hard Way Documentary – the inspirational story about 89-year-old ultra runner Bob Hayes, has been selected as a Finalist for the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Competition. In its 41st year, the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival is one of the most prestigious mountain film festivals in the world. Presented by National Geographic and The North Face, it takes place October 29 – November 6, 2016, at Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

The Hard Way is the inspirational story of Bob Hayes, an 89-year-old who runs 30 races each year, cuts his firewood by hand and does things the hard way to remain active and alive. The film takes us on a journey that’s about more than running, it teaches us to live life with purpose and momentum. Montana independent filmmakers Erik Petersen, of Clyde Park, and Jeremy Lurgio, of Missoula spent more than a year documenting Hayes’ story about remaining active and vital as he approaches 90.

“He lives an authentic, inspirational life, and we were lucky enough to document that,” Petersen said. “Being selected as a finalist to Banff is just icing on the cake.”

“Bob lives the way many of us hope to in our later years. He has a nice balance of hard work, running and being active in the community,” Lurgio said. “He still contra dances, he goes to the library and continues to learn all the time. It’s just really inspiring.”

Erik and Jeremy are traveling up to Banff for the festival this weekend.

The Hard Way will screen November 5 and 6 in Banff, Alberta.

Other scheduled screenings:

  • November 5, 2016 – Missoula, Montana – The Missoula Trail Running Film Festival will feature The Hard Way at The Wilma Theater.
  • If selected for the Banff Official Tour, The Hard Way will play in Missoula at the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Dennison Theater Nov. 13th.

About the Filmmakers: Jeremy Lurgio is a freelance photographer and an associate professor of photojournalism and multimedia at the University of Montana School of Journalism. You can find his work at http://www.jeremylurgio.com

Erik Petersen is a freelance photographer and filmmaker based in Livingston, Montana. You can find his work at www.erikpetersenphoto.com

By Jeremy Lurgio

From Print to Broadcast, Sojin Josephson Tells the Stories that Last

As a sports reporter at the Montana Kaimin, Sojin Josephson was used to fast turnover between stories. But when ESPN reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg joined the School of Journalism’s faculty as the fall 2015 Pollner professor, Josephson seized the opportunity to tell the stories that shaped some of UM’s star athletes, both in and out of the sports arena.

photo shows Sojin giving a report in front of a camera.
Photo by Andy Anderson.

Josephson’s feature story, “Finding Feller: A family on and off the court,” delved into the life of McCalle Feller, a senior player for Lady Griz. What interested Josephson most about Feller was not her impressive career stats, but the fact that Feller was adopted and had been trying to connect with her birth parents while at college. To understand her family’s history, Josephson interviewed Feller and her adoptive parents together.

“Between the three of them, they were just piecing together their story as it went along, and a lot of their story happened pre-Calle. She didn’t know a lot of that before, so that was pretty cool,” Josephson said. “If I hadn’t sat down with all three of them at the same time, I’m not sure how much of that would’ve come together.”

She paid careful attention to the dialogue and followed up the formal interview with detailed questions to help her recreate the scenes on paper. Josephson also managed to get in touch with Feller’s birth-father over the phone, adding his perspective to the story. After publishing the piece in the Kaimin in February, the story went on to win second place in the Hearst Awards personality/profile category, granting Josephson a $2,000 scholarship and national recognition.

“I have an unholy love for that story. That story seemed to take everything she’s learned from all her profs and from her peers at the Kaimin, and be the embodiment of what a feature’s supposed to do: make you feel something, make you care,” said professor Jule Banville, who helped edit the piece. “There’s a lot in there that no one can teach. It’s pure talent. And I’m pretty psyched the judges at Hearst recognized it.”

Josephson published another feature-length story in a Game Day edition of the Kaimin last November, called, “Kicking and breathing: Daniel Sullivan’s body quit football, but Sullivan couldn’t quit the game.” A talented kicker, Daniel Sullivan’s relationship with football changed after he suffered a stroke. While other media outlets had picked up on the story of Sullivan’s road to recovery, Josephson noticed gaps and became determined to get the full story from Sullivan.

“I feel like it’s a two-way street with all these long-from pieces, because if they’re not available to talk about the details or clarify the answers to your questions, you’re kind of limited to the story you can tell,” said Josephson. “The Sullivan story and the Calle story were by far my favorites from the entire year. They’re the stories that I was excited about telling, and I got so invested in the people and the stories themselves.”

This spring, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) recognized the Sullivan story, and Josephson received first place in the sports reporting category. The SPJ Mark of Excellence awards also highlighted two of her broadcast pieces from UM News in the television reporting categories: “One-button video studio” and “Veteran dogs work with campus police.”

Professor Ray Fanning, who co-taught UM News, said, “She does a great job at personalizing the news, and she knows how to find a fun and interesting way to explain stories that could’ve become very complicated.”

Josephson’s genuine care for her characters came across even more as she made the switch from daily news reporting to documentary-making. This spring she worked as a reporter for the Student Documentary Unit, which tackled the topic of autism care in Montana. After spending days filming the documentary’s lead family, Josephson continued to stay in touch with them on a daily basis. She said, “You just fall in love with them and really want to make sure that you do their story justice.”

However, Josephson credits the power of the journalism community at UM for its support, whether they’re reporting from the field or spending late nights editing on campus.

“Honestly, the J-school’s been the best part of my whole entire life. I just never imagined loving it so much,” said Josephson. “The professors are the best people I know, and the critical thinking skills and the communication skills and the writing skills—this school teaches you everything to be successful in life.”

Josephson graduated on Saturday, May 14th with high honors and the Outstanding Senior Award in print journalism. She plans to spend a little bit of time at home in Big Timber, Montana, before moving to New York City. This summer she will attend the Summer Publishing Institute at NYU, giving her a professional boost to pursue her interests in the magazine world.

While the J-school community wishes Josephson luck, she’ll certainly be missed in her absence.

“She’s a great journalist, and she’s also a dreamy student to have in class, and just a thoughtful human being to have in your life,” said Banville. “Can we clone her?”

Check out Sojin Josephson’s latest feature-length project with the Student Documentary Unit’s show, “Aging Out: Autism in Montana,” on MontanaPBS online.

By Jana Wiegand

Behind the Lens, Bronte Wittpenn Wins Hearst Award; Captures Story of Generations

The Bakken oil boom brought more than just economy to northeastern Montana, it also increased the amount of human trafficking on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Bronte Wittpenn, a current senior, realized this when she took Native News last spring and wanted to try to tell that story. However, her research revealed that the trafficking was related to the larger issue of domestic and sexual violence, which had been prominent on Fort Peck for generations.

Bronte Wittpenn sits atop her car preparing to take a picture.
Photo by Jesse Flickinger.

Wittpenn’s resulting multimedia story, “A Brutal Tradition,” recently won 9th in the Hearst Awards’ Multimedia II and News category. Her video and photos accompanied a written piece produced by her reporting partner Jesse Flickinger, who traveled with her to Fort Peck. During interviews, they had to ask their characters challenging questions, asking to them to talk about personal experiences with sexual assault.

“It was something we’d never done before on a journalistic level — it was very intense,” Wittpenn said. “But it was also like, wow, this woman is so strong. She’s letting us in because she wants to use this traumatic event as a tool to help heal people and to advocate for victims.”

Wittpenn discovered the story’s main character, Toni Plummer-Alvernaz, when she was working for the Montana Native Women’s Coalition and trying to generate more awareness of the issues and resources for the victims. Plummer-Alvernaz’s mother, also a victim of domestic abuse, supported her emotionally but didn’t enter the activism arena. The story of three generations came together with Plummer-Alvernaz’s daughter, who has been following in her footsteps, determined to break the tradition of abuse.

“Bronte and Jesse conducted good interviews and did a great job connecting the dots,” said associate professor Jeremy Lurgio, who co-teaches Native News with assistant professor Jason Begay.

Flickinger’s written piece was a finalist in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards for the in-depth reporting category. And while Wittpenn’s excited to receive recognition for her multimedia piece in the Hearst Awards, she appreciated the enthusiasm of Plummer-Alvernaz and her daughter once they saw the finished project.

“Toni even said that the multimedia piece allowed for some donations to come through the coalition,” Wittpenn said. “So I’m under the impression that the piece did some good, and as a student, as a journalist, that makes me feel good.”

“Bronte has a good talent for visual narratives,” Lurgio said. “She built a strong story from something that wasn’t inherently a visual story and made it compelling.”

Wittpenn’s most recent multimedia project, “Living Under A Lawsuit,” has been entered into next years Hearst Awards competition. She produced the story as part of the Pollner Seminar, taught by experienced editor and photojournalist Sally Stapleton.

“I think that the critiques you get from the professors here are really valuable,” Wittpenn said. “Really intimate critiques, sitting down eye-to-eye, is something that I realize gets harder and harder to get once you graduate.”

After graduation in May, Wittpenn hopes to get her EMT license and volunteer locally before taking her camera on a South American adventure in the fall. Her previous travels include Morocco, France and a year abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Wittpenn said those experiences have helped her become a better journalist by making her feel comfortable adapting to situations where things don’t go as planned.

“In your heart, know that it’s okay for things to change,” Bronte said with a laugh. “You gotta go with the flow!”

Follow the latest stories behind Bronte Wittpenn’s lens via Instagram and Twitter, or check out her full multimedia portfolio on her website.

By Jana Wiegand