KCET's series Fine Cut showcases short films made by top student filmmakers from Southern California. This year CSULB student film Faith Alone, produced in FEA’s Creative Nonfiction Track, is among the documentary films selected for the series. Chosen from more than 400 submissions, this year's edition of Fine Cut features 19 short films in documentary, animation, and narrative genres handpicked by an esteemed panel of judges from the entertainment industry. Variety lists the full line up of finalists for the festival’s 21st season, which includes student films from USC, UCLA, Chapman, Cal Arts, and LMU; winners were announced during the virtual awards ceremony on KCET’s website. Faith Alone had its premiere television broadcast on KCET on October 7th; it will continue to stream online on KCET’s website and the PBS App.
Faith Alone was made by seniors in CSULB’s graduating class of spring 2019: Jess Kung (director), Taylor Vracin-Harrell (producer), Tricia Baumgartner (editor and sound recordist), and Isaura Aceves (cinematographer and assistant editor). The film offers a critical examination of the church as an institution, told through the dual perspectives of the queer director and their mother, an unconventional minister.
The four filmmakers first met and received their formative documentary training in FEA’s Creative Nonfiction (CNF) track led by FEA assistant professor, Helen Hood Scheer. Throughout production, the group dedicated a few weekends to filming in northern California at the church where Kung’s mother served as the church’s minister, and countless hours editing the gathered materials. Kung remarks about what it meant to have their mother in the film: “She’s such an interesting person and tells many stories about America, and she engages with her faith in a way that the rest of her family doesn’t.” The initial plan behind the film changed drastically while in the midst of production as a result of the United Methodist Church declaring their stance opposing LGBTQ rights. After the church’s announcement, the team quickly realized how vital it was for Kung to be even more present in front of the camera as they told what was already a deeply personal story.
In addition to support through carefully planned instruction and critiques from faculty and peers in the CNF track, the filmmaking team was fortunate to secure scholarship funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) to assist with production and post-production costs, including covering the costs of original animations and music. This funding is initially awarded to FEA and sub-granted to students through a competitive process which included preparing a strong written proposal and pitching the film verbally to a jury of professionals. Vracin-Harrell and Kung both agree the financial support received by HFPA was essential to completing their polished final film.
As with any film, the process of making Faith Alone was a tremendous learning experience. “There are a lot of things you learn about storytelling and teamwork that you need to actually do yourself to fully understand it. This type of hands on experience is always invaluable,” said Kung. Looking back on the journey of making the film and their time at CSULB, Vracin-Harrell and Kung both feel very proud of what the team achieved. “This is the culmination of my college experience that continues to be validated after graduation,” said Vracin-Harrell. Kung also reflected upon a meaningful memory from the FEA annual student showcase where Faith Alone premiered. “Someone came up to me at the end and was very emotional. He said my child is like you...Thank you.” The effect of Kung’s personal story on this individual and its ability to foster further understanding of their child is something Kung will never forget.
Since creating Faith Alone, Vracin-Harrell, Kung, Baumgartner, and Aceves have all graduated from CSULB and are busy making their impact in the industry. Kung is currently working for NPR’s Code Switch team where they predominately focus on stories about race and individuals in marginalized communities. Vracin-Harrell is working at Peter Jones Productions, an Emmy and Peabody award winning documentary production company, Baumgartner has gone on to work as a subtitle editor with Duplitech, and Aceves is currently a freelance audio producer. They hope the underlying message in their team’s film continues to reach a multitude of individuals and teaches others understanding and empathy. Faith Alone continues to screen in various film festivals around the country.