WVU Student Wins Big at Sundance Film Festival

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For West Virginia University senior Sam Thompson, being named The Creative Mind Group best director at the Sundance Film Festival was a culmination of years of hard work.

“Heart pounding, exciting, relief kind of because the whole point of this is to go in there and boost your resume, get your foot in the door, make connections,” Thompson said. “Leaving there with the exact awards and things that we wanted to leave there from was relieving.”

Thompson, the president of WVU’s Film Club from Shamong, New Jersey, was also part of the Sundance Film Festival last year.

This year he and former WVU students Davis Rohrer, a member of the West Virginia Army National Guard from Marlton, New Jersey, and Mikey D’Amico of Weirton, who now attends Point Park University, were selected as some of eight finalists out of thousands of applicants to the Creative Minds Sundance filmmakers program

They were paired with actress and New York University graduate Katy Lueck and had one week in Park City, Utah to create three films.

“Once they got in, the whole process started of brainstorming, actually writing the script, story boarding and shot listing and read-throughs,” said Thompson.

Their final film, “The SunDANCE” is a musical that contrasts Hollywood and the indie industry.

“I wanted to challenge us, do something we’ve never done before,” Thompson said.  “They’ve never had a musical done in their program before. I watched ‘LaLa Land’ a few weeks before and I figured why not give this a shot.”

A large part of the film’s success fell on Rohrer, who served as actor, composer and performed and recorded all the original music.

“I would go to Sam and he would tell me the concept,” Rohrer said. “He would give me the mood, the feeling and the direction of the film. I’m given this blank slate of emotions and feelings and from there you turn that something into a tangible product, like the song itself.”

The film also won awards for “Best Cinematography” by D’Amico and “Best Performance” by Lueck.

The group says winning gives them validation that they’re on the right path with their work, and hopes it brings the WVU Film Club more recognition. They hope one day to bring a film major to the University.  

“I always wondered ‘am I ever going to get to a place where I can do that?’ Where my films, my writings, my music, my acting can actually affect people,” Rohrer said. “Going out to Sundance, actually having it screened and made and shown to these people, to the right people, you just sit there and you realize maybe everything’s actually going to work out. Maybe I can make it.” 

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