Last weekend, Luther student cinephiles and members of the Decorah community came together to attend the Oneota Film Festival and celebrate the work of a Luther alumnus. The festival started on Friday March 4 and ended on Sunday March 6. The Oneota Film Festival marked a feat for Luther alum Connor Hopkins (’21), whose first documentary, Start, has been presented.
“It’s a very cool thing, and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to show my work,” Hopkins said. “It was just something I was doing as a senior project, and it kind of took on a life of its own.”
The 2022 iteration of the festival aimed to embody the theme of “reconnecting” to celebrate the event’s first in-person exhibition since February 2020. Although this year marked the first time the event was held at the center- town of Decorah rather than Luther’s campus, college connections were far from absent
The Oneota Film Festival is an annual tradition for Decorah and primarily showcases independent films that aren’t available on streaming services or TV channels. Elise Skellenger was director of the festival for the first time this year.
“Our jury selectors review a wide variety of submitted films, and we liked that [Debut] had a local link and a local connection,” Skellenger said. “It was a good story and Connor did a good job. It was also going well, because it was a play that we didn’t have anything like.”
Hopkin’s 17-minute documentary follows the journey of Braeden Bend, a budding freelance professional wrestler. The film chronicles Bend’s experience going from being a referee in the sport to developing his own personality and signature style inside the ring, all leading up to his first match in Peru, Illinois. The concept was started as part of Hopkins’ senior project, but was the result of an idea he had been developing since his freshman year at Luther.
“The movie that came out in public now has kind of a weird start,” Hopkins said. “My freshman year at Luther, I went to my advisor, Dr. Thomas Johnson, and said I wanted to do a wrestling documentary as my main project. Flash a few years from now, and it’s the spring semester. 2020 and am taking Dr Johnson’s documentary film course, where the final project is to make a short documentary film.
Originally, Hopkins wanted to make a documentary about a wrestler’s last match in Kansas City in March 2020. But the day before he left, Luther closed his campus and sent students home for an “extended spring break.” “. students would not return until the fall of 2021. Despite the setback, Hopkins continued the effort over the following summer.
“I had a friend training at the time, it was August 2020, and he was preparing to have his first game in September,” Hopkins said. “That’s really where the movie started.”
The Film Festival wasn’t Hopkins’ first feature film, as Start had previously been selected for broadcast by the Iowa PBS program, The cinema lounge. He took advantage of the many online resources available to budding filmmakers and submitted the film to a wide variety of festivals, which led to acceptances, as well as accolades.
“I finished the film on January 28, 2021, and from there I submitted the film to a website called ‘FilmFreeway,’ which is kind of a one-stop-shop for submission to film festivals,” said Hopkins. “I submitted my film to 29 film festivals and was selected for 12 of them. I was the winner of a few of them, which was pretty cool.
During her time at Luther and in the Decorah community, Hopkins was able to make valuable connections that led to her film being screened at the festival. He credits his time at Luther as well as his work at Driftless Multimedia in town for giving him the skills and opportunities he needed to become an award-winning director. He knows many current Luther students may be in a similar place and offered some advice.
“It was really cool to be able to look back on something like that and see tangible things that happened in the world outside of Luther as a result of that,” Hopkins said. “Any student who is currently in the visual communication major, as well as communications, journalism, what have you – if they want to get into film, they certainly can. I won’t pretend to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do it somewhat professionally now.
Start is available for free to stream on Vimeo.