Students travel in a desert

Over winter break, nine Champlain College students travelled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to co-produce two short films alongside local Saudi filmmakers.

The trip was part of a one-credit travel embedded course. The students’ majors include Filmmaking, Broadcast Media Production, and Creative Media. Professors John Rasmussen, Julia Swift, and Van Dora Williams were faculty leaders on the trip. This was the first year the trip was offered, but Rasmussen says it certainly won’t be the last.

Dr. Van Dora Williams poses for a selfie with her fellow film crew in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Pre-production of the films took place took place prior to departure. Students wrote scripts and communicated with the Saudi filmmakers over Skype. Once they arrived, shooting began almost immediately. Students came back to Burlington with rough cuts of the films and continued to work on the finished product.

Upon arriving in Jeddah, the crew scoped out locations for production shoots—a fun, alternate method of sightseeing. Photo by Abdullah Ahmed.

One of the two films, “The Wishlist,” was shot in Arabic and follows an Arabic woman re-adapting to her culture after living abroad from the age of 18. The second film, “Cake,” is about the roadblocks a Columbian chef encounters while trying to deliver a cake to his client’s daughter’s birthday party.

Filming in Saudi Arabia was an experiential learning and cultural opportunity for the eight students who attended. Photo by Abdullah Ahmed.

On the trip, students and faculty learned a lot about both Saudi culture and Saudi filmmaking culture. “It’s eye-opening to go somewhere where you don’t know the people or culture, but you have the craft in common. So, you can still get to work right away,” said Rasmussen.

“Most visitors to other countries go on tours, which is great for architecture, but working alongside people has more weight. It’s powerful to meet people who’ve had such different experiences, yet still bond over common movies,” he continued.

Champlain students presented their work alongside their Saudi crew members. Photo by Abdullah Ahmed.

Blake Donovan ’21 // Filmmaking, said he learned a lot about how the film industry operates in Saudi Arabia. “The industry is beginning to grow now that film is legalized there. They are still working out the details, but they’ve developed processes—some of which are based on how other countries navigate the industry, and some they’ve created independently. Their passion and love for art and story is the same as anywhere else—and that’s a wonderful thing.”

Donovan went on to say that “when you truly observe, the differences are not that large. Politically, there are differences. Religiously, there are as well. However, the crux of every society is the humans that live there, and I found that humans are quite similar, no matter where you live.”

The crew spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia over winter break. Photo by Abdullah Ahmed.

Come see “The Wishlist” and “Cake” for yourself! Join the film crew in Alumni Auditorium on Thursday, February 27 at 5:45 PM, with a Q&A session to follow.

Kaylee Sullivan

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