Eve Studnicka has followed the ups and downs of a travel hockey team. She's filmed a documentary about a non-profit arts camp that was featured on PBS. Most recently, she spent two summers living in her family's old miner's cottage to make a documentary about her hometown of Mineral Point, Wis.
And she did all of it before she even started her first semester at Columbia College in Chicago this September.
Studnicka, who grew up in Chillicothe, Ill., said Columbia was her first choice because she knew the school would help her build a “killer portfolio” of work to show potential employers after graduation. But she's already compiled a pretty killer portfolio all on her own.
The 18-year-old is used to doing big things young. Her passion for movies grew out of a film review column she wrote her local paper, The Chillicothe Independent. She secured that gig when she was just 14, thanks to a journalist friend of hers.
“She noticed that I was interested in movies and that I could write decently, so she hooked me up with the column when I was a freshman in high school,” Studnicka said. “Writing film reviews really helped me figure out how to tell my own stories through shooting documentaries--I learned how to understand things objectively and see things how they were.”
Her passion for film didn't go unnoticed by her parents, who are both artists. They bought her a camcorder for her 15th birthday, and she started shooting documentaries right away. Studnicka’s first subject was her sister's travel hockey team, which she followed for six months around the Midwest.
Balancing high school classes and hours of shooting and editing her documentaries wasn't always easy--Studnicka said she experienced “a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings.” It was possible, she said, because she was home-schooled.
“My parents had always emphasized the importance of how you learn over what you learn, so I was constantly evaluating what I was getting out of documentary filmmaking, and how it applied to academics,” Studnicka said.
She focused her next film on The Sun Foundation, a non-profit in rural Illinois that hosts an “Art in the Woods” summer camp inviting artists and scientists from all over the country to teach campers hands-on skills from their fields.
While working on that film, Studnicka met Jim Morrissette, a professor at Columbia in the Cinema Arts and Science department. Morrissette said she impressed him immediately.
“She had her own video camera and was shooting camp activities using, of all things, a tripod,” Morrissette said. “Students her age rarely bother with tripods, so I knew right away she cared about the quality of her work.”
Studnicka worked on the Sun Foundation documentary for about a year. An acquaintance of Studnicka's who worked at the local PBS station suggested she send it in to see if they were interesting in airing it.
She was skeptical but submitted it anyway. She didn't hear anything back, so she sent it again--along with several e-mails to make sure they had received the film.
“I just became kind of a big pest,” Studnicka said. “Having gone through so much to make it, I figured I didn't have anything to lose. I figured, the worst thing they can say is no, and if they aren't saying no, I might as well keep trying. Eventually they said, 'Yeah, this is something we like; it's definitely important locally,' and they showed it over the summer.” She was 15.
Studnicka recently received more attention from PBS when the network included her among “The Next Generation of Documentary Filmmakers Enters College” at the beginning of September.
The blog highlights Studnicka's current project, a feature-length documentary about her hometown of Mineral Point, Wis., called “Of Some Fair Place.” Her parents spent years living and working there as artists until they moved their family to Illinois when Studnicka was 3 years old.
Studnicka got the idea for the documentary from her mom, who had suggested for years that Studnicka interview some of the people in the town's thriving artists' community. Her film tells the story of how local artists revitalized the Mineral Point after it was hit hard by the Depression in the 1930s.
“Of Some Fair Place” will premiere at The Driftless Film Festival in Mineral Point in November. Studnicka has been involved in the festival since it started four years ago, and this year she is the festival coordinator.
Still, despite her years of experience shooting documentaries, Studnicka said she still has moments of doubt about majoring in a field many people consider impractical.
“It gets to be intimidating sometimes,” she said. “You think about how you're spending so much money to go to school, to learn something that everyone is telling you that you're not going to be able to get a job in.
“But I think it is a worthwhile investment, because you're spending this money and time and energy and effort to pursue something that you are actually really passionate about,” Studnicka said. “And if you put enough into it, one would hope you would be able to get something valuable out of it. And so far, that's been true for me.”
Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.
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