Alumn awarded best student narrative short film

by Samantha Stark

MSUM faculty, alumni, and students continue to uphold MSUM’s School of Media and Design’s (SoMAD) exceptional reputation.
The SoMAD faculty members Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson, Don Clark, and Tom Brandau and thirty students to Aberdeen, S.D. for the 8th Annual South Dakota Film Festival (SDFF) from Sept. 24-28. They made nine films that chosen by SDFF to be screened at the festival.
“We have never had that many films accepted,” said film studies alumn Conor Holt. “It was a record high for MSUM.”
The SDFF began in 2007 to acknowledge and screen films made by filmmakers from all over the world.
The SDFF is packed full of film screenings, workshops and discussions in the Aberdeen’s historic Capitol Theater. In addition, there are up to twenty celebrity guests. Film production senior Zach Suckerman was one of several volunteers that helped the SDFF behind the scenes. He said that his favorite part of the festival was meeting the celebrity guests.
“This was my second year working with Shannon Luco [actor known for her role in The O.C. and True Blood], so she introduced me to everyone,” Suckerman said.
SDFF had 314 films submitted from 26 different countries in categories of narratives, documentaries, animations and family-friendly films this year.  To show all the films, the fest added an extra day.
Out of the 78 films shown, SDFF judges granted 18 awards. Needless to say, MSUM did not go home empty handed; Holt was awarded Best Student Narrative Short Film for his 12-minute piece titled “A Better Life,” a sci-fi drama about a woman caring for her comatose husband with a remote control.
Finding inspiration from films like “Primer,” “Gattaca” and “Moon,” Holt enjoys small-scale, intelligent films that are more about ideas then special effects.
“I wanted to explore how technology changes us.  I don’t see technology as inherently good or bad — it’s a tool, and it is about how we use it,” said Holt. “I chose to frame this idea in the story of a marriage, because I wanted to explore a close relationship and how the that can change due to life, conflicts, and sudden tragedies, as well as technological advancements.”
Holt filmed “A Better Life” for his senior thesis in October of 2012 using the $1500 he was granted from the Minnesota Film and TV Board in Minneapolis. Holt and his team worked eight to 12 hours for four days straight.
“It’s just good enough to get a good grade, but to also win an award for a film you put your heart into gives you that extra confidence to continue making films,” Holt said.
“A Better Life” won Best in Show at the 2013 Spring Juried Film Exhibition at MSUM, and Best Editing/Effects at the St. Cloud Film Fest.
This was Holt’s fifth consecutive year competing in the SDFF. In 2010, he won Best Family Film for “The Librarian’s Assistant.”
“This film wouldn’t have been made possible without the support of MSUM and my great team,” Holt said.
His team consisted of producer Patrick McKeown; co-writer Ben Grell; editor Chance Cole; cinematographer Shane Mackinnon; and FM actors Aimee Klein, Bill Siderski and Hardy Koeing.
To view MSUM’s submissions, visit

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.