• view from behind the Hollywood sign, looking down at buildings on a lush green hill

    Hollywood's Cat Connection

    UVM Film and Television Studies Professor Sarah Nilsen took a dozen UVM students to Los Angeles for four jam-packed days over the winter break as a capstone experience for a course on the movie industry.

  • Channeling Disney: American Wildlife Revisited

    '18 Alum Matt Schildkamp collected clips of Florida Everglades nature for project inspired by 1953 Disney True-Life Adventure film.

  • UVM Film students getting real world experience in a professional setting.

    UVM Fellowship to Stowe Story Labs

    Senior Matt Schildkamp was the selected UVM film student for the inaugural UVM fellowship to Stowe Story Labs, a nonprofit that helps promote emerging talent from around the world.

  • Kilik comes home

    Film producer and alum John Kilik (Hunger Games, Dead Man Walking, Foxcatcher) makes regular returns to UVM for screening films and talking to students.

Advocate and artist Alex Escaja-Heiss named a top influencer of LGBTQ youth

Alex Escaja-Heiss, a double major in film and television studies and gender, sexuality and women’s studies at UVM, was recognized this month by GLAAD as one of “20  Under 20: Young  LGBTQ  People Shaping The Future of Media and Activism” in Teen Vogue magazine.

The Pride Month feature “recognizes that, now more than ever, today’s youth, especially LGBT young people, plan an instrumental role in fostering sustainable and inclusive cultural change.” GLAAD is an organization devoted to countering discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.

Escaja-Heiss began to adopt filmmaking as a medium to interpret his own world view during his years as a student at South Burlington’s Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, where he participated in a film and TV broadcasting club.

“I got hooked—film is a medium that’s so evocative, that can convey ideas so powerfully. I also watched a lot of movies around that time that really changed my ideas and perspectives. I wanted to create the same kind of challenging content.”

 At the time, Escaja-Heiss was coming to terms with his own identity—he identifies as transgender—he discovered Outright Vermont, a Burlington-based non-profit dedicated to providing resources for LGBTQ youth. “I found a community there that was really empowering. I was involved with their programs and their summer camp”

Escaja-Heiss was determined to create safe spaces for peers experiencing the same identity struggles, and he founded the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club at South Burlington High School. Since then he’s emerged as a confident leader in the LGBTQ community, working as an advocate, peer educator, and youth representative board member for Outright Vermont. He also served a stint as a student representative on the South Burlington School Board.

His success in film began in 2013 when he won a video contest hosted by NASA. Since then, he’s produced several award-winning films including Looking Back at Me, a documentary that tells the story of an 18-year-old musician from Vermont seeking to combat stigma and erasure of trans and non-binary people within their community.

The award received broad critical acclaim—it was named as an official selection for ten film festivals and many educational screenings around the country. It put Escaja-Heiss on the map as a young filmmaker to watch.

“Part of the reason the film works is that it’s clearly made by someone 17 years old, and by someone who is part of the trans community,” he said. “You can tell I was behind the camera.”

Escaja-Heiss is in good company on the Teen Vogue “20 Under 20” list. It includes Emma González, a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman-Douglas (MSD) High School shooting who became a leading gun control activist, and actress Josie Totah, who has starred in roles in NBC’s “Champions,” “Spider Man: Homecoming,” and Fox’s “Glee” and “New Girl.”

At UVM Escaja-Heiss is active in the UVM Film Club and serves as Activism Committee chair of the Queer Student Union. Last semester he participated in Arts in Action, a semester-long College of Arts & Sciences

internship program in New York City for students interested in using the visual arts as a lens for exploring issues of inequality and social justice. He was working at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria when the coronavirus epidemic ended in-person activities.

Now home in Burlington, he’s looking forward to his return to UVM in the fall. His next big project is producing a film for his honors thesis with advisor Hillary Neroni that combines film theory with topics from his studies in sexuality and women’s studies. 

“If you can’t recognize yourself in your surroundings, whether it be your friends, family or the TV screen, it can be difficult to recognize your own value in the world,” Escaja-Heiss tells Teen Vogue. “For this reason, it has been vital for me to provide representation in communities that lack it.”

Learn more about Alex and his work as a filmmaker and advocate.

 


 

Film and Television Major Devon White's short film, The Age of Quarantine, was selected "Best Film" in VTIFF's Shelter in Place Showcase Spring 2020

UVM Student Featured Work:

My video is aout people in my life that I am in contact with since self-quarantine. I decided to use animation because I had the materials to do it and I wanted to explore the medium.  I really enjoyed making the end part.   I used one sound clip that I found on YouTube of bats calling each other.  I really like how abstract it was but I don't think anyone would have picked up on what it is.  I really like the experimental documentary format. There are so many possibilities and I would love to work on more. Jess Armstrong ‘21, FTS 141, Spring 2020

FTS Film Festival Experiences

 

In collaboration with the Vermont International Film Festival, FTS offers a 1-credit course each fall structured around the ten-day festival. This year we expanded our festival experience by offering a 4-day travel trip to the renowned Camden International Film Festival in Maine. For more information please contact Professor and FTS Director Deb Ellis.

Student Run Film Club

The UVM Film Club is dedicated to producing and critiquing films as well as expanding the community's awareness of cinema as a medium. Check out their club and other media clubs at UVM.

Walt Disney Travel Abroad Class

This winter travel course will examine the centrality of Walt Disney to the development of American media culture and its global spread.