Slamdance Film Festival Gives Professor Lessons to Share with Students

Sarah Lasley and film students work on a film shoot at Humboldt.
Art + Film Professor Sarah Lasley (right), who recently screened a film at Slamdance, hired students last year to work on a short film about generational responses to climate change.
Cal Poly Humboldt Film professor Sarah Lasley recently returned from screening her film “Welcome to the Enclave” at Slamdance, a prestigious film festival.

An Oscar-qualifying film festival in its 30th year, Slamdance foregrounds innovative, emerging filmmakers. It’s perhaps most famous for launching the careers of Christopher Nolan and Lena Dunham.

“Welcome to the Enclave,” an experimental short film featuring animation and live action, was selected for the festival from more than 13,000 entries. 

“My favorite part of going to festivals is seeing how our students might also get there,” says Lasley, who has been touring her film for more than a year to galleries and festivals. “Films like mine at Slamdance are low-budget miracles. There are so many fragments that have to be just right.” 

But the artistic alchemy that produces these films is achievable for Humboldt students, who have access to professional grade equipment and—perhaps more importantly—the enthusiasm, creativity, and support of their peers and instructors. 

“When you graduate you lose a lot of resources,” she says. So she encourages students to take advantage of Humboldt to the fullest. “You can have such a small-scale project like mine—made without a crew—and still make waves with it.”

Lasley is also able to identify and share with students the trends in filmmaking and what it takes to qualify for a festival. 

The biggest takeaway from Slamdance that Lasley shares with students is how important it is to self-promote. So she works with students on strategies for the practical side of the film industry: the “push.” That means speaking in public, connecting with other people, learning how to seek press and funding, and pushing other boundaries that may hold students back. Sharing a film, a personal piece of art that a student has worked on for hours and hours, is difficult. “You have to be really brave to ask people for their opinion,” Lasley says. 

Alongside teaching regular classes, which include lessons about using video and film production for social change, Lasley is working on her next film, a “very Cal Poly Humboldt” dark comedy about AI and climate change that involves a lot of her students on production. 

Funded by a grant from the Emeritus & Retired Faculty & Staff Association, Lasley hired students to shoot scenes at a German coal mine last summer and do other production work on the Humboldt campus. 

Getting students involved was a critical part of her process, she says. “I felt it was important for this generation of students to get hands-on experience in the creative process for a film about generational responses to climate change.”

The poster for "Welcome to the Enclave" features a house under stormy skies.