With the Cinema Department’s 46th Annual Film Festival just around the corner, the students participating are eagerly preparing their final products. Shannon Leigh is a senior cinema major and theatre minor from Rocky River, Ohio—Her film, Sisters and Daughters, follows the story of a young woman facing a dark reality. Leigh has been interested in editing and filming since seventh grade, and finished her first official short film in 2021. Completing the film this semester is her final work for her cinema major, under her advisor Mark Wiskemann, the associate professor and cinema department chair.

Q&A with Shannon Leigh

Describe your experience in preparing for the Film Festival—Where did you start? What were some obstacles you faced?

“All films have to start somewhere, and that’s usually with an idea or inspiration. Whether you’re making a narrative, documentary, or art film, there’s always a part of your brain that thinks, “what would that look like through film?” Workshop essentially starts with workshopping an idea, writing and finalizing a screenplay, then producing, filming, editing and showing your short film.

For me, the biggest challenges came when we began shooting, because most of my actresses were driving in from 30 minutes to 2 hours a day on a Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Thankfully, this all worked out, but when I finally sat down to begin editing, I realized an entire day’s worth of audio recording was missing from my SD card. We ended up finding the audio, but that was one of the scariest things I have ever had happen to me because in this case, you’re not only making something for yourself to showcase, but you’re also being graded on it!”

What is your film about? Why did you choose this subject matter/story?

“My film is about a young woman, looking for a place to be welcomed and loved like family. She stumbles upon a home for troubled women, but discovers that the underlying world of this group is far more sinister than it seems on the surface. I think we all can identify with feeling lonely and being vulnerable enough to go looking for somewhere to belong, and sometimes we end up in the very wrong place. It’s about staying true to what you know is right even if you start to believe it isn’t.”

Can you tell us about a favorite memory, class, or professor in the cinema department?

“The cinema department has offered me so much more knowledge in the subject than I could have ever imagined there even was to learn. Analytical classes are incredibly interesting (Dr. Walley and Dr. Greene are two of the best professors I have had at Denison), but I’m personally more of a production side of film person rather than an academic.

In my sophomore year, I was taking Intermediate Film Production here, which meant we were working with actual, 16mm film. When the pandemic hit, we had to ditch a whole half a semester worth of work and go home without finishing any of our projects, and I have never even seen the developed film from my first shoot day of our final projects.

However, this was the class that brought Professor Sabrina Renkar into my life. As a female filmmaker, it’s so important to be able to see gender representation in the field I’m hoping to work in. The men in our department are great of course, but there was something so personal learning from Sabrina and she really changed my outlook on the world of film. She is the most supportive and uplifting professor.”

The 46th Denison Film Festival takes place May 7, 7:30 in Slayter Auditorium and is open to the public, following Denison campus COVID guidelines.

May 4, 2022