ABERDEEN, S.D. – In 2022, a production team from Northern State University created the short film “The Final Thread” for the Four-Points Film Challenge. Since then, it’s earned seven laurels from three international film festivals, with the possibility of winning more. Jason Knowles, assistant professor of art/digital media, is waiting to hear back from five other festivals, with decisions expected between the end of September and April 2024.

Awards won as of September 2023:

  • 2022 Four-Points Film Challenge
    • Honorable mention for supporting actor/actress (Kane Anderson as "Bernie/The Mentor")
    • Honorable mention for best use of genre. 
  • 2023 Fireline Film Festival 
    • Best LGBTQ film
    • Best supporting actor/actress (Anderson as "Bernie/The Mentor")
    • Nominee status
    • Official Selection status
  • 2023 Redwood Film Festival
    • Official Selection status

This was the first time Northern had participated in the Four-Points Film Challenge. The nine-member cast and crew consisted of Northern students and alumni, and an Aberdeen resident:

  • Knowles: film’s director, executive producer, visual effects supervisor and post-production sound designer.
  • Kane Anderson: NSU assistant professor of theatre, supporting actor (Bernie/The Mentor).
  • John Schwab: NSU student, co-director of cinematography and chief editor of the Four Points version of the film.
  • Nicholas Schwab: an Aberdeen Central High School student, supporting actor (Random Citizen), boom mic, and audio mixing on set.
  • Matthew Klundt: NSU alumnus, co-director of cinematography and on-set boom mic and audio mixing.
  • Xavier Scott: NSU student, lead role of Sam, story development, and screenplay dialogue. 
  • Alexis Wald: NSU student, story developer, and on-set production assistant.
  • Julianna Pasara: NSU student, story developer, and on-set production assistant.
  • Emilia Bauer: NSU student, lead female role of Kat Bradford.

The team had 77 hours to create a short film within the festival’s additional parameters. The film had to be between four and seven minutes long. None of the “creative” work could be done beforehand, including casting. At the start of the event, the team was emailed a line of dialogue, a character with an occupation, and a prop, all of which had to be included in the film, as well as two genres to choose between.

Within those constraints, they created a film about a young protégé who visits a mysterious woman to help him reconnect with his recently deceased, highly respected mentor, Knowles said.

“But his journey will force him to question what he has really lost and discover what he might have actually gained,” said Knowles.

After the original was submitted to Four-Points, Knowles went to work on creating a director’s cut. The new version is slightly longer and is better able to convey the story, Knowles said.

“Because the original was written, filmed, edited, and submitted inside the 77-hour window of the 2022 Four-Points competition, its film edit was a little rougher on timings and actions and the sound design needed additional noise reduction, sound effects, and volume levels adjusted,” Knowles said.

The director’s cut was then submitted to Fireline Film Festival and the Redwood Film Festival, as well as other film competitions.

“I don't know the total submissions to the 2023 Fireline Film Festival, but I do know we were up against at least 29 other nominees, 14 of which became award winners.  We were one of only two submissions that won awards in multiple categories.”

Although the original film was previously shown at a public screening, currently neither version is available to watch.

“Because the film is currently in consideration at other festivals, we are required to keep public access to a minimum,” Knowles said. “But the cast and crew have been sent private copies and there's a good chance the public may see another screening at one of our future art events on-campus.”

This year’s competition 

NSU will be participating in this year’s Four-Points Film Project competition. Local artists, thespians and media professionals are encouraged to join.

“These awards would not have been possible without the strong collaborations of NSU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and support from our Aberdeen community,” Knowles said.

This year, the team will have access to updated professional filmmaking equipment. A CETL Pedagogy grant won last spring by Knowles and English faculty colleague, Kristen Brown, for a cross-disciplinary podcasting experiment allowed for the purchase of high-end shotgun microphones and audio recorders.  Knowles will also be utilizing his personal 6k cinema camera he purchased over the past summer.

The competition runs from Nov. 3 to Nov. 6. A strategy meeting will be held Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. in the new Moving Imagery Lab (Dakota Hall, room 209). The actual competition won’t start until 7 p.m., when the required elements are emailed to contestants.

“That's the exciting part!” Knowles said. “The film we produce this year could be radically different.”

Contact Knowles at Jason.Knowles@northern.edu for more information or to join the team!