By Sarah Colson
Katherine Joy Williams graduated last December from East Tennessee State University’s Radio, Television, Video and Film (RTVF) program. On April 16 of this year, Williams will travel to Las Vegas to personally accept first place in the 2016’s Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Art’s music video category. But first, she will participate in something a little closer to home, namely, in ETSU’s film festival, Made in East Tennessee, at Real to Reel.
“It’s just been so exciting,” Williams said. “It will be really cool representing the RTVF department because it’s a little bit smaller than other departments. Hopefully (the event) inspires other students to want to grow and pursue making their own films.”
The film festival is the fifth annual and will take place Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m., featuring about 10 short films and documentaries created by the students in the RTVF program.
“This is an exciting year because our students’ work is out in the world,” said Shara Lange, who oversees the university’s RTVF program, “screening internationally and winning awards, and now we will be screening their films locally on the big screen.”
Williams’ music video features the local band, South of Roan, comprised of artists, Seth Thomas and Williams’ sister, Grizel Williams. Williams said working with her sister was great, but not just because they’re blood relatives. Williams said she just loves working with anyone fun and creative.
“I don’t care how much you pay me,” Williams said with a grin, “if you’re not fun to work with I don’t want to work with you. And I think there’s something great about that.”
Having dreamed of being a photographer since middle school, Williams said she’s always been challenged most by figuring out a story line before grabbing her Canon 5D Mark III to go shoot.
“The main goal in any video project is telling a story that has a purposeful message,” she said, “a good story that will impact people or something that people can relate to. It doesn’t have to make them get up and change, but just think ‘oh, that’s super relatable.’ Most of my time is actually spent in pre-production. That’s the hardest part—what type of message am I going to give?”
South of Roan’s music video, which took four months to produce, tells the story through the band’s original song, “Before I Die.” Set during an East Tennessee autumn, the music video is about a middle-aged woodworker who’s trying to find his purpose in life. Knowing he has to start somewhere, he builds a chair.
“It’s about a guy who’s just stuck,” Williams said. “The chair represents building his life, family and future. We just wanted it to be a simple idea so people can dwell on that.”
Williams explained that much of the inspiration for the video and the song itself came from Thomas’ life.
“Seth helped because he actually is a woodworker,” Williams said. “I always get so emotional in the last stanza when it says ‘before I die I want to find a lover; build a place where we can be set free,’ because I want that for not just him but for everybody, too. We’re all always seeking that; it never ends. It’s never like, ‘oh, I found my purpose, OK I’m good.’ No, we’re always trying to seek our purpose.”
Williams’ work has been published in Time, ESPN, People, Yahoo!, and Der Spiegel. Because of that, Williams said she often gets asked what equipment she likes to use.
“They think, ‘if I get that camera, I’m going to be amazing,’” she said. “I’m not saying I’m amazing. What I am saying is that for years I used a very, very low quality camera. It’s about making the most of what you have and shooting with whatever you have. So for a while I just shot with a crappy camera, but I learned so much with that. I’m just a big believer in not being a camera gear snob.”
Williams, who goes by Katherine Joy, said that her middle name is exactly what keeps her going: the joy of storytelling.
“Photography and videography are just things that bring me joy,” she said. “It’s not my identity. It’s something I enjoy. I don’t think I’m going to change the world with my videography because I’m just one small little person in this world, but I do want to create really good stories and have experiences with really cool people.”
Lange said the film festival is a great way to help students share what brings them joy and “validate our films and our students and their voices.”
The money raised from the event will support the Tom Headley Student Production Award, which will recognize outstanding film projects. Headley is the founder and a longtime supporter of ETSU’s broadcasting program. He retired in 2010.
Other awards to be presented at the event include the Audience Award (sponsored by Spark Plaza and Digital Fridge), the Spirit of East Tennessee Award (sponsored by High Road Digital) and the Innovation Award (sponsored by Quantum Ascension) and this year’s Tom Headley Student Production Award.
Tickets are $3 per person and can be bought at the Real to Reel box office. There will also be a silent auction to raise money for the Headley Student Production Award.
Real to Reel is located at 130 W. Springbrook Dr. For more information, contact Lange at email@example.com or (423) 439-7572.