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Professor recalls Sundance Festival

Sam Stryker | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earlier this year Notre Dame academia and the glamour of Hollywood collided in Park City, Utah, when Film, Television and Theatre Professor Danielle Beverly helped premiere the movie “Rebirth” at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Rebirth” opened to a packed house Jan. 21. The film followed the lives of five New Yorkers in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the city. The film also features time-lapse footage of construction at Ground Zero captured from cameras on site where the World Trade Centers once stood.

Beverly, who spent the last nine years as a field producer for the film, said her trip to Sundance was unlike any of her previous experiences.

“I’ve been to many film festivals, and Sundance is by far its own original, unique experience,” she said. “I was able to connect with business colleagues from all over the world, so that was terrific.”

Beverly said part of what makes Sundance a special event is a passion for the film among the guests.

“The audiences there are true, die-hard film lovers,” she said. “To come to a town off the beaten path in Utah, in the middle of winter, says so much about audiences. They love film.”

Beverly said the audience at the premiere was struck by the powerful human story in the documentary.

“The film received two standing ovations, and Michael Moore was in the audience two rows behind me,” she said. “The reception from that first audience to the ‘Rebirth’ subjects, who were all on stage afterwards, was so beautifully warm and engaged.”

As field producer, Beverly regularly interacted with the subjects, conducting interviews and keeping track of their lives. She said being involved with such a group of people made filming “Rebirth” an amazing experience.

“They welcomed me and our crew into their lives and homes in such a gracious, generous way,” Beverly said. “I adore them all.”

Beverly said she knew the film would have an impact with audiences after she met with director and producer Jim Whitaker. She said the longitudinal aspect of the film allows the audience to experience emotions along with the subjects.

“Grief is thorny and not easily mapped, but we all must resiliently recover from it in some way. This is human nature,” Beverly said. “And because [Sept. 11] was a national loss, I knew the film would stand as a metaphor that others could hook into, to process their own losses.”

Beverly is currently working on a project dealing with gentrification and race in a Southern town. She said this is a very different experience than “Rebirth.”

“Unlike ‘Rebirth,’ where I worked with a crew as the field producer, my latest documentary is one I’ve shot, directed and produced as a solo crew over the last three years,” she said. “I love working this way, just me and my camera. Initially I moved there to live in the community I was filming for the first year, and then again last summer.”

In addition to making films, Beverly said she looks forward to continue working as a teacher.

“I will continue on my same path, which is to make documentaries that matter, that change hearts and minds, and that pay deep respect to those in front of the camera,” she said. “I also have fallen in love with teaching and look forward to working with students for a long time to come.”

Beverly said Notre Dame students looking to pursue the cinema should remain true to the spirit of the University in their careers.

“That earnest drive, humility, curiosity and respect that I see every day in my students will serve them well in the film industry,” she said. “It is a fallacy to think that one needs hard-nosed drive to be successful in the film business. Rather, it is being caring, understanding and hard-working that makes anyone stand out.”