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Documentary from two alumni wins Student Academy Award

Daniel Koehler '12 and Liv Dubendorf '12's film "Win or Lose" takes the bronze medal in the Documentary category of the competition.

Curtis Brown (pictured) is the focus of "Win or Lose," a documentary by Dan Koehler '12 and Liv Dubendorf '12.
“Win or Lose,” a short documentary by Elon University School of Communications alumni Dan Koehler '12 and Liv Dubendorf '12, was selected as the bronze winner in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Student Academy Awards Documentary competition. The film was one of three victorious entries in the Documentary category.

Koehler and Dubendorf are two of 14 students from nine colleges across the country to have their film chosen for the award. There are five categories in which students can compete, and judging happens in two phases. The first stage occurs at the three regional levels, from which nine nominees are selected. That total is whittled down to three national winners. The trio of remaining films won gold, silver and bronze at the awards ceremony June 8 in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.

In his acceptance speech, Koehler thanked several people, including Dubendorf, his family and his mentors at Elon--Communications professor Brooke Barnett and Communications assistant professor Nicole Triche.

"I don't think I would be a filmmaker or let alone be here at the Student Academy Awards if it weren't for these (Barnett and Triche)," Koehler said in his speech.

Koehler directed, edited and shot and Dubendorf produced the film for Triche's “Producing the Documentary” class last spring. “Win or Lose” centers on Raleigh-based photographer Curtis Brown and his quest to activate North Carolina citizens to vote against Amendment One and bring marriage equality to North Carolina.

Koehler said the idea for the film came from an initial pitch from Brown himself, who approached Dubendorf about doing a promotional video directed at persuading people to vote down Amendment One.

“Liv and I talked about it, and I wasn’t interested in a doing a promotional,” Koehler said. “So we bounced the idea of a doing a documentary.”

Koehler and Dubendorf met with Brown before the start of winter break and then shot from January to May. They completed a rough cut of the documentary for their class, but Koehler, who said the initial version of the film was “decent, but not where I wanted it to be,” took all the footage and began to edit together a more polished product.

He spent the next few months editing and seeking feedback from Triche, Barnett and many others. “Win or Lose” was finally completed about a year after shooting had begun.

“The film got done thanks to a lot of help from a lot of people,” Koehler said. “It’s not a two-person team effort. It’s a lot of people coming together to make this happen.”

And it was important to Koehler to get it right. He said he didn’t come to the project with a lot of background knowledge about Amendment One and marriage equality. After learning about Brown’s cause and the issue itself, he thought it was important that he and Dubendorf share the story with others.

“Win or Lose” got its first major play at the Seattle International Film Festival, where it was screened May 26. Koehler said he saw firsthand the documentary’s impact on its audience .

“It was fun to hear people respond to the film,” he said. “A lot of people came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Dan, I was crying during the film.” When you hear that as a filmmaker that people had an emotional reaction to your piece, it’s really, really rewarding. When you get that kind of reaction and people are responding well to it, you’re reminded that it’s worth it and that film can inspire some sort of change on whatever scale it may be.”

Koehler now thinks, because the documentary has won a Student Academy Award, “Win or Lose” can affect some change. The honor brings with it a level of notice it didn’t have before. And, ultimately, he thinks the story and the people are recognizable to everyone.

“I hope it lets other people take note of (marriage equality) because I really do think it's an important story,” Koehler said. “It’s a universal story. Yeah, it has a local element, but to put human faces to the marriage equality movement is an important thing.”

Koehler, a Media Arts & Entertainment major at Elon, now works at Marshall Curry Productions in Brooklyn, N.Y. Curry is a renowned documentarian whose film “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011.

Dubendorf, also a Media Arts & Entertainment major at Elon, works as a story AP and field AP at Original Productions in Burbank, Calif. Original Productions produces reality television shows, such as “Storage Wars,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch.”

Both Koehler and Dubendorf were members of elondocs, Elon's documentary production program, while students.

The official synopsis for “Win or Lose” reads: “When a proposed constitutional amendment threatens the legitimacy of many North Carolina families, Brown takes up his camera to make a stand. He and a handful of friends set up photo shoots across the state to capture a portrait of unity in this inspiring story from the struggle for marriage equality. As he encourages change, Brown battles politicians, ignorance, and his own doubt. The day of the vote approaches, and Brown cannot help but fear he has not done enough to convince North Carolina to vote against Amendment One. Yet, win or lose, Brown takes comfort in the knowledge that, through his project, thousands have banded together in love and support.”

“Win or Lose” competed against the gold medal winning film from the a student at the University of Southern California and the silver medal winning film from a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Colin Donohue,
5/31/2013 10:00 AM