Film & New Media students attend SXSW Film & TV Festival for world premiere of ‘Jedo’s Dead’

Eight young filmmakers visited the prestigious festival to see new films, mingle with industry professionals, and celebrate the success of the Interlochen Cinema Collective’s inaugural project.

Three Film & New Media students pose in front of a yellow step-and-repeat.

Film & New Media students Sarah Wang (left), Ellen Denzin (center) and Meredith Farnsley (right) at SXSW.

In March, eight Interlochen Arts Academy Film & New Media students traveled to Austin, Texas for the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival.

The trip was catalyzed by the success of the Interlochen Cinema Collective’s inaugural film, “Jedo’s Dead,” which made its world premiere as part of the festival’s Texas Shorts program. All eight students who attended SXSW served as production assistants for the film.

“When we started the Cinema Collective meetings, the ‘win’ was just that faculty and alumni could workshop screenplays and pitch new story ideas with one another,” said Interlochen Center for the Arts Director of Film & New Media Michael Mittelstaedt. “More amazing was being able to develop production—let alone that the film we produced was accepted to SXSW.”

Celebrating “Jedo’s Dead”

Attendees gather outside the Rollins Theatre before the Texas Shorts Program

Attendees gather outside the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center before the Texas Shorts Program on Friday, March 8.

The Interlochen cohort kicked off their SXSW experience by attending the world premiere of “Jedo’s Dead” at the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center on Friday, March 8.

“It was a full house—sold out,” Mittelstaedt said. “We were one of the very few narrative projects in our category, so it was really cool to see our work in the midst of a number of documentaries, experimental shorts, and a few other narratives.”

For Mittelstaedt and the young filmmakers, the screening was an opportunity to see “Jedo’s Dead” through fresh eyes.

“We had a live audience of people who have no connection to Interlochen, so they were giving us authentic responses to the dramatic moments,” Mittelstaedt said. “There were also some unexpected responses. There were times when there were some laughs, which I think is because the themes inside of that film are so heavy that in the moments that were lighter, there was some relief.”

Following the premiere, the students had the chance to stand and be acknowledged for their contributions to the film.

“Our students were an unusual demographic at the festival, because there were really no other films in which high school students participated as crew members,” Mittelstaedt said. “They got to be recognized for that, which was a beautiful thing.”

A ‘candy store’ for filmmakers

Beyond the premiere, the Academy students were able to explore a wide selection of the festival’s programming.

“It was like a candy store,” Mittelstaedt said. “Because of the passes our students had, they could go to panels and see premieres, and they really did it up well. A good portion of them were seeing two world premieres each night. They also had the chance to sit in the old Paramount Theatre—which seats like 1,200 people—and to have that feeling of community that we don’t have as often anymore when we go to the movies.”

In addition to seeing new films, students were also able to gain perspectives from working television and film professionals.

“We went to a couple of panels together, including one with some of the showrunners for Reservation Dogs and a really interesting conversation with NBC Universal’s comedy vice presidents,” Mittelstaedt said. “Our students got to ask questions of people they admire. It was just phenomenal.”

Some students, such as senior Lindsey Levine, were even able to meet one-on-one with industry leaders.

“Lindsey ended up getting into a mentor session as a standby, and had—and I don’t think this is an exaggeration—a good 15 to 20 minutes with one of the vice presidents of Universal Comedy,” Mittelstaedt said. “Whether or not that leads to something tangible, just having that conversation and that access to someone to talk about her ideas, her pilots, and the shows she likes is remarkable.”

An unexpected success

Michael Mittelstaedt and Sara Nimeh pose in front of a yellow step-and-repeat banner

Michael Mittelstaedt (left) and “Jedo’s Dead” director/writer Sara Nimeh (right) attend the second screening of the Texas Short Program on March 11.

Mittelstaedt and the Arts Academy students closed their time at the festival by attending the second screening of “Jedo’s Dead” on Monday, March 11—this time joined by several of the film’s professional collaborators, including director of photography Shane Bagwell (IAA 15-17), gaffer Zach Clark; and assistant director Ariel Ortiz.

Although the group departed on Tuesday, the excitement of SXSW wasn’t quite over.

“On Wednesday morning, our director, Sara [Nimeh] (IAC 00-06, IAA 06-08), wrote to me and said, ‘We’re thinking of going back up because it’s awards night. What do you think?’” Mittelstaedt recalled. “I said, ‘It can’t hurt. Who knows what will happen, and it will be nice to be in that space to support the other filmmakers.’ That night, I’m sitting on my couch at home and someone sends me a live feed of Sara up on stage at the Paramount Theater accepting the jury award for our short.”

Mittelstaedt describes the film’s remarkable success as “a series of unexpected events.”

“We made a really great short film, but at no point did we expect this out of ‘Jedo’s Dead’,” Mittelstaedt said. “I imagined the film going to regional film festivals and getting some exposure—but I never expected it to premiere and win an award at one of the largest and most notable film festivals in the U.S.”

“Jedo’s Dead” has since appeared at other film festivals—including the Minnesota Film Festival, where it won Best Narrative Short. The film is scheduled to screen at the Atlanta Film Festival (May 3) and Maryland Film Festival (May 3 and 4), with additional festival appearances pending.

“This film has developed a bit of a life of its own,” Mittelstaedt said. “It’s amazing to get to share it with people we hadn’t anticipated being able to share it with.”