Have you ever woken up one morning, turned to your best friend, and said, “Hey, let’s make a documentary?”
Jenna Meadows and Camryn Elias did just that.
The pair both graduated from College of Fine Arts summa cum laude last month with BFA degrees in Musical Theatre. Throughout their time at Arizona, they were seen on stage and screen several times. Their documentary, Under Way: The Next Generation of UA Artists serves as a love letter to the College of Fine Arts and its graduating class.
“It’s a short documentary-style film that features a different graduating senior from each school in the College of Fine Arts,” Meadows said. “It documents their experience and their four years at the university as well as some of their personal backstories and their opinions on why the arts are important.”
Both Meadows and Elias have made significant contributions to the College of Fine Arts. From serving on the graduation committee to hosting their own virtual cabaret, Tucson Tunes, both have left their mark on the college.
“We knew we wanted to do something more,” Elias said. “As a senior, it is your time shine. We wanted to provide a platform for seniors and allow everyone to hear their stories.”
And that they did. Throughout the course of the documentary, graduating seniors featured include Cali Poole (dance), Kevin Zuniga (photography), Brice Kimble (piano), Mandy Spartz (theatre), Atlas Woods-Smith (film), plus, the filmmakers, Meadows and Elias.
“It was so fun hearing everyone’s different backgrounds,” Elias said. “Mandy was almost going to be doctor and Brice is going to law school, so it was cool to hear everyone’s journey.”
The feat of producing a documentary could not have been done alone. Thanks to the collaborative nature of the College of Fine Arts, Meadows and Elias were able to find the right people for the job, like cinematographer Andy Zhao and editor Stephen Morand.
“Everything was definitely a learning experience,” Meadows said. “We were fortunate enough to find some really awesome students in the film school that were willing to work with us. They were so responsive and so great at taking our ideas and putting them into action.”
“We told them, ‘we don’t know anything. You are the magic that is making this happen,’” Elias said.
It’s no surprise that students in the College of Fine Arts are living and breathing their craft day in and day out. Both Meadows and Elias said that getting to hear what students in different majors are up to was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
“That’s what I loved most about working on this,” Meadows said. “After meeting all my fellow Wildcat artists, I realized that we think we’re busy, but then you hear from them and you know were all in it together.”
Elias said that learning about her colleague’s future plans and goals was eye opening.
“All five participants [in the documentary] have such different paths,” Elias said. “Either they are going off to do something that relates directly to their degree or it’s something that might revolve around their degree. There are so many different avenues that you can explore.”
Meadows observed that even though each artist is pursuing a different facet of art, they all have so many similarities.
“Art is very expansive,” Meadows said, “but artists really are a community.”
The documentary was made possible with a College of Fine Arts grant. The CFA Fund for Excellence supports students who go above and beyond to create their own work and tell their stories.
“I remember telling Jenna, ‘if we don’t get this grant, we cannot make this happen,’” Elias said. “[The grant] was completely necessary for the project to move forward.”
Meadows’ advice to current students is to find a project you are passionate about and apply for the grant.
“The College of Fine Arts was so generous,” Meadows said. “I wish I knew about this grant earlier.”
Both Meadows and Elias hope that anyone who watches their documentary notices how much the University of Arizona has impacted its students.
“I hope viewers are able to learn a little bit more about our students at the university,” Meadows said. “Everyone should be really excited about this next generation of emerging artists.”
Elias says she hopes the video reaches a wide spread of audience of all different backgrounds.
“I hope it not only reaches the College of Fine Arts population and University population, but I hope it reaches people who aren’t related to any type of arts,” Elias said. “I think it is really important to showcase the human behind the artist.”
“We also wanted to take the opportunity to showcase Arizona and the College of Fine Arts,” Meadows said. “It’s my belief that the College of Fine Arts is at the precipice of change and excitement. I am really excited for everyone to see it flourish.”
Perhaps one of the most touching parts of the documentary is getting to see what these artists are like when they are off the stage or out of the spotlight.
“You get to know what makes them the artist they are today,” Elias said. “You get to see how they are going to use what they’ve learned in school out in the world, and how they’re going to change the world with their films or their images or their songs.”
One of Meadow’s favorite moments was when photography student Kevin Zuniga spoke to the way that music inspired his photography.
“He talked about how a Mac Miller album inspired all of his pictures,” Meadows said. “The little ways that all of our art forms connect make everything a little bit extra special.”
While the two alumna’s heads were filled with the questions of, “Are we really doing this?” and “Are we even qualified to do this?” The final product of the documentary proves that yes, they did really do that.
“Everything that is in the documentary is student created and student led,” Elias said. “You are really getting to hear the student perspective which is exactly what we wanted.”
As both Meadows and Elias gear up to move to New York City, their documentary serves as the cherry on top of their four years at the University of Arizona.
“I think it was a great way to culminate our college experience,” Meadows said. “We got to reflect on everything we have accomplished and learned over our four years.”
Meadows said that even as seniors you are always learning new things. The current industry demands self-starters who are ready to create their own work and their own opportunities. After this project, Meadows and Elias are certified self-starters.
“As artists you can’t wait around for an opportunity to just appear,” Elias said. “Creating your own work is vulnerable and it is scary. This was the perfect way to learn how to be at the helm of that kind of project.”
“We got to wear all the hats,” Meadows said. “One day we were producers, directors, creative consultants, performers, all of the above.”