Christenson won the 2011 Associate Colleges of the Twin Cities Student Film Festival - Best in Show award for this documentary.
Lots of students make 30-second YouTube videos in college, but how many make hour-long documentaries? That’s what James Christenson ’11 (Plymouth, Minnesota) did this year, producing the documentary Local Motives, which examines the politics and business of high-speed, commuter, and light-rail expansion in Minnesota.
Inspired by an urban geography class with veteran professor David Lanegran '63, Christenson did all the research for his film, along with the shooting, editing, and interviewing. He also wrote the Mellon Foundation grant that ultimately gained him $5,000 for a stipend and production expenses. He also earned two credits for the work he put in.
“I started off making silly movies with my friends in 8th grade,” says Christenson, a geography and political science major who is largely self-taught as a videographer. But after doing more videos in high school and college, including some music videos for local musicians and taking a class with media studies professor Clay Steinman, Christenson felt ready to take on a bigger project.
He ended up interviewing 40 people, including politicians, local residents, rail workers, and more. “One interview led to another and eventually I was talking to former U.S. Congressman Jim Oberstar,” he says. At the time Oberstar was one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, the longtime chair of the House Transportation Committee.
After five months of editing, which included recording a soundtrack written by his brother, Joe Christenson ’11, and multiple consultations with Steinman, the film was ready to be shown to a Macalester audience this spring. It has also had hundreds of views on the video-hosting website Vimeo, and Christenson hopes it will ultimately be shown at various film festivals; media studies professor John Kim is helping identify some appropriate ones.
“Documentary moviemaking is the most meaningful way for me to produce something that is both relevant to a broad audience and incorporates my interests,” says Christenson. “I got to work on a multidisciplinary academic project that is at the crossroads of journalism and my desire to artistically express myself.”