You can almost smell the coffee in student filmmaker Oneal Latimore's 3-minute documentary.
As his digital camera trails Jared Rennie, founder of Noble Coffee Roasting, it captures behind-the-scenes action of organic beans being roasted and brewed or bagged and delivered.
Woven into the footage from the Ashland coffee house and roastery are photographs of farms in Colombia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica where the beans are grown. Finally, the high-definition camera closes in on a steaming latte with a cream-created image of a leaf.
Latimore's film is one of eight made by students enrolled in Southern Oregon University's Emerging Media & Digital Arts program, or EMDA. The collection of original films, all tied to the theme Follow the Food, premieres at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, April 4-8.
This is the first time the 12-year-old festival has officially linked with SOU's students. The partnership to display new forms of digital and interactive storytelling is sponsored by the Governor's Office of Film and Television, Ashland-based website developer Project A, the Portland Incubator Experiment and Second Story Interactive Studios in Portland.
Bobby Arellano, the energetic director of SOU's Center for Emerging Media, oversaw students during the 10-week-long project, which is billed as a "multi-part transmedia showcase."
He says the films will be continuously played on notebook-size tablets in Ashland restaurants and shops during the festival and at the Opening Night Bash at the Ashland Springs Hotel on April 4. There, student directors will be with their subjects — artisan bread-, cheese- and wine makers.
"Edited short teasers will soon be making the rounds on mobile devices and there is a Follow the Food app," says Arellano, adding that posters will have QR codes and there will be ways to share information over Twitter and Facebook.
"It will be a media meltdown," he says.
In addition to screenings, there will be a chance to meet filmmakers at 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 7 at the hotel as they discuss storytelling through film, photography, music and performance art.
Latimore, a visual anthropologist major, says he used film tools to study and capture the culture of food and wine in much the same way anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey focused on early man, Margaret Mead researched human sexual behavior and Jane Goodall scrutinized chimps.
His goal is to "help people tell their stories to other people that they may never meet."
After he graduates from SOU next year with a bachelor of science degree in anthropology with minors in education and EMDA, Latimore, 33, would like to film military veterans, allowing them to open up to themselves and others about buried trauma.
Unflinchingly, he has aimed his lenses on difficult subjects.
When he was 18, he was a member of the U.S. Army's Old Guard who escorted family members during burials at Arlington National Cemetery.
He says he wants to use the video medium to "assist in a variety of therapeutic, functional and innovative ways." Holding a camera on someone's eyes conveys a silent, but powerful message, he says.
For the Follow the Food assignment, he turned his lenses not only on the coffee process but also what it takes to grow organic wine grapes. His subject was grower Terry Sullivan, who nurtures six acres of vines in Talent.
Sullivan was interviewed on camera while mundanely pulling pruned canes from his vineyard on a foggy winter day. Yet, he remembers the experience as engaging and looks forward to seeing the final product during the film festival.
"It's great," he says, "that they are talking about what is unique about this region: art, food, wine. It's why people come here."
AIFF executive director Anne Ashbey says putting video cameras into students' hands, regardless of their future career, can help them convey a better story in today's media-driven world.
"Effective storytelling is an asset to any career or profession, and visual storytelling particularly so," says Ashbey, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in documentary film production from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
"Student filmmakers learn the art and craft of weaving together dialogue, music and pictures to create compelling stories that communicate and engage audiences," she says. "Whether the ultimate career is in marketing or journalism or visual anthropology — or a host of other disciplines — these are powerful and very relevant skills to possess. Who doesn't warm up to a good story?"
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email@example.com