Skip to body


CWU Students are Finalists in International Documentary Challenge

Group photo of students and Dave and Evelyn Jones

Five film and video students at Central Washington University in Ellensburg are headed to Toronto this week for the world premiere of their seven-minute documentary. The short film, “Spirit of the West,” was produced over five days and is one of 12 that made the final cut in the International Documentary Challenge. At least 120 films from all over the world were entered in the contest.

The crew, made up of Johnathan Benson, Dylan Hubber, Seth Lonborg, Emily Meyer and Kevin O’Donnell, was sponsored by Jon Ward, a film and video studies lecturer at CWU and owner of Clearwater Studios in Ellensburg. Ward has been a finalist in the International Documentary Challenge, or Doc Challenge, twice before and has won the contest once.

“I was there to offer support,” Ward said. He provided equipment, helped the crew brainstorm, and offered editing advice.

In the Doc Challenge filmmakers have five days to make a nonfiction film between four and seven minutes long. This year’s challenge was from February 26-March 2. The content is dictated by genres and a theme that aren’t revealed to the filmmakers until the challenge begins. The top 12 films, picked by a panel made up of experienced directors, producers, filmmakers, professors, and other industry professionals, premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto on May 1. The winners are announced after the premiere.

The CWU team’s short documentary takes place at the Spirit Therapeutic Riding Center southeast of Ellensburg. Each student was assigned a position. Meyer was producer and interviewer, Seth Lonborg was the director, Kevin O’Donnell was director of photography, and Johnathan Benson and Dylan Hubber were editors. And every member of the team shared roles, such as operating the camera and audio equipment.

The team uploaded the final product with one hour to spare. Two weeks passed before the crew was notified of its finalist status. They’ve all booked airfare to Toronto and rented an apartment two blocks from the theater where their film will premiere.

More than 20 awards will be handed out at Hot Docs. The grand-prize winner receives $1,000 and free registration in next year’s Doc Challenge. The final films also are considered for national broadcast on PBS and will be screened on a festival circuit.

A separate component of the Doc Challenge is “the making of” contest where Doc Challenge participants upload a separate short film that is a behind-the-scenes cut of the five-day filmmaking process. To get a sense of what it was like for the CWU team to compete in the Doc Challenge, watch their behind-the-scenes video at Search for Spirit of the West.

PHOTO: Dave and Evelyn Jones, sitting center, pose for a photo with Central Washington University film and video students (from left) Kevin O'Donnell, Dylan Hubber, Seth Lonborg, Emily Meyer, and Johnathan Benson at the Spirit Therapeutic Riding Center in Ellensburg. Dave and Evelyn Jones own and operate the riding center, which was the subject of the students' short documentary, "Spirit of the West," which is a finalist in the International Documentary Challenge and will premiere Thursday in Toronto.

Media contact: Barb Arnott, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-2841,

April 29, 2014