A Yeti Film Fest winner looks back
With the Yeti Film Festival set for this evening, Feb. 15th, as part of UMD’s Out Cold Week, the Statesman is taking a look back with former first prize winner, David Cowardin.
Since the position was created five months ago, Cowardin has been working for the school as its official video producer, making advertisements and other videos for the school’s social media sites.
In addition to his work for the school, Cowardin is already a self-published author, an award winning photojournalist, and continues his work for Duluth Outdoors (an online publication for local outdoor enthusiasts) and Call Me Mental (an online campaign he helped launch in 2014 to de-stigmatize mental illness through digital storytelling).
While attending college, Cowardin was a dual-major in English and Journalism. He also served as editor in chief for the UMD Statesman in 2010.
“It was definitely like baptism by fire, and it was a lot of fun,” Cowardin said. "I think I learned an equal amount from that experience as I did from all of my classwork.”
It was during this time in Feb. 2011, that Cowardin submitted one of his first video projects to the Yeti Film Festival. The audience found themselves charmed as, through the film, they were introduced to Doug Dunham, a 72-year-old computer science professor, and his drive to remain physically active in old age.
“It was a journalistic piece, so I was a little bit nervous when I submitted it,” Cowardin said. “But it ended up winning because people liked the character.”
Cowardin had chosen Dunham as a topic because he’d noticed him running around the track at school and figured that there must be a story behind it. After approaching Dunham, Cowardin found that he was more than happy to share that story.
“A lot of stuff I do just starts like that, from general conversations with people and observations,“ he said.
A St. Cloud native, Cowardin had originally only come to Duluth to study. Instead, he fell in love with the city through his passion for the outdoors and decided to stay following graduation. In his senior year in 2012 he began working for WDIO as a cameraman while doing his own freelance work on the side.
“It was kind of a hard decision because it can be hard to find work in Duluth, so I kind of had to create that for myself,” he said. “It was definitely a grind, but I love the city and I'm glad that I stuck it out.”
After graduating in 2012, Cowardin and his friend, a freelance photographer named John Olivieri, made a documentary titled “Roots of Rescue”. For the film, the two traveled by van with just a few hundred dollars and video equipment to document animal rescue efforts in rural Alabama, where dog fighting and animal cruelty are a way of life.
“I knew I wanted to create a documentary as my own kind of grad school. Long-form journalism wasn't really something I had done before, but I knew I wanted to do it,” said Cowardin. “So I decided to just dive right in and go for it.”
By “dive right in,” Cowardin was also referring to his and Olivieri’s relative inexperience with film making at the time.
“We shot on different frame rates, didn't color correct and all these things that you should probably know how to do when you're making a documentary,” he said. “There’s a lot that when I look back to it I just cringe at, but I think what I took away was that story’s what matters, and that's where you should really start.”
Cowardin would later write about his experience with making the film for a book titled “Down South Justice,” which he self-published in January 2016.
With all of this experience behind him, Cowardin’s advice to young filmmakers was to not let perfectionism get in the way of enjoying their work.
“As artists, I think we all have this tendency to over critique our work,” he said. “Just enjoy the process of it, and learn from every new project. That's the most important thing.”
This year’s Yeti Film Festival—the promotional video for which was produced by Cowardin—will be held in the Kirby Garage at 6:00 pm tonight.
Kevin Adah, event organizer, says the event will feature 10 short films made by students with an assortment of smaller trivia contests between them. There will be a total of $500 in gift cards that will be awarded to the night’s winners