Three documentaries. Three alumni directors. One University.
Season 4 of the always fascinating First Time Fans film series debuted on Notre Dame’s UND.com website February 28. A truly unique production model, First Time Fans brings together Notre Dame alumni filmmakers and pairs them with current students to tell inspiring stories about extraordinary people on an extraordinary campus.
A joint venture of the College of Arts and Letters, the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, and the Athletics Department, First Time Fans is a filmmaking co-op where alumni are given the creative canvas to tell a Notre Dame story through the eyes of someone new to campus, using the backdrop of a Fighting Irish athletic event.
Part Reality TV. Part Fantasy Island. Pure Documentary.
First Time Fans celebrates the talents of many successful Notre Dame alumni currently working in the film and television industry. The season’s first film, Legacy, follows three remarkable African-American couples, including Heisman runner-up Rocket Ismail, as they reunite on campus to teach their children about faith, perseverance, and Notre Dame football.
Legacy director Christine Swanson (’94), an award-winning feature film director, has worked with such stars as Morgan Freeman, Debbie Allen, and Renee Elise Goldsberry. But Legacy gave her a rare chance to work with longtime friends she met as a student at Notre Dame.
“Making First Time Fans was a nostalgic walk down memory lane with my former classmates as the subject, my husband and ND grad (Michael Swanson) as the producer, and my former ND professor (Ted Mandell) as the executive producer. Every aspect of putting it together was so much fun. It was also a pleasure working with Notre Dame students who are the next generation of storytellers. Always curious, always reliable, now that’s ND!”
One of those students was senior Geralyn Smith ('18), who endured a rainy weekend of filming without missing a beat.
“Working on the Legacy film was an incredible experience as a student because it allowed me to see the process of making a documentary firsthand, while also giving me the chance to connect with alumni and hear about their lives at Notre Dame. I worked on this film as a Production Assistant, which meant that I stayed with the crew and helped them with whatever immediate needs they might have had. This ranged from carrying equipment, keeping track of the families, to even helping one of the cameramen check into his flight for the next day.”
“Of course, my favorite task by far was driving the golf cart. It was a particularly rainy weekend so I was charged with getting people to different shooting locations while keeping them as dry as possible (which was not easy). When I wasn't driving the cart, I was watching the magic happen. Christine Swanson's natural talent for directing and staying ten steps ahead of every shot made me proud to be a part of this production. I also felt so welcomed by the other alums who were more than happy to share their stories of Notre Dame. I saw where our experiences diverged and intersected and, above all else, I was reminded of how the bonds that we make here can last throughout our entire lives.”
On March 20, El Primero, directed by Javi Zubizarreta (’11), tells the story of AnBryce scholar Armando Sanchez (’20), a first generation student who gets the surprise of his lifetime. Despite being on campus for two years, Armando has never been able to share the beauty of Notre Dame with his parents…until they magically show up at the grotto on a football gameday.
Zubizarreta is currently the senior producer at Notre Dame’s newest media venture, Grotto Network, and El Primero fits well with Grotto’s faith-inspired content.
“I am so thankful that First Time Fans gave us the chance to tell Armando Sanchez's story. His experience as a first-generation college student from a Mexican-American family is an absolute inspiration and so important to lift up in today's world. To be able to surprise him with his family and a whirlwind day of Notre Dame sights and sounds was just a total joy.”
"From start to finish, working with Notre Dame students to create El Primero was an absolute blast. Their energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to crew through a miserable downpour made the whole experience so worthwhile. It was wonderful to see the next wave of FTT creatives so engaged in the craft.”
Kelsie Kiley (’12) directs the third film in this year’s installment, Monique and the Loyal Daughters (debuting April 18). Hollywood actress Monique Coleman, star of the Disney franchise High School Musical (a childhood treasure for many current ND students) spoke to a packed LaFortune Ballroom of almost entirely female students, discussing the courage to face sexual assault. The next day she worked with acting students in a FTT musical theatre class, and then witnessed the empowering world of Muffet McGraw and the ND women’s basketball team as they took on Virginia Tech.
Kiley brought an all-female crew to campus for the film, including former FTT classmate Megan Kozak (’13). The crew was familiar to Kiley, who is a producer for Jax Media, a New York-based production company responsible for such hit shows as Broad City (Comedy Central), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS), and the new revival of Roseanne (ABC), which Kiley coordinated as the show’s producer.
“It was a surreal experience to be back on the Notre Dame campus,” she noted. “Our film about the women's basketball team opened doors for us to meet with a plethora of strong, smart, and resilient women and men throughout the campus, including the talented cast of FTT's upcoming musical Spring Awakening. Something that will never cease to amaze me is the immense support of the Notre Dame family, and the willingness of students, faculty and staff to be open to others seeking to explore it. It was a blessing to be able to share that feeling with our First Time Fan, Monique Coleman, and I hope that we will be able to share it with many others through our short film available on UND.com this April.”
FTT senior Amanda Pilarski ('18) assisted Kiley’s crew every step of the way.
“Working on the First Time Fans documentary was an incredible experience for me, particularly because of the team and the project's subject matter. I know it's rare in the entertainment industry to have the opportunity to work with an all-female crew, and I could not have asked for a better group of women to work with and learn from. Watching them do their jobs so well, listening to Monique speak so thoughtfully on women's issues, and watching the very talented women's basketball team play and support one another was an empowering experience to me as a young woman, as a student, and as a filmmaker.”
“I walked away from it with a renewed sense of community with my school and with my gender, and a hope that the kind of sexism we are seeing in the news is being stamped out by the kind of powerful, smart women I had the privilege to get to know during this project.”
You can watch this year’s trio of First Time Fans films, and the previous three seasons, at und.com/FirstTimeFans.