Many filmmakers dream of having their work screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The world watches each February as Park City, Utah’s Festival showcases new films and the artists behind the camera. Getting a film into Sundance is itself an achievement. For Department of Film & Media Arts alumnus Matt Porwoll, that achievement also includes the 2015 Sundance U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Cinematography for his work on the film “Cartel Land.” The film’s director Matthew Heineman also snagged the U.S. Documentary Directing Award. In addition to this win, Porwoll worked as an additional cinematographer on the Oscar winning documentary short film “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.”
Porwoll, who graduated in 2005, fondly remembers his time at the U. “The only way to truly learn anything is to try, fail, learn from your mistakes, and repeat. The Film Studies program allowed me to do just that. We had access to the equipment we needed to make our films, classes with structure that allowed creative freedom, and incredible professors that guided us along as we learned from our mistakes,” Porwoll said.
“Cartel Land” examines the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups in the Mexican state of Michoaćan and on the Arizona/Mexico border and their common enemy in the drug cartels. The filmmakers embedded themselves in the region to discover the new brand of justice enacted by these groups as an answer to institutional failings.
Continuing to tell stories through documentary film is Porwoll’s next step. “After making a film, the only thing you can hope for is that someone gives you the chance to do it again,” Porwoll said.
His advice to current students is to never give up. He noted, “The business can be extremely difficult. But it can surprise you! If you know you want to be a filmmaker, then don’t ever stop making films. Everything you make makes you better.”