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Student-created documentary to be featured at prestigious international film festival

Housing First

Image from "Housing First" (photo by JR Smathers)

A documentary short film created by University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students will screen June 22 as part of the Frameline38 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

The film, titled "Housing First," is the third documentary produced by UW-Eau Claire students to be accepted into the festival — and the first to screen at one of the larger venues, San Francisco's Victoria Theatre.

"Housing First," which premiered locally at the Eau Queer Film Festival in October 2013, was produced by UW-Eau Claire seniors Nate Cooper, a journalism major from Rice Lake; Neil Robmann, a mathematics major from Madison; and JR Smathers, a liberal studies major from Altoona.

JR Smathers

UW-Eau Claire student JR Smathers filming the documentary. (Photo by Ellen Mahaffy)

Robmann and Smathers will attend the Frameline38 festival along with senior Jerrika Christianson, a liberal studies major from Eau Claire who is the director of this year's Eau Queer Film Festival.

"I was very excited about getting into Frameline," Smathers said. "It's going to be great to see our film on the big screen — and to get feedback from an audience that isn't just family and friends."

The 22-minute film addresses a current hot-button issue for San Francisco, the housing crisis, which disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community. The film questions San Francisco's reputation as a gay mecca — a place where people can come to feel safe and included as members of the gay community.

The documentary, which will screen as part of the Homegrown short film series, features longtime housing and community activists Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and Brian Basinger, co-founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance, who discuss the impact of homelessness on San Francisco's gay communities.

Cooper, Robmann and Smathers created the film as participants in UW-Eau Claire's 2013 women's studies immersion course "LGBTQA Studies: San Francisco Travel Seminar," led by Ellen Mahaffy, associate professor of communication and journalism, and Dr. Pam Forman, associate professor of sociology. The course was underwritten by a Blugold Commitment grant.

The Blugold Commitment is a student-supported differential tuition that helps fund programs and experiences that preserve and enhance the distinctive UW-Eau Claire educational experience.

In addition to shooting and editing a short film, students vet films at the Frameline festival for the Eau Queer Film Festival, experience San Francisco Pride events and meet with activists and filmmakers during the seminar.

Forman and Mahaffy's course will return in summer 2015 after a one-year hiatus with funding from a Blugold Commitment Domestic Intercultural Immersion grant. Applications for the course will be available during the fall 2014 semester.

The fifth annual Eau Queer Film Festival will be held from Sept. 24-28 in the Woodland Theater of UW-Eau Claire's Davies Center with support from a Blugold Commitment continuation grant and the University Activities Commission. 

For more information, contact Dr. Pam Forman at or Ellen Mahaffy at