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Student storyteller brings film festival to Eau Claire

| Samantha West

When she made the decision to return to school at the age of 26, Heather Harkins knew she wished to study something creative.

From the day she was born, she felt as if she were seeking stories, and eventually she began to tell her own. She wanted to spend her time indulging her creative and imaginative nature with her studies.

So, Harkins came to UW-Eau Claire as a nontraditional student studying creative writing, and she has now completed her fourth semester with hopes of obtaining her master’s and doctorate after graduating from UWEC in December 2017. Harkins hopes to someday become a professor of literature.

“(Stories) have been a part of my life from the day I was born," Harkins said. "I was lucky to not only have a mother who enjoys reading for pleasure, but to inherit that trait from her. Most of my childhood memories involve stories in some way: sitting under a giant giraffe with a book in my lap at my hometown’s public library, going to the movie theater with my stepdad when Jurassic Park was released, listening as my grandfather told me about his experiences during World War II. I collected stories the way others might collect baseball cards or those kitschy souvenir spoons. Eventually, I began to weave my own tales. … The passion for stories has spilled over into all aspects of my life,” she said.

Not only has her passion for storytelling spilled over into her studies, but they have also spilled over into her volunteer work.

“For the last two years I have been learning the ins and outs of video production through my volunteer work at Chippewa Valley Community Television here in Eau Claire, where I have gained a foundation of new skills and knowledge for me to build upon in order to interact with and share stories in new ways.”

CTV is a local nonprofit public access media center that provides creative and educational opportunities for people of any age to improve their media literacy and learn video production skills so that their imaginations can come to life on screen.

Her work at CTV led to her leading Another Independent International Film Festival with two Blugold alumni, Aaron Rigby and Olaf Lind.

After another film festival she was volunteering with in Bayfield fell through, Harkins thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring a film festival to Eau Claire as a fundraiser for CTV, and in November 2015, more than two dozen, highly varied films from around the world were showcased at Micon Cinema in downtown Eau Claire as part of the festival.

“For me, sharing these films with my local community is a joy," Harkins said. "We can learn so much by opening ourselves up to the perspectives of other cultures; these films are representative of their values and their dreams. I think they help audiences see that people aren’t so different, even if their language, food or clothing is. Our city is one that has placed a high value on local culture; we support our artists, musicians, comedians, small businesses, independent eateries and farmers with gusto. Thanks to the university we have a large population of young people here that are encountering our community, and the world it exists in, on their own. These interactions will be a part of shaping them, so I believe it is important that the opportunity to expand their horizons without an expensive plane ticket be made available. Thankfully, other students seem to agree with me. Since AIIFF began last year, we’ve had students volunteering their time to help us sort through the film submissions, create and distribute promotional materials, and work at the event’s ticket booth.”

The festival is now in its second year, and will be screening films Sept. 8-10.