Documentary from professor to debut at SXSW

Scott Christopherson is exhausted.

He currently holds what feel like three full-time jobs. He is a professor at St. Edward’s, teaching Documentary Production, Video Production and Editing and Introduction to Communication. Most of the time, he goes home, puts his three kids to bed, and comes back to keep working. He is also running a Kickstarter page, trying to raise $50,000 by March 7.

But most exciting of all, he’s preparing for the premiere of his documentary film “Peace Officer” at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.

“Peace Officer” couldn’t have better timing.

The documentary, which is one of 10 films chosen out of 1,018 submissions to compete in the documentary category at SXSW, is about the issue of increasing militarization of police and officer- involved shootings in America, seen through the lens of a former sheriff, a man named William “Dub” Lawrence, who founded a SWAT team in the ‘70s only to see that same SWAT team kill his son-in-law 30 years later.

“We need to hear from the police, we need to hear from citizens, and figure out what’s the best way to confront or improve our society through, and film is kind of the catalyst for me that can help people maybe change policy if it needs to be changed,” Christopherson said.

Christopherson began directing, shooting and producing the film two and a half years ago, before he began teaching at St. Edward’s, and before cases like Michael Brown’s in Ferguson, MO began to dominate the media.

“I thought, my suspicions of this going on everywhere in the country were true. This is gonna help get our film into the daylight and let more people see it and realize that this is happening everywhere; that it’s not just happening in Ferguson, or with Eric Garner, or in other places. It’s happening everywhere, even in rural Utah,” Christopherson said.

Christopherson had been thinking about police shootings that seemed to be happening more frequently in his home state of Utah, and he decided this was a compelling story when Lawrence approached him after a softball game to tell Christopherson his story.

“I’m interested in the topic because it’s something that’s affecting a lot of people in our society and I think documentary is a way to improve discourse and change the way that people think about things,” Christopherson said.

Before “Peace Officer” premieres at SXSW, Christopherson is focusing on raising money through the documentary’s Kickstarter page.

“We have to cover a lot of costs that maybe people aren’t aware of, like publicity and marketing. I directed this with another professor (Brad Barber, a professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah). We’re just two professors, we don’t have a huge budget for getting the film out there. Making the film is one story, then we still have to pay off a lot of people that helped make it,” Christopherson said.

After the documentary premieres at SXSW, the ideal next step would be to sell the documentary. The sales agent for “Peace Officer,” Submarine, has represented popular documentaries like “Food, Inc.,” “Blackfish” and the 2013 Oscar Documentary Feature winner “Searching for Sugar Man.”

But a more personal goal Christopherson has for “Peace Officer” is to make a positive impact and bring about change.

“‘Peace Officer’ represents a great deal of work, and hopefully reflects my ability as an artist. I think more importantly, hopefully it will impact our nation, the globe, for the better. Maybe change policies so that we can save more lives, both police officer and citizens. That would be ideal: if a film like this could help improve the culture that exists for everybody. A tool for change,” Christopherson said.

As for his advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers, Christopherson says to just go for it.

“You don’t have to wait around for someone to tell you to do something. If there’s something you think is really good and you’re passionate about it, then move forward with it. For me, I pursued that idea, however unusual it was, and it worked out. And it’s kind of miraculous.”