The Jim Chastain Award for Student Writing About and For Film

This award is named in honor of Jim Chastain, a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and a film critic committed to the highest standards of the profession. OFCC members inaugurated the Chastain Award in 2008 to celebrate their colleague’s lifelong passion for film as both viewer and reviewer. 

The award went in its first years to Oklahoma filmmakers presenting their work at DeadCENTER Film Festival. OFCC repurposed the award in 2017 to focus on writing about and for film and directed it toward students beginning work in those areas. 

The award of $500 will be presented annually to student work in writing about film or writing for film in tribute to Jim’s amazing spirit and strength in responding to the challenges of living with and battling cancer, with which he was diagnosed in 2001 and from which he died in December 2009.

Before and after his diagnosis, Jim, in addition to a significant body of film criticism, wrote screenplays, songs, poetry, feature stories and nonfiction books while working as a lawyer. Oklahomans know Jim’s story from his chronicle of it online; the film critics of Oklahoma know it from almost two decades of having him as a friend and colleague.

Winner of The Chastain Award 2017: Brandon Schmitz
Nominating Individual: Barbara Allen, Adviser, The O’Collegian, Oklahoma State University
Entry: "Kubo" Review, "Star Trek: Beyond" Review, "TMNT" Review, "X-Men Apocalypse" Review, Feature Article

Judge’s Comments
Schmitz's five reviews and feature on films made in OK are well written, intelligent and rooted in a broad knowledge of film and film genres. The feature provides a good look at the topic of films shot in Oklahoma with appropriate sourcing and good use of quotations. His work presents a depth of film knowledge and the ability to talk about a film with minimal plot summary and maximum focus on themes and the elements of filmmaking. It’s heartening to someone who wrote about film for commercial media for many years, who taught it for many more and who spends a great part of any given year at film festivals and in theaters around the country to read a young reviewer/critic who presents thoughts in a commercial medium but who strives to get beyond plot summary and thumbs up/thumbs down. 

Honorable Mention for The Chastain Award 2017: Christine Elliott
Nominating Individual: Professor Joshua Nelson, Director of Film and Media Studies, The University of Oklahoma
Entry: Not Your Pocahontas

Judge’s Comments
Elliott’s essay, titled “Not Your Pocahontas: Addressing the Issue of Sexual Violence through Films by Indigenous Women,” blends scholarship and close reading of a wide range of films. She has a clear point and supports it with both. She interrogates both Hollywood and Indigenous male independent filmmakers who contribute to stereotypical representations of Indigenous women. Her essay isn’t just an exploration: It’s a call to action and a cry of support for the women who strive to take back their own celluloid (metaphorically speaking these days) representation. I want to see the films she writes about. 

The Inaugural Year
OFCC members decided to start small with a pilot program in spring 2017. An informal call for entries among colleagues teaching in various film and media studies capacities in programs around the state garnered six entries, two from OSU and four from OU. 

This year’s winner was the only student writer working in the area of reviewing for mass media. All the other entries were scholarly essays, one of which was so compelling OFCC decided to present it with Honorable Mention and an award of $100. 

Below are the names, entry titles, university affiliations and judge’s comments for the other entries this year.

Amber Friend: “Alien: A High Culture Body Genre Film” (OU, Professor Man Fung Yip submitted)
Friend’s essay is really, really smart in its look at the classic film “Alien” through a different kind of scholarly/genre lens. Many intellectually compelling moments in this work, as Friend takes us through an explanation of “body genre” in all its complexity and then explores how “Alien” both represents and subverts it. She brings together scholarly thought on everything from the sets to the plot to reach her very believable conclusion.

Megan Verge: “Racial Anxiety through the Lens of a Camera: Get Out” (OU, Professor Ralph Beliveau submitted.)
Verge’s essay provides a smart look at one of this year’s most interesting films in terms of race and genre conventions: “Get Out.” The essay focuses on “signs, codes, lighting, camera angles and the genre itself” to explore how director/writer Jordan Peele explores racism as it exists in white liberalism and comedy as it works in the horror genre. She focuses on “four signs” she sees in the film to explore this. A good piece of student writing with several insights worth congratulations.

Ali Morrison: “Violence for Change” (OU, Professor Ralph Beliveau submitted.)
Morrison’s essay is an engaging new look at a film most might not think worthy of much more discussions, Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America.” She makes a good case for giving this film more credit than it might generally get by looking again on it as a critique of modern media and their negative impact on culture and individuals. While many of these points have been made before, Morrison does a good job of collating and taking these ideas to her own conclusions. That’s a good outcome for an essay, especially one written by an undergraduate.

Skyler Osborn: “ “The Correlative West: Comparative Philosophy and America’s First Genre (OSU, Professor Jeff Menne submitted.)
Osborn presents an impressive and intelligent study of the beginnings of the western film genre and its evolution through the lens of both the lens itself — how films are made — and what the lens is capturing as meaning. This critical essay, though at times tough going given its use of philosophical terminology, provides new ways of thinking about our oldest genre. In fact, OFCC’s other award, The Tilghman, is named in honor of the first documented filmmaker in Oklahoma, lawman Bill Tilghman, who made, of course, westerns. This work could be the beginnings of a master’s thesis. The focus comparing and contrasting Eastern and Western (in the much larger sense) thought in understanding the genre is smart. And the goals of the essay are well articulated, with a judicious and appropriate use of the first person. Nicely done.