GV Summer Film Project featured on Amazon Prime for first time


GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

Allison Rafferty

In 2019, Grand Valley State University’s Summer Film Project produced the film, “Driftless.” Fast forward to 2021 and for the first time in the Summer Film Project’s history, the film is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

GVSU’s Summer Film Project is a course designed to help students get professional experience in filmmaking. The project brings together students, faculty, and industry professionals to work together and create a new film each summer. 

Kim Roberts, professor of film and video production and the film’s executive producer, said the project is a fantastic way for students to get involved and get excited about their potential future careers. 

The Summer Film Project is a true immersion into filmmaking with hands-on, experiential learning,” Roberts said. There’s so much pride for our Summer Film Project because we have developed it to have maximum impact on student learning, teamwork, and creative problem-solving.”

Roberts said with each film comes its own unique challenges, providing students with the most realistic type of learning experience. 

Every film project is different so there is a great deal of creative problem-solving as challenges arise and teamwork to make sure every detail is handled with care and consideration,” Roberts said. “Our alumni often say that the Summer Film Project was the most valuable class they took while at GVSU.”

There were 50 GVSU students in total who played a part in the creation of “Driftless.” Half were involved in the production and the other 25 were a part of the post-production work. All of the students involved are credited for their work on the film on IMBd. 

In honor of GVSU’s annual Summer Film Project’s 25 year anniversary in 2019,  it was decided that the film would be feature-length instead of the usual short film. After lots of hard work, the film came out in 2020 and is a running total of 75 minutes long. 

“Driftless” tells the story of how the Park Rangers at Driftless State Park, led by Nova Abbey, protected the park and its visitors during a State Government shutdown on the 4th of July weekend. 

The idea for the film can be credited to John Philbin, a retired Department of Visual and Media Arts faculty member and the film’s co-writer and director, as it is based on one of his previous documentary films. 

“I made a documentary about Yosemite park rangers many years ago called ‘The Law of Nature’ and decided it would make a good fiction film,” said Philbin. 

The movie was also co-written by John Dufrense from Florida International University. Industry professionals who worked on the film include lead actress Monique Candelaria and producer Peter Hawley.

Roberts told GVNext that, “Hawley’s insight on industry trends was a key asset in pursuing a streaming opportunity.” 

Philbin said that the film was brought to Amazon by a distributor in Chicago called Cow Lamp Films and it took off from there. So far, “Driftless” can be found on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi, and will soon be available on other platforms as well. 

“This was the first GVSU Summer Film that was able to find a distributor,” Philbin said. “And once you find one, they do all the legwork to get the film streamed on various platforms and sell DVDs as well.”

Roberts said she is very happy with the direction the film is headed and hopes to use this route for future films as well. 

“It’s exciting to get the films out there beyond film festivals and we look forward to pursuing this as a means of distribution in the future,” said Roberts.