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Coming Full Circle

Honors alumnus and renowned filmmaker brings his passion into the classroom.

How cool would it be to study Indiana Jones in a college class?

Honors College students in Zack Godshall’s “Religion and Film” course get to do just that. But “Raiders of the Lost Ark” isn’t the best part — the students get to study under an award-winning screenwriter and director whose film was named an Official Selection at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Zack Godshall, LSU’s current Screenwriter in Residence, is an Honors College alumnus who currently teaches three classes at LSU. His latest documentary, “God’s Architects,” won him the distinction of being named 2009 Louisiana Filmmaker of the Year at the New Orleans Film Festival.

“I had this little dream about film, but before my sophomore year (of college), I thought it was a more abstract pursuit,” Godshall said. “My Honors College professor recommended that I take a screenwriting class … and the light just came on after that.”

Godshall said he was initially attracted to the Honors College because of its liberal arts focus.

“The Honors College offered me the chance to get the kind of education I had in mind: cross-discipline, smaller classes … and personal interaction with the professors.”

“Religion and Film” is the third Honors course Godshall has taught in his four years as a professor at LSU.

“I like the small class size, (and) I like the discussion-based nature of the classes,” he said. “It’s nice because I can teach a class that’s totally designed to my liking, so I’m really challenged to examine the subject matter.”

The thirty-year-old Lafayette native majored in English at LSU and went on to graduate from film school at UCLA, thanks to the guidance of his professors.

 “My film professor Rick Blackwood, … brought this foreign concept of making films down to earth and something that I could do, as opposed to something in another realm,” he said.

Years later, the same professor who sparked Godshall’s interest in screenwriting helped him get his current position at LSU.

“I was in touch with (Blackwood) over the years, said Godshall. “He worked it out so I could teach his classes while he was gone for a year … he ended up taking another year off and I taught for a second year. So it started out as almost an accident.”

Godshall said he was drawn to filmmaking for its storytelling aspect, and that he came back to Louisiana for its stories.

“I’ve always felt like a storyteller, even since I was young,” he said. “Every time I would visit, my imagination was always captured by the people and places … It’s the most unique place I’ve ever lived — I just I feel inspired here.”

“Low and Behold,” Godshall’s first feature-length film, was the first film by a Louisiana filmmaker selected to Sundance since 1989. Released in 2007, it tells the story of an insurance claims adjuster in post-Katrina New Orleans who risks his job to help a stranger find his lost dog.

Filmed on location only months after the storm, the low-budget documentary won awards at film festivals across the country, including Best Film at the New Orleans Film Festival, Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and the Bend Film Festival.

“God’s Architects,” his most recent documentary, tells the stories of five men who have created divinely-inspired castles, towers and mountains — without any funding or blueprints.

“Documentaries are great because you’re attracted to something, but you really don’t know where it’s going to end,” said Godshall. “I didn’t know what these guys were going to say or do.

The film, which tells the story of each artist’s inspiration, was awarded the Juror’s Choice Award at the Tupelo Film Festival and the Acadiana Filmmaker of the Year prize at the Acadiana Film Festival.

Godshall said he tried to tell the story in a way that celebrated the artists and their works. 

 “I try not to defame people,” he said. “Some people don’t care — they want to make something shocking or disturbing. I think it was interesting to find something inspiring and dignified in a place where you wouldn’t normally look … For me it’s important to tell the story in the way it needs to be told.”

“Lord Byron,” Godshall’s third feature film, is slated to be finished by the end of the year. Shot in Lafayette, it is the fictional story of a middle-aged man who decides to make something of his life. Godshall said he’s also finishing a short film and adapting a novel by David Madden, who taught at the University for over forty years.

In the meantime, Godshall will continue to teach his students everything he has learned about filmmaking.

“(You have to) listen and be receptive and let go of preconceived ideas, to be guided in certain ways, and allow things to happen,” he said.

 

Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College

For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831