Filmmaker Ashley Seering doesn’t skateboard, but she is drawn to the sense of community skaters share.
“They form relationships like a family. They are really tight-knit. They are open to diversity. I thought it would ring true as a film,” Seering said.
With her filmmaking partner Cory Byers, their Night Owl Productions in Edwardsville made two award-winning documentary short films on separate skating groups, “Sanctuary” (2017) and “Everything Will Be Forgotten” (2013).
Seering, a 2014 graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Mascoutah native, co-operates the film, video and photography company. She makes corporate and music videos, promotions and photos for businesses, individuals and organizations. Her clients include Stages St. Louis, Allstate, Coldwell Banker, and the Maryville Boxing Club.
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Byers, her co-director and co-producer, is an instructor in the mass communications department at SIUE.
Their latest effort, “Sanctuary,” is about a group of skaters who saved an abandoned church in north St. Louis from being torn down. Along the way, this second-chance renovation project fueled a community rebirth.
Entered in the 2017 Fusion Doc Challenge at the renowned Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January, “Sanctuary” was named Best Film and won for Best Cinematography. It has been on the festival circuit ever since.
Their first-place finish earned them a cash prize of $1,500 and an 18-month distribution deal with Fusion. The film will be shown on the company’s television and digital platforms.
“I stumbled onto this story, and it gave me an idea. But the guy I reached out to was picky. He didn’t want to draw public attention to the church because of vandalism. He was trying to keep it a secret. But I knew him, and he let us film there,” she said.
The derelict property was re-imagined as “SK8 Liborius.” The folks who refurbished the space collect donations from others who want to use it; skaters have created a bond.
“They are very committed to saving the city. They spent their own time and money. They provided labor,” she said.
St. Liborius Catholic Church was built in 1889 and is part of the St. Louis Place neighborhood. In 1975, the red brick Gothic church was named a city landmark, but the area’s decline had led the parish to close, and by 1993, interior items were auctioned. However, redevelopment that began in 2000 is giving the area new hope.
“This is a story that hasn’t been told. I was lucky they were happy to share their stories. I think it’s compelling, has good visuals and a good story. It looked like an awesome place to film,” she said.
Seering and Byers raised their profile through “The Heroin Project” documentary in 2015, winning acclaim and awards for their unflinching look at the heroin epidemic in Madison County. The award-winning “Renewed,” about an ex-con who restores furniture and works to repair his life, followed in 2016.
This year was the second time they took part in the Fusion Doc Challenge competition. The requirements are unique. Filmmakers have five days to produce their films from start to finish, but can chose their dates between August and November. The contestants were given the theme: “You’re not going to believe this, but…” and a genre.
This is a story that hasn’t been told. I was lucky they were happy to share their stories.
Fusion, a website devoted to social justice and news, is part of the Fusion Media Group, which is owned by Univision Communications Inc. FMG includes two cable TV channels and such digital platforms as Deadspin, the AV Club, The Onion and Gizmodo.
Seering said “Sanctuary” is one of three films she is submitting to the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, which takes place July 16-20. The annual event screens movies that were written, directed, edited, or produced by St. Louis natives, and features films with strong local ties.
Seering and Byers are past winners at the annual event. Last year, their documentary short “Renewed” won Best Documentary and Best Sound, and was invited to screen at the St. Louis International Film Festival.
Seering said she likes making documentaries because of the diversity of topics and the affordable cost.
Filming here instead of moving to Los Angeles is also a plus. “L.A. is so much more expensive. We are able to find interesting stories here,” she said.