A short documentary produced by two Edwardsville residents is one of 12 finalists in an international film competition.
Ashley Seering and Cory Byers will travel to Park City, Utah, next week to see the premiere of “Renewed” at the Slamdance Film Festival. They entered it in the Fusion Doc Challenge last October.
“(Organizers) give you five days to write, shoot and edit the film,” said Ashley, 24. “They give you a theme and a genre that you have to stick to."
The competition theme was “move forward,” and Ashley and Cory chose the genre “character study.” The documentary is about 7 minutes long.
Ashley is a freelance videographer and recent Southern Illinois University Edwardsville graduate who operates Night Owl Productions. Cory teaches mass communications at SIUE.
The documentary focuses on Guy Long, 43, a former prison inmate who got his life back on track with help from a St. Louis internship program. Today, he builds and restores furniture at a shop called Anew Nature.
“(The filmmakers) did a fantastic job,” Guy said. “The documentary they did ... It looks like something off TV. I cried when I saw it.”
About 60 films were entered in the Fusion Doc Challenge. Three top winners out of 12 finalists will receive $3,500 in cash prizes on Jan. 24.
“It gives filmmakers a chance to get their names out there and get their films out there,” said Kate Truesdell, spokesman with The Audience Awards, which sponsors the competition.
Slamdance is held in Park City at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival. It generally features less-established, up-and-coming filmmakers.
Fusion Doc finalists also will screen at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February in Missoula, Mont., and travel around to the filmmakers’ hometowns.
Anew Nature is a custom furniture and restoration shop near Missouri Botanical Garden. It participates in a Mission: St. Louis internship program, helping “at-risk” men gain social and occupational skills.
“I only take felons who have been in jail more than four years,” said owner Robert Karleskint, 27. “These are the guys who are least likely to get jobs in St. Louis.”
Guy was arrested at 16 for selling cocaine. He spent five years in jail, started a family and worked minimum-wage jobs before being charged in connection with seven bank robberies in 1997 and serving another 10 years.
Guy later earned a chef’s degree but didn’t find a job in that field. He became a stay-at-home dad and periodic mechanic.
Guy started working at Anew Nature two years ago. After he completed the internship program, Robert hired him as full-time shop manager.
“I like hands-on work, and I like coming to work,” said Guy, who has five daughters ages 22 to 6 months. “It keeps me from running in the streets and picking up my old habits.
“I’ve done a 360-degree turn,” he said. “Now if someone is involved in criminal activity, I run the other way. I don’t even buy bootleg CDs.”
Robert liked the way the documentary turned out and appreciated the publicity for his small business. He admitted to being more camera-shy than Guy.
“I ain’t never been nervous,” Guy said. “I’ve got a knack for that kind of thing. One of the ladies at my church told me I had a calling as a pastor.”
Ashley and Cory have been working together since 2011 on short films, commercials and music videos. Last year, they produced “The Heroin Project,” a 53-minute documentary on heroin addiction in Madison County.
“Renewed” was another labor of love for Ashley, who believes society too quickly “throws away” people who make mistakes in their lives.
“Our documentary is basically about how restoring furniture has helped (Guy) restore his life,” she said. “It shows why second chances are important.”