ST. GEORGE – On Thursday morning before most people were awake, all of Hollywood was abuzz as nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced. Though that world may seem far away, one St. George native and documentary filmmaker joined his colleagues in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, receiving an Oscar nod for his documentary short film: “White Earth.”
J. Christian Jensen grew up in St. George attending Washington County schools since kindergarten, he said. A graduate of both Snow Canyon High School and Dixie State College (now University), Jensen said his interest in filmmaking was sparked in high school when he found an old home video camera that belonged to his parents.
“I used to go out and make silly videos with my friends,” Jensen said.
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(“White Earth” trailer courtesy of Christian Jensen)
His passion for storytelling continued with an interest in journalism and a desire to create what Jensen called “traditional Hollywood films.”
Jensen dabbled in filmmaking, he said, participating in regional film festivals before realizing that his true passion was in documentary films which combined both journalism and drama.
Jensen went on to attend Brigham Young University, learning about and working in almost every production role possible, he said. His path as a documentarian was sealed when, while at BYU, he directed a film in Brazil titled “Sou da Bahia,” Jensen said, stating that the film really allowed him to explore the poetic and artistic aspects of his filmmaking, aspects that persist throughout his work today.
After BYU Jensen attended Stanford University’s Documentary Film Program where he received his Master of Fine Arts.
His film “White Earth” has garnered awards and been screened all over the country, including at Southern Utah’s premier film festival, DocUtah, where he received a Raven Award for Best Director.
The movie follows the oil boom in North Dakota but, as movie promotions say, “through unexpected eyes;” primarily through the eyes of three different children and one immigrant mother.
“The story is told from the unexpected perspective of children and an immigrant mother, who have come up there as sort of an afterthought with husbands and fathers,” Jensen said. “It is through these outsider voices that you get a mosaic of voices about the oil boom.”
Jensen said he was particularly interested in the viewpoint of the children because they were so honest yet so naîve at the same time.
Though the perspectives are unique, the movie becomes even more powerful thanks to Jensen’s ability to capture the images of North Dakota’s harsh winter landscape in vivid detail.
“The movie is really powerful because of the vivid imagery, everything can be seen as a metaphor,” Jensen’s high school friend Peter Stark said. “The words don’t need to be complicated; and because they came from children, the combination of the innocent commentary and vivid imagery helps you appreciate it on many levels.”
Stark has been following the film’s success since it screened at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, he said, and he also attended a screening with Jensen during the Student Academy Awards.
Though he has seen “White Earth” receive all sorts of accolades, Stark said, he is still really excited for his friend to be nominated and recognized by the academy.
Jensen was put on a short list of other Oscar contenders in October, he said, adding that he was honored and a bit surprised to have made it this far given the caliber of the filmmakers in his category.
“Other contenders in my category were really strong, I honestly didn’t expect to make it past the short list,” Jensen said. “I didn’t wake up for the announcement. My dad called me in the morning saying ‘you did it.’”
Despite the honor, Jensen said that the most gratifying part is the reaction he has received from his family and friends who have supported him throughout the film’s process and success, adding a special thanks to his wife.
“My wife deserves a huge amount of the credit for the film for providing the most incisive feedback during the whole process,” Jensen said, “as well as providing countless other kinds of support.”
Jensen said his wife is very excited to get a fancy dress and have a night out.
The 87th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 22.
- To learn more about “White Earth” visit the website or “like” the film on Facebook
- The film is streaming and able to view for a small fee here
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