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UT Tyler Office of Marketing and Communications

UT Tyler Alumni Become Filmmaking Force

November 22, 2013

Media Contact:  Hannah Buchanan
Public Affairs Specialist
Marketing and Communications
The University of Texas at Tyler
903.565.5769 or 903.539.7196 (cell)

Justin, Paul and Kenny

While attending The University of Texas at Tyler, Kenny Rigsby of Lindale and Justin Reese of Canton became fast friends over shared interests – including design, film and good coffee.

The pair, who graduated from UT Tyler in 2005, transformed their shared passion of film into an acclaimed hobby.

The self-taught filmmakers wrote and directed their fourth short film, “No Matter How Far,” which earned “Best Texas Film” in the 2013 Downtown Tyler Film Festival.

“Since neither of us went to film school, it’s almost as if we’re teaching ourselves as we go along,” Reese said. “For me, it’s the joy of people seeing your work and meeting new people, making new connections. It’s tremendously hard work but a ton of fun, and when it’s over you get to enjoy this little creation for the rest of your life.”

Rigsby and Reese are no strangers to the Tyler festival, having received “Best Film” and “Audience Favorite” awards for their 2011 entry, “Recommended Reading.” Last year, they served as judges for the event.

They have submitted “No Matter How Far” to other festivals, including South by Southwest in Austin.

“We may not even be chosen for SXSW, let alone win any awards. But just making it into that festival would be a pretty big deal and another cool thing for us,” Reese said.

“No Matter How Far” tells the story of a man and woman trying to reunite when intercontinental travel is banned. East Texan viewers may notice some familiar scenes and faces.

The film was shot entirely in Tyler. A classroom in the UT Tyler Business Building served as a physics classroom. Dr. Paul Streufert, UT Tyler Honors Program director and associate professor of English, starred in the film, and many UT Tyler Honors Program students served as extras.

“Dr. Streufert was my favorite professor during my time at UT Tyler,” Reese explained. “My wife suggested him for the primary role, and it fit so perfectly that Kenny and I started writing with him in mind before even talking to him. He was so kind and agreed to do the part almost immediately."

No Matter How Far stillTheir biggest project to date, the nearly eight-minute movie took almost a year to develop. Shooting lasted four days.

“There was a lot of brainstorming and talks over coffee,” Reese added. “Kenny is very intuitive and emotional. I’m more analytical and procedural. Whenever we start on a project, we both just sit together and go over ideas. Usually when we both like an idea, it covers all aspects.

“Kenny had this idea of a guy creating something really important, almost like a ‘Noah and the ark’ thing. With “No Matter How Far,” we wanted to correlate the emotional distance between the characters with the science involved in what they’re designing.”

Rigsby and Reese created their first short film “Interrupted” while UT Tyler students.

“That was the first film that either one of us had made,” Rigsby recalled. “Let’s just say – it wasn’t great, but it was definitely the beginning of a journey.”

And that journey is just beginning, indeed. The duo aspires to take their hobby to the next level, while maintaining their creative freedom and independence.

“We’d love to do it on a bigger scale, but don’t want to take on just any project,” Reese said. “Since both Kenny and I have families, we aren’t quite as willing or able to go through the ‘starving artist’ phase that a lot of filmmakers do, so we’re really slow-playing this alongside our day jobs. We hope to be able to move on to larger and more ambitious projects, but are moving that way methodically.

“Perhaps a feature film? We’ll see.”

Rigsby and Reese hold bachelor of arts degrees in childhood education and English, respectively. Rigsby is founder and executive director of the Tyler-based non-profit organization For The Silent, which fights child sex trafficking and exploitation. Reese is founder of the software company, Busker Web, where he works as a Web developer.  

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler features excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 80 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of more than 7,500 high-ability students. UT Tyler offers courses at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine as well as a location in Houston.

FILMMAKING FORCE: At top, UT Tyler 2005 graduates Justin Reese of Canton (left) and Kenny Rigsby of Lindale pose for a photo with Dr. Paul Streufert, UT Tyler executive director of special academic programs and associate professor (center) during the last day of shooting. The self-taught filmmakers wrote and directed their fourth short film, "No Matter How Far," which earned "Best Texas Film" in the 2013 Downtown Tyler Film Festival. Above, a movie still featuring Streufert in the starring role.

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