Montana State University

MSU film student wins prestigious Telly

April 7, 2005 -- by Jean Arthur, MSU News Service


Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Kelly Matheson, MSU science and natural history filmmaking graduate student, poses with her dog, Lucy. (Photo by Dan Walker.)    High-Res Available

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Bozeman--Much of Kelly Matheson's course work has been from a classroom in the sky. From her unique perspective, she created a film that has won a prestigious Telly Award.

The Montana State University graduate student filmed, directed and produced "Wings Over the Wild: LightHawk in Mesoamerica," a documentary about pilots who fly volunteer missions over vibrant and threatened lands. As a student in MSU's Science/Natural History Filmmaking Program, she chose a second-year film project that could help incite governments to preserve endangered places such as Costa Rica's sea turtle refuge, Tortuguero National Park.

"The film introduces you to pilots who devote their time off to fly above the Mesoamerican isthmus with LightHawk, a conservation aviation organization," Matheson said. "LightHawk provides flights over environmentally sensitive areas of North and Central America so that organizations, the media, decision-makers, community members and researchers can collect data and document environmental hazards. This film celebrates the belief that each of us can make a difference."

Each year the Telly Awards' judges review more than 10,000 entries. Previous winners include ABC NEWS, Fox Sports, MSNBC, The History Channel and others. Matheson's 26-minute documentary competed in the nonprofit category. The national award was founded in 1978, to honor excellence in local, regional, and cable TV commercials, and non-broadcast video and TV programs.

Matheson's involvement with LightHawk began in 2000 in Lander, Wyo., where she practiced environmental law. Matheson and LightHawk, which is based in Lander, sought to protect the Upper Green River Valley from large-scale energy development.

"The Upper Green River Valley is Greater Yellowstone's largest publicly-owned expanse of wildlife winter range and supports pronghorn antelope as they travel along one of the longest migrations in the Western Hemisphere," she said. "Currently, the oil and gas industry is building a vast network of roads and well pads through this expanse. From the sky, passengers can clearly see how oil and gas development overwhelms a landscape."

The 37-year-old's flight from educator to award-winning filmmaker has had many layovers. The Davenport, Iowa native taught environmental education for seven years, then attended law school at the University of Oregon, practiced law for four years and in the midst of it all, lived in Tanzania and Alaska -- actually 16 different places around the globe.

"As an attorney, I worked towards the protection of our air, water, and lands spending half my time working with the federal agencies and courts and half of my time working with the media," she said. "I immediately experienced the frustrations that come with working with administrative agencies and court system versus the ease and fun that come with media work. After four years, I left law and now hope to utilize my background to change law and policy through film instead of through the courts.

"I am thrilled that the LightHawk project allowed me to work on a film that told stories about issues I care deeply about," she added.

"Kelly did an exceptional job coordinating challenging logistics without losing sight of the film's purpose," said 12-time Telly winner Dennis Aig, MSU film professor and Matheson's advisor. "She was able to combine a conservation message with exciting visuals and fascinating individuals."

Her Telly Award, a silver statuette of a winged muse, has yet to gather dust on the mantelpiece. Amidst the whirlwind of filming, writing and editing, Matheson now focuses on other films that explore international environmental issues and human and indigenous rights.

Contact Kelly Matheson 585-0621matheson@montana.edu