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BOZEMAN — Dawson Ahrenstorff has an eye for a good camera angle and a nose for a good story. Those skills earned the recent Montana State University film grad a job at one of the nation’s top athletic departments as well as the opportunity to present his first documentary. Her movie, “Miracle in Missoula,” debuts at 6 p.m. Friday, May 13 at the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture.
Ahrenstorff graduated from MSU in December with a degree in film and now works as a creative content producer with Louisiana State University’s athletics program. But in 2018, he was a student at the College of Arts and Architecture’s MSU School of Film and Photography with a part-time job with the Bobcat Athletics film crew.
Fate and an instinct for a camera angle put Ahrenstorff in position to film the final final seconds of an MSU Bobcats defensive stance that culminated in a stunning 29-25 Bobcat victory over the rival University of Montana Grizzlies in Missoula. Ahrenstorff said many believed the game to be one of the greatest games in the history of the rivalry. The Bobcats had trailed until late in the second half, but UM was close to scoring and going forward until epic goal-line position and a fumble recovery by the MSU defense turned the tide in a sold-out Washington Grizzly Stadium.
“It’s the greatest football game I’ve ever seen, and being able to make a story out of it and do it justice was my goal,” said Ahrenstorff, who maneuvered from a prime spot in the area of the goals and changed his camera lens. from a long lens to a wide angle lens to capture the action for posterity.
Ahrenstorff’s clip might have been relegated to social media feeds during November’s rivalry season if not for his class of MSU documentary films.
Film teacher Cindy Stillwell asked members of her class to write down three ideas for a short documentary to turn into a student film. Ahrenstorff thought that even though he was a few years old, the “Miracle in Missoula” was a story worth telling. Her first effort was a seven-minute student film.
The film major from Spirit Lake, Iowa, said after making the film for his class, he became convinced there was a bigger story to tell about the game as well as the legendary sports rivalry and that he deserved a bigger canvas, so he multiplied it almost six times. He said the film tells the story of the MSU-UM rivalry. It also tells the story of the recent rise of the MSU Bobcat football program.
“I came (to MSU) as a rookie during Coach Jeff Choate’s second year, and really got to see his gradual step-by-step rise to bring Montana State into the national spotlight. Now we have a national championship run,” said Ahrenstorff. He said the 2018 upset game in Missoula, in which recent NFL rookie Troy Andersen played quarterback, was emblematic of the team’s rise.
“We always joked about, hey, that would make a really good ESPN ’30 For 30.'”
A crowdfunding campaign confirmed it. The film made $12,000 in 48 hours. In the end, the film made around $20,000, which covered nearly all of the costs, Ahrenstorff said. During the production phase, he was involved in almost every aspect of the film.
“I had to wear a lot of hats,” Ahrenstorff said. He said he got significant help from Garrett Becker, the video coordinator for Bobcat Athletics’ creative department, and fellow film school classmates and credited his film school training for the prepare for the effort. “It really opened my eyes that it takes a village to produce a documentary. There are a lot of things that go into making a feature film. I learned something every day.
Stillwell said Ahrenstorff worked hard to fit the story into the seven-minute time frame for the class project, and while they were working on the film in class, there was a lot of talk about how to get across. the movie to the next level.
“The legendary game seemed like a great opportunity to dig deeper into Montana’s ‘Bobcat-Griz’ rivalry, blend sports history with cultural history, and highlight the characters involved,” Stillwell said. “Dawson could see the potential for a longer film.”
Ahrenstorff’s own story is equally compelling. An athlete who grew up on a farm in Iowa, he knew he wanted to study cinema.
“I also knew that I wanted to experience something further away from home,” he said of his decision to attend MSU. “Montana State has a great movie schedule, which made me come to Bozeman.”
Ahrenstorff said that during his first few weeks on campus, he reached out to Becker and “asked if they needed any help filming Saturdays, and it took off from there.” He said that each year he got more involved in videotaping for athletics.
“(Athletics) is a very different kind of film,” he said. However, Ahrenstorff said he thinks the stories are even easier to tell through the lens of sport.
“To be able to go out on the court or in the field every weekend and come up with a story that could change people’s lives is pretty amazing,” he said.
Bill Lamberty, Bobcat’s assistant athletic director in charge of media, said that during his time at Bobcat Athletics, Ahrenstorff stood out for his talent, creativity and strong work ethic.
“But doing a project the magnitude of (Miracle in Missoula) is beyond impressive,” Lamberty said. “The amount of effort Dawson put into finishing the film as a seminal project and then expanding it into a project for the public was next level. great things.”
The film turned out to be a great audition tape for Ahrenstorff’s job search after graduation. He landed interviews for media positions in several different places and chose a job as a creative content producer at LSU Athletics. The Tigers won the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2019 and the team is a perennial powerhouse.
“LSU was what I was looking for in day-to-day workflow and day-to-day content production,” Ahrenstorff said. “It’s the field I really want to be in. Sport is a great way to tell stories and it’s a great place to tell them.”
He said that in the short term he plans to submit “Miracle” to film festivals.
“And my long-term goal is to work full-time on documentaries.”
Tickets for the premiere of “Miracle in Missoula” are still available. To purchase, visit https://miracleinmissoula.ticketleap.com/tickets.
– by Carol Schmidt, MSU News –