Whitman alumni win Audience Award for best film

June 6, 2013

By Edward Weinman

Northwest College Film Festival

Drag racing in Walla Walla is the focus of “Walla Walla Race Day,” a short documentary by William Witwer ’13, Adam Brayton ’13 and Bridger Root ’11 that won the Audience Award for Best Film at the 2013 Northwest College Film Festival.

The film is about a small-town drag strip and the racing enthusiasts who regularly flock there. Witwer didn’t shoot the film because he was interested in drag racing, though.

“I’m interested in subcultures and why people do weird, beneath-the-surface hobbies,” Witwer said.

“What drew me to the story is that so many people are into drag racing in such a crazy way. In Walla Walla, most of the racers don’t have much money, yet they put a ton of life energy into it. They are not doing it for the money. In fact, they lose money on the races.”

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Witwer was an English major but enjoys making documentaries because of what he learns during his projects. His biggest surprise shooting “Walla Walla Race Day” was how many women racers participate.

“I assumed there would be no women drivers, but that turned out not to be the case. It’s not as masculine as I thought it would be.”

Examining peculiar subcultures while producing a documentary is an example of an experiential learning opportunity Whitman offers its students. That shooting “Walla Walla Race Day” exposed the students to another side of the Walla Walla community is one reason Robert Sickels, professor of film and media studies, thinks the documentary won the Audience Award.

"In addition to its technical proficiency, which is essential no matter how compelling your subject, ‘Walla Walla Race Day’ captures the particulars of a small localized culture in a way that universalizes them. That’s the trick of making a great doc and they did it in spades," Sickles said.

During production, Witwer came to appreciate the passion of the racers and surprised himself by falling for the sport.

“It’s inspiring how much these people love it, and how devoted they are to the sport and to the community of racers. I got more into it as the documentary went along. At the end of the shoot, I thought that I’d be willing to try drag racing.”

Witwer recently wrapped “Bad Dog,” a short film about a dog who attacks and kills a neighbor’s cat.