COLUMBIA, MO — A Monroe High School alumna has taken home the best director award at the Stronger than Fiction Film Festival, as well as an Award of Merit in the Documentary Short Category and an Award of Merit in the Women Filmmakers category in the Best Shorts Competition for her documentary-style short film “Thoughts and Prayers.”
Sarah Sabatke, a 2014 MHS grad, created the film as part of her master’s degree in documentary journalism at the University of Missouri.
Stronger than Fiction is an annual film festival put on by the Missouri School of Journalism through the University of Missouri. Sabatke’s film was one of 16 included in the festival. In a typical year, the festival takes place in person. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festival was held online. The films were available for streaming for 48 hours and were judged by a third-party jury.
Stacey Woelfel, a professor of journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism has worked with Sabatke since her undergraduate years.
“She is somebody who is very focused on the logistics that have to take place as well as on the storytelling,” Woelfel said. “I saw it across all of the work that she did.”
Sabatke’s film follows community members and media professionals in Columbine, Colorado, in the months and days leading up to the 20th anniversary of the city’s deadly 1999 school shooting.
As part of “generation Columbine,” Sabatke has “never known a world without school shootings.” She wanted to use her platform as a journalist to call to attention the issues surrounding them and to show that even the members of the press involved were heavily impacted by the events of that day.
She takes a unique approach in the film, focusing heavily on the impact of press and media coverage in response to the shooting. While still recognizing the impact of the shooting on the survivors and victims’ families, Sabatke’s film considers the devastating effects that it had on journalists covering the scene as well. It also looks into how media coverage affected community members
“I felt like I had to make something or do something in the way that I could,” Sabatke said.
As part of her focus on media coverage of the event, Sabatke spoke with Rick Sallinger, a television news reporter with the CBS-owned KCNC in Denver.
Sallinger has worked as a journalist for 47 years and acknowledged Sabatke’s reporting as impressive.
I felt like I had to make something or do something in the way that I couldSarah Sabatke
“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” Sallinger said. “It was different, and that’s what I liked about it. For someone so young and still in college, albeit at the graduate level, I was greatly impressed.”
The 15-minute film was recognized in the Best Shorts Film Festival and will be included in upcoming festivals as well. Because of the film’s success, it will also be included in the 2021 First Look Film Festival.
The Best Shorts Film Festival is an international film competition. Previous award winners have gone on to win Oscars, Emmys and Tellys, according to the Best Shorts website. The Award of Merit, which Sabatke won, recognizes “notable artistic and technical productions.”
“You always hope that something that is so personal to you is going to be well received,” Sabatke said. Even so, she was not anticipating such recognition and success on the film, which originally started as a school project.
In response to the positive reception of the film, Sabatke is considering growing the documentary into something more, but additional plans have not been finalized.
“I’m happy to ride this wave wherever it goes,” Sabatke said.