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UF documentary students win award, grant for "Jessie's Dad"

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Posted: Monday, April 21, 2008 12:00 am

When a news story bearing a Homosassa dateline came up on his computer screen three years ago, UF Documentary Institute student Boaz Dvir stopped to read it. News from his small Florida hometown rarely showed up in the national media.

He read about Jessica Lunsford, a missing 9-year-old girl who went to the same elementary school his sister did.

"I immediately started following the story," he said. "I became emotionally involved." A year and a half later, Dvir and institute partner Rebecca Goldman started making an observational documentary about Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford.

After spending countless late nights and $10,000 on the movie, the students recently won a $1,000 production grant.

Their hour-long film, "Jessie's Dad," chronicles the crusade of Lunsford, a trucker-turned-activist whose daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a neighbor in 2005. Dvir and Goldman followed Lunsford as he advocated "Jessie's Law" around the country. The law typically establishes mandatory minimum sentences for convicted suspects and restricts where paroled offenders are allowed to live.

"Jessie's Dad" was the only documentary in the country to win a 2008 Carole Fielding Student Grant, which is awarded by the University Film and Video Association. Roberts said there are only a handful of production grants available in the nation. He noted that Goldman and Dvir's grant proposal stood out because of their print-journalism background. He also emphasized the power of Lunsford's story.

In addition to the grant, the students were also awarded a $1,000 Direct Cinema Limited Outstanding Documentary Award.

Dvir said he doesn't care as much for the award as he does for the grant money. The money shows that someone cares about the film and what the documentary-makers are doing, and the money will go toward finishing the film, he said. Winning the grant shows that the story hit a nerve with the judges, he said.

Dvir and Goldman will screen "Jessie's Dad" May 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Reitz Union Auditorium. The screening, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a reception.

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