Images by Jeff Sampson Photography

            When you talk to most people in their mid-twenties, it’s pretty unlikely that they have ever had a world premiere of one of their films or made the first round of the Student Academy Awards.

            Andrew Kightlinger and Luke Schuetzle accomplished both in the same week.

            On April 15, the Reel Dakota Film Society hosted the first screening of Kightlinger’s award-winning short film he wrote and directed, “You Don’t Know Bertha Constantine,” at the Belbas Theater at the Washington Pavilion (Schuetzle was the line producer of the production). Hours before their film played on the stage, they found out the film had made it further into the Student Academy Awards – an annual competition for college and university filmmakers that goes on until winners are announced in June. 

            Considering the crew finished the final post-production touches on the film hours before the Student Academy Awards deadline and one week before the Reel Dakota showing, the fact that it has already moved on to the next round and was well-received by audience members that cold, spring evening was gratifying and a big relief, to say the least.

            “It feels surreal. Ever since production wrapped, I've battled in my mind whether the movie was good or not, so, as the premiere loomed, I secretly cringed at how people would react,” Kightlinger said. “The letter from the Academy regarding our making the first round was the first sign that ‘Bertha’ would be a success in some shape or form.”

            Several of the cast, crew and production members of the 23-minute film were there the sold-out night of the premiere, including their other close friend and co-producer, Adam Emerson. Emerson makes up the third piece of the artistic trio who all grew up in Pierre, S.D. (though Kightlinger spent the first 12 years of his life in Madagascar). The three all became close during their time at T.F. Riggs High School while bonding over their admiration for film. Kightlinger, who has wanted to do film for a living since he saw “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” at the age of 5, would gather the guys together on Friday nights to watch an eclectic mix of movies – some being blockbusters and some with an artistic vision.

            “When me and Andrew became friends, he really introduced me to watching films, and not just Hollywood ones or the popular ones,” Schuetzle recalled.“One minute we’d be watching ‘Indiana Jones…’”

            “And then I’d put in something like ‘Requiem for a Dream,’” Kightlinger laughed. 

            But they didn’t only watch movies. The trio made short films and footage together for entertainment purposes in their later years of high school – one of the first being a “Star Wars” fan piece.

            “It never got completed, fortunately,” said Kightlinger.

            After they graduated, the trio parted ways: Schuetzle and Emerson attended South Dakota State University and Kightlinger went to Augustana College. But, ironically enough, none of them majored in film. Schuetzle received a degree in history, Emerson in political science and public policy, and Kightlinger in international affairs and French. One reason for this was that they knew their majors would come in handy with the business side of movie production.   

To read the rest of this article, pick up the current issue of 605 Magazine today! 

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