“The Hugs Project,” produced by Stephen Allcock (senior, documentary film) and Maxine Murray, and edited by Jeriah Richardson (junior, documentary film) as part of a two-semester directing class in Andrews’ Documentary Film program, won Best Documentary Short at the Sonscreen Film Festival in Loma Linda, California, April 6-8. The festival was first organized by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD) in 2002 to “nurture Christian filmmakers in their craft, career development, and spiritual lives,” according to Sonscreen’s website.
“The Hugs Project” explored the importance and effects of physical touch by prescribing a 12-hug-per-day quota for a student that didn’t like physical contact, an eight-hug-per-day minimum for a student who represented the “middle ground” (physical contact with family and close friends), and the task of withholding from any hugs or physical contact for a student who was typically very physical with friends and even people they didn’t know very well.
The film was partially inspired by producer Stephen Allcock’s culture shock upon arriving in America to study at Andrews. Allcock said, “In Europe, especially England, I was used to being very physical and huggy with all my friends, all of them. Even with people you don’t really know, once you’ve broken that initial ice, you’ll give them hugs, you’ll kiss people, it’s normal. Whereas here, you have side hugs, beach ball hugs… it’s the weirdest thing in the world, but here it’s completely normal. I just wanted to challenge this idea...to really see how important physical touch is to people in a day-to-day life.”
The group was surprised by the real emotional results of their documentary experiment. Richardson said, “You think of “The Hugs Project”, and it’s very light, or at least that’s what we went into it thinking. Then very serious things happened while the project was going on. It was like ‘wow, this is a lot’ and you’ve just got to deal with it.”
Richardson is referring to how the characters in the film (Andrews University student volunteers) responded to the experience. The student who was averse to hugging found that near the end of the experience their friends thought they were becoming a better person, while the student who had been denied physical touch began to value it more and reserve it for people they really cared about.
Allcock, Murray and Richardson, among other Andrews students, were able to attend the Sonscreen festival, where they met filmmakers from other universities, as well as had the opportunity to attend guest lectures from producers currently active in the film industry.
Commenting on the experience, Allcock said, “I think it was really interesting to see the different perspectives that were showcased—school by school you see the different cultures. PUC had a very different style from Southern, and we had a different feel and mood from both of them. It was really interesting to have this group of people that shared faith values, but that have different styles when it comes to what they want to talk about, the stories they want to tell, and the kind of imagery they choose to have on screen.”
Similarly, Richardson noted, “One thing I really enjoyed was that I got to see fellow creatives, people who were kind of at my level, to see their work, and gauge myself and my skills in relation to that.”