Talent Search

The summer after her freshman year, Kara Saffrin found herself sitting in a stranger’s pickup truck speeding 80 mph down a West Virginia highway. With her were two friends from Northwestern, Amanda Charlow and Zack Laurence, and the driver, Loretta, the flirtatious 60-something-year-old with whom they were hitchhiking. The trio’s RV had broken down for a second time, and they needed a ride to the state line. The RV’s engine would fail twice more as they drove around the country shooting a documentary, but that was all part of the experience.

The three radio/TV/film majors had never worked on a film before. Laurence, now a senior, hadn’t even met Saffrin or Charlow, now both juniors, prior to the project. But that summer in 2015 they set out to capture the stories of 18 eclectic artists who were trying to make it big on music scenes across America. At first none of them thought their movie would come to fruition, but almost two years later, Bona Fide is set to premiere this spring.

The idea for the film arose when Charlow and Saffrin were brainstorming plans for projects they could do. One day, Charlow came to Saffrin’s dorm room with an idea. The two often sat around listening to YouTube videos of obscure artists who they thought should be famous. What if those artists got exposure?

“This is going to sound insane,” Charlow said. “We listen to all these people — we should go talk to them … hang out with them … see all their shows.”

That night, Saffrin texted her, “The more I think about it, the more excited I get.”

Months later, they found themselves on the road, accompanied by Laurence, whom they recruited via the RTVF listserv. As they recall, their family and friends were supportive, but nobody thought the trip would result in a feature-length documentary.

The three students saw the whole endeavor as a leap of faith, not all that different from the one the artists were taking in pursuing their dreams in the music industry. “Bona Fide kind of married the idea of following our passions with exposing these other people with passion,” Saffrin says. “We’re trying to inspire other people to be genuine, to live their truth.”

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