Communication Major Wins International Film Award for Best Documentary

by Catherine Wright

Communication Major Wins International Film Award for Best Documentary

Layth Alwatban is no stranger to videography and the power of this medium.  He has worked within it for almost a decade when he first discovered his passion while filming underwater as a scuba diver. During this time, Alwatban has created a variety of works for friends, family, and classes.  Alwatban, who plans to graduate in May with a BA in Communication, recently entered a film he created for COMM 331: Public Relations Campaigns class to the Beyond the Curve International Film Festival (BCIFF) in hopes his fall 2020 film would be recognized.  His short, Food for Others, won the award for Best Documentary

Alwatban’s passion for videography, along with his innate ability for storytelling, encouraged him to study media production and public relations and to earn a minor in film and video studies.  Alwatban stated that the “basic amateur productions for friends and family helped [him] learn cinematography…and other skills that assist in the storytelling process.” Additionally, he thought his “experience at GMU [has] been priceless in influencing” his work, citing both Professor Nancy Mantelli and Professor Lance Schmeidler as faculty videographers who pushed him to the next level. 

Alwatban took a course in the Fall 2020 semester with Professor Mallory Saleson, who arranged for his group to work with Food for Others. For 25 years Food for Others (FFO), a local Fairfax County organization, has provided food to more than 2600 local families each week, relying on food rescue operations and food drives, as well as donations by members of the local community.  In a three-month period in 2020, Dustin Lape, Program Manager at FFO estimates their demand increased over 300% from the same period in 2019.  This award-winning short film will bring FFO much needed attention, as COVID-19 has created a larger-than-normal demand for their services.

The PR Campaigns class with Saleson takes what students have learned in other classes and builds on that knowledge by offering them the opportunity to work on a real-life campaign for a local organization.  He further credits Dr. Tim Gibson and Dr. Megan Tucker with having given him the skills to take a critical eye at people’s perceptions of media and the power media can have over others.

Having won student awards for Best How-To video (K Lot to JC) and Best Overall Production (The Drum Circle), Alwatban is no stranger to awards for his work.  His work on The Drum Circle also won him recognition for a Saudi Film Festival award.  With the support of Saleson he submitted his film on Food for Others to the Beyond the Curve International Film Festival.  BCIFF describes its film festival as one that “embodies that spirit of filmmaking, the continuous effort to push the boundaries of the accepted norm and the never-ending struggle to evolve the medium.” 

When asked why he chose that festival to enter, Alwatban stated, “As an amateur filmmaker I try my best to gain the attention of any organization that uses industry professionals to provide feedback and recognition.”  He is currently waiting to hear back from an independent shorts awards festival in Los Angeles, to which he submitted the Food for Others film into three categories. 

Alwatban, originally from Saudi Arabia, has been at Mason since 2017.  During this time, he excelled in his studies, earning Honors in the major as well as completing two concentrations and a minor.  While completing his undergraduate coursework, Alwatban began work on his MA in Communication through the Department’s Accelerated Bachelor to Masters (BAM) program.  He is expected to graduate with his Masters in Communication in 2022.

You can find him on Instagram and Twitter, @Lrwatban

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