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Media Arts Major Allyse Clegg Finds Voice, Personal Transformation Through Documentary

Clegg — from Fruit Heights, Utah — will graduate with a BA in media arts studies on April 24, 2020

As a junior in college still struggling to choose a major, Allyse Clegg was struck by inspiration from an unexpected — and previously unconsidered — source. “I was assigned to watch a documentary about the first Palestinian rap group for one of my Arabic classes for my minor,” recounted Clegg. “I had been floundering, trying to figure out what I really wanted to study, and I sat there shaking my head as the film ended. I had been transported, not only into Palestine, but into the hearts of these people who, like me, wanted to communicate something bigger than themselves. They found a voice through rap; I realized what a voice film could be.” Clegg applied and was accepted to the media arts major. As she started along the program’s non-fiction track, she soon got a taste of the challenges and complexities of finding and sharing a voice through documentary — and what happens when your voice is in conflict with someone else’s. “My third semester in the program, I found myself editing a documentary capstone about Instagram influencers,” Clegg said. “After four weeks of sitting in an editing room — aptly named the Bunker — the director and I decided to share a rough cut with our subjects. We had been struggling with how to represent them for several reasons. We wanted their input because we had built a relationship with them and wanted them to be involved in the outcome. We knew their image as influencers was important for their business, but we also had hoped they would be willing to explore some of the difficult aspects of Instagram with us.”

But their subjects didn’t see it the same way. At the end of the screening, the influencers were nervous and emotional — even angry — about the way they had been portrayed. “In mitigating the situation, the director and I learned a lot about the power and responsibility filmmakers have in representing people, their struggles and their complexities,” said Clegg. “We did not want to make a fluff-piece, but we also recognized the huge responsibility that came along with a subject’s trust.” While this experience deeply affected the way in which Clegg approached subsequent projects and subjects, it did not dissuade her from her desire to tell stories through film. “What continues to draw me in is that the media arts offer a broad avenue for exploring whole ideas,” she said. “You can cross sectors, bring together people and ask the unasked questions. And then you can share the result in a digestible — for the most part — format.” Even as an undergraduate, film has already taken Clegg down a variety of paths and has allowed her to meet people and explore places she may never have encountered otherwise. At the same time, she has also experienced some of the unpredictability and frustration of documentary filmmaking, including a situation in which Clegg and the rest of her five-person crew were stranded in Las Cruces, New Mexico as the launch of an unmanned rocket to space — which Clegg had planned to film — was delayed. Twice. “By the time they were ready to launch a week later, everyone in my five-person crew had spent several consecutive days with no sleep as we filmed our subjects working through the night,” said Clegg. “Simultaneously, we were navigating a misunderstanding about filming permissions and finishing final papers for classes. But I got through without failing any classes, thanks to the flexibility and support of my teachers. And somehow, we still managed to have a good time.”

Clegg’s experience in New Mexico had a positive outcome largely because she was working with a group of peers who were committed and prepared to creatively adapt and collaborate as a team — traits Clegg encouraged students just starting out in the media arts program to consciously prioritize and nurture. “Don’t commit unless you are going to follow through; carefully decide what projects you want to get involved in and then use your creativity to figure out how to be most effective,” she said. “Commitment and hard work are essential if you really want to learn the most from each opportunity.” While COVID-19 has cast uncertainty on Clegg’s immediate future, she plans to apply to master’s programs and continue to develop her own projects, even if that means working a day job outside of her chosen field of study. Wherever she lands, she hopes she can be a positive influence on those around her. “The long-term goal for me is to end up rooted in a community somewhere, using my skills to contribute to constructive conversations,” she said. “I have learned that I would rather ‘be’ something good than communicate something good. As much as I love film for its ability to communicate, I love it more for its ability to transform me through the process of making it. And, as much as it would be great to tell a great story, moral or theme, I would much rather live that great story, moral or theme.”


What did you want to be when you grew up? “I wanted to be liked by everybody when I grew up, but that isn’t realistic, nor healthy. Now I just want to be good.” What was your favorite class that you took at BYU? “My favorite class at BYU was TMA 102, the first film class for the film program. There are many reasons I loved it, but the greatest reason of all is because it promised what all of the other film classes delivered — sincere and wise mentors, new perspectives, respect-filled discussions and of course great films.” Is there a specific work or practitioner in your field that has had a particular influence on you? “After watching ‘The Gleaners and I’ (2000) by Agnes Varda, I was captivated by that woman. One day I will get a bowl cut. And I hope I can find her sense of lightheartedness while still grappling with meaningful ideas.” Do you have a hidden talent or a hobby outside of what you do for your major? I sing. In my car. By myself. It is not a talent, but it is definitely a hobby.” What is your favorite snack for between classes? “Red bell peppers and chocolate milk.”