Zoe Heafner, a student in the Film and Mass Media program in the Nicholson School of Communication and Media at UCF won two prestigious awards for her documentary Fishtail: The Last Best Place. Her film won the Suzanne Niedland Documentary Award ($2,000) at the Palm Beaches Student Showcase of Films, followed by a win in the Short Form Non-Fiction category at the Suncoast Emmys Student Production Awards! Heafner talks about her film in an interview, its inspiration, and her advice for aspiring filmmakers. 


What is the film about? 

“My film Fishtail: The Last Best Place is about the “one block town” of Fishtail, Montana. It showcases the resilience of a small community in both moments of happiness and hardship. With only one general store, 60 people, and a lot of quirks, Fishtail has a little bit of everything. Through the words of three older women, this documentary shows what it is like to live in a town of only 60. We follow Katy, the owner of the town’s general store, which also happens to be the town’s only store. Jeanine, a 90-year-old woman who runs the community center and has lived in Fishtail for the past 30 years. And finally, Collyn who has been a seasonal resident of Fishtail for the past 50 years and recounts how different life is in Fishtail vs. anywhere else in the world. These three women take you through the daily life of Fishtail while also recounting their stories of the 2022 “500-year flood” that surrounded their home.” 


What inspired you to make this film? 

“In 2022, I started my final documentary filmmaking class at UCF, and our assignment was to create a film on any subject of our choosing. Initially, I struggled to find a story that resonated with me, wondering how it would all come together. It wasn’t until I confided in a friend about my creative block that the idea finally came: Fishtail, Montana. Fishtail has held a special place in my heart because my boyfriend’s family has had a house there for over 50 years. Despite its charm, this small town has only 60 full-time residents, creating a unique culture to capture on film. With just one month to plan, 15 days to shoot, and two months to edit, the project seemed daunting, but we were determined to bring this story to life. During planning, we discovered our main subjects, three older women, each with vastly different lifestyles and personalities. Through their lives, we aimed to capture the uniqueness of Fishtail, a town that had seen decades of change and challenges of rural living. Through our lens, we unveiled the difficulties faced by Fishtail’s residents and showcased their resilience. Capturing the essence of a place is no easy job, but I think our film has succeeded in preserving the spirit and character of Fishtail, Montana, for generations to come.” 


Do you have any advice for anyone who want to apply for the next cycle? 

“I advise anyone applying to any film festival or awards show to spend the time marketing your film correctly. I had so much confidence in my film, but I slowly learned over time that I had to create the marketing materials to also sell my film to others who had no connection to the project! Marketing is so much more important than one may guess. My other advice would be to make a film you are genuinely proud of. I feel so happy with what I created with Fishtail that even if I didn’t get into some of the awards or festivals, I was still thrilled to have this film as a little time capsule to remember what Fishtail was like in 2022.” 


Which film and/or filmmaker has inspired you? 

“In my filmmaking journey, I’ve been fortunate to draw inspiration from numerous filmmakers, but one individual who has left a lasting impression on me is cinematographer Roger Deakins. His cinematography has always captivated me and really opened my eyes to how vital camera work is in conveying a story. “Fishtail: The Last Best Place” was a project I wrote, filmed, edited, and directed all by myself. Doing so much research into cinematography greatly impacted my style as a director, and the more I watched and analyzed the films around me, the better filmmaker I became. I also think it’s important to acknowledge how attending film festivals has been such an eye- opening experience for me. While big-budget productions are awesome, it’s the films that faced challenges in getting made that have truly inspired me. Seeing filmmakers overcome obstacles and still produce compelling stories has made me more confident as a filmmaker. No matter the budget or the camera, telling a story you’re passionate about can be rewarding, no matter the process.” 


What do you hope audiences will take away from watching this film? 

“My main goal in making this film was to keep it light-hearted and happy. I hope the audience enjoys themselves and leaves feeling relaxed. The film showcases so much of the natural beauty of Fishtail, from the Rocky Mountains to the Yellowstone River, because I wanted the viewer to feel like they were there. Although the views will give the audience a breath of fresh air, the unique dynamic of the small community will as well. I think city dwellers will see a different way of life that they will want to experience more after leaving the theater.” 

Written by Majdulina Hamed.

Published to Nicholson News on June 4th, 2024.

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