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Married BYU Alums Surprise Filmmaking Community with Silent Documentary

BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts grad Jared Jakins and his wife Carly win Best of Show and Utah Short Film of the Year for "El Desierto"


Media arts studies grad Jared Jakins'film "El Desierto" follows the lonely life of a shepherd in the Great Basin. (Courtesy of Jared Jakins)

BYU media arts studies grad Jared Jakin's short film, "El Desierto," has received significant attention from the filmmaking community for its creative use of silence — using only sound design and music — to portray the lonely life of shepherds in the desert region of the Great Basin in the West. 

"This is my fourth short film, so we wanted to do something that was really different for us," said Jakins. "We wanted to do something that other filmmakers weren't doing. The film developed its own voice and that meant it was going to be a silent film — that was quite thrilling to us."

The inspiration for this 19-minute film produced by both Jakins and his wife Carly — who graduated from BYU in anthropology — was Jakins'upbringing in the sheep-growing community of Fountain Green near the Great Basin, where he lived after immigrating from South Africa when he was three years old. 

Jakins was intrigued by the humble lives of immigrant workers who come to the U.S. on visas for three years at a time to work as fruit pickers, farm workers and shepherds. These hard-working people have been the subject of other short films Jakins has produced.

"Our subject for 'El Desierto'was just a very quiet guy — he's been basically alone with sheep in the desert for 20 years," said Jakins. "We stepped into his world a little bit. During the process, we had to work very closely with this man's boss. He helped us on multiple occasions to locate where our subject was out in the desert." 

"El Desierto" was awarded both the Grand Jury Prize for Best of Show and Utah Short Film of the Year at the 17th annual Fear No Film portion of the Utah Arts Festival — something that no film has ever done before. Additionally, a short film from the U.S. had not won the festival's Grand Jury Prize for Best of Show in seven years. It has also won various prizes at other film festivals throughout the country.


Jakins and his wife Carly won Best of Show and Utah Short Film of the Year for "El Desierto." (Courtesy of Jared Jakins)

Since graduating from the Department of Theatre and Media Arts in 2015, Jakins created The Plains Motion Picture Company with fellow BYU media arts studies students Hunter Phillips and Kelyn Ikegami. The Provo-based company has worked with big names like Facebook, BYUtv, the U.S. Department of State and more. 

As an undergraduate student, Jakins wanted to be a filmmaker but was unsure if it would ever become a reality. 

"When I was in school, I wasn't sure I would be able to do this as a career," said Jakins. "I feel very fortunate that I am doing what I studied in school and love to do. I hoped for it, but I did not expect it."

Jakins felt that part of his success has come not only from his education at BYU but the resources available on campus and the people he met. Jonny Stallings, a fellow BYU alum, worked with Jakins on "El Desierto" and wrote the powerfully depictive score for the film. 

"Take advantage of everything you can at BYU — however, the best resource you can access as a young filmmaker is other filmmakers," said Jakins. "Collaboration is one of the most important things you can do. Find a team to work with while you're at BYU. Find people who elevate your work and motivate you — then stick with them."

Jakins is currently working on a feature film with TMA professor Scott Christopherson about Navajo Mountain High. The film focuses on the success the school has had in robotics despite being an extremely remote school in southern Utah — over 30 miles to the closest convenience store or gas station. The school's robotics team has traveled internationally to represent North America in robotics competitions. Jakins and Christopherson hope the film will premiere in 2020.