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Travis Lee Ratcliff (Shelton Class of 2009) is director and editor of "Dynasty and Destiny," a film appearing in the Tribeca Film Festival.
Travis Lee Ratcliff and Brody Carmichael, both from Shelton's Class of 2009, are executive producers of the film “Dynasty & Destiny,” which will be showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival June 11-13. Travis serves as the film's director, screenwriter, and editor, while Brody is the cinematographer. The film will have its Dallas premiere at the Oak Cliff Film Festival on Sunday, June 23, at 3:45 p.m. at the Bishop Arts Theater Center. It tells the story of Kanesha Jackson, a third-generation barrel racing champion, who is training her 13-year-old daughter, Kortnee, to carry on the family tradition. “‘Dynasty and Destiny’ is a portrait of how traditions ripple through a family,” Ratcliff says. “My goal as a filmmaker has always been to present Texan stories that re-contextualize our western heritage and showcase the deep values, traditions and heritages that have made the state what it is today. Presenting this Texas-spun story to an audience of this scale feels like a realization of that vision.” Here’s an interview with Ratcliff, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design and has a production company, Movement House, in Austin.

When did you attend Shelton? 
I attended Shelton starting in the sixth grade. Brody and I both graduated from Shelton in 2009. Brody and I became friends working in the high school theater and film program. We both felt that the challenges of our Dyslexia, ADD, Dyscalculia and auditory processing disorders also contained secret strengths and gifts that were best revealed by our mentors in the arts. From our work in the theater department, we soon found an even deeper calling in the form of filmmaking. Telling stories visually became a way to communicate on a deeper level than through the limits of written or spoken language. 

What was your role in creating “Dynasty and Destiny”? 
I was the director and editor of the film. As the director, I helped develop the artistic vision for how to tell the story. My job is to find the theme and emotional core of the movie and develop a visual language with my collaborators that best expresses those ideas. With this film, I was fascinated with the way that tradition ripples through a family. The theme of the film, to me, was: "How does what was old become new again with each generation?" In order to express that, I collaborated with Brody as a cinematographer. As a cinematographer, Brody is responsible for helping me dream up the best way to design and execute my thematic and emotional vision for the film. Brody suggested that we use a combination of film and digital photography. Under his leadership, the film utilized a strategic combination of 16mm, 35mm, black and white and color techniques. These, over the arc of the film, express our deeper thematic idea by representing the older generation’s point of view (black and white, and film photography) becoming new again through the younger generation’s harnessing of it in their own way (digital and color photography). As an editor, I assembled the film in the editing suite and made sure that the rhythm/flow of the movie is working. I typically edit most of the work that I direct in order to facilitate our carefully crafted design. I am also a professional freelance editor, so it’s one of the skills I know best in filmmaking. 

What kind of response has the film received? 
The film has been the best received of any of our works so far. It premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it received the Golden Gate Award. The jury commented, “We found this touching, timely, and accessible story to be a true master class in documentary filmmaking.” The film has been presented at festivals across the country and will premiere next week at Tribeca. Tribeca is one of the most competitive festivals in the world and received around 8,000 short film submissions with around 19 short documentaries ultimately selected. We expect to continue to tour the film to festivals through the fall and winter before it will eventually premiere online.

What other films have you created?
Brody and I have a production company, Movement House, based in Austin. We have created commissioned profile documentaries featuring artists around the world and commercials and video content for brands that include Hershey’s, FritoLay, Shiner and Yuengling. Our best-known previous work is a short documentary, “In the Space Between Ages,” profiling a dyslexic sculptor that screened at the SXSW film festival and was widely seen online. 

What are you working on now? 
Our next project is an investigative short documentary that reveals the problematic use of forensic hypnosis by Texas law enforcement over the last 40 years, resulting in over a thousand wrongful convictions and a dozen individuals being sent to Texas Death Row. We tell this story through the specific case of Charles Don Flores, who was convicted for a crime he always maintained he never committed. The only evidence that was used to convict him was a single eyewitness testimony from an individual who always maintained that she did not see Charles at the scene of the crime, but changed her story after being hypnotized by investigators. The project is supported by a grant from the Austin Film Society and will premiere at film festivals next year. 

What are your memories of Shelton? 
I remember coming to Shelton after profoundly struggling with the public education system. By the time I reached the fifth grade in public schools, I was nearly ready to give up. Shelton was a place of profound healing for me from the very start. To learn that I was not defective, that I had learning differences and not disabilities, was a gift that changed my perspective on myself from the very beginning. Finding a calling in the arts at Shelton was then a space where I was able to rebuild my confidence and formulate a vision for my life that leaned on my strengths and hidden talents. The life I have now is entirely because of the skills, healing and relationships I received and developed while at Shelton. 

How did Shelton prepare you for what you are doing now? 
The training and mentorship we received in the theater and film program were essential for convincing ourselves and our parents that we could pursue creative careers in the arts. When I was at Shelton, the film festival brought a professor from Savannah College of Art and Design to attend our high school’s film festival. The relationship we built with that professor put us down a path toward pursuing higher education in the arts and ultimately finding the careers we have now. 

What's your advice to Shelton students? 
Listen to your passions. There will always be moments of profound struggle that we face, but as long as you never stop searching for the spaces where you feel seen, energized and healed, you will eventually stumble upon the place where you were always meant to be. Beneath every challenge is a unique way of seeing the world and a unique contribution that you will be able to make to it.


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