Stories connect and comfort us. They let us into the hearts and minds of others, and entertain, enchant, and teach us. They give us new and different ways to see the world—and maybe even cope with it.
Stories have the potential to pull us out of ourselves and into other—even imaginary—realms. They transport us. They offer us hope and understanding, distraction and escape. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They make us wonder.
That’s the power of storytelling, not only during a pandemic or crisis but anytime. These days, though, while we are spending more time at home to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, our universal need for storytelling—in particular, perhaps, plots told through film and television—might be stronger than ever.
Here’s a round-up of movies, documentaries, and TV shows featuring WSU faculty or alumni or, at the very least, references to WSU.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)—Ted Tremper (’04 English) worked as a field supervisor on this mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen as a fictitious Kazakh journalist traveling through America for a second time, this time with his daughter.
Rogue Warfare (2019), Rogue Warfare: The Hunt (2020), and Rogue Warfare: Death of a Nation (2020)—Andrew DeCesare (’08 Comm.) worked as a producer on all three films in this low-budget military trilogy and served as the lead writer on the second in the series, which went to No. 1 on Netflix early last August.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)—Composer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Henning (’98) has worked on score orchestrations for dozens of films, including this one, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). He has also played violin for numerous TV shows and films, including X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Moana (2016), Straight Outta Compton (2015), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), Frozen (2013), and Alice in Wonderland (2010).
Into the Forest (2015)—Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood star in this apocalyptic Canadian film, based on the 1996 book of the same name by Pullman native Jean Hegland (’79). Nell and Eva, two teenage sisters, struggle to survive after a power outage turns their lives upside-down.
At Middleton (2013)—George (Andy Garcia) and Edith (Vera Farmiga) fall in love while playing hooky from their kids’ college tour in this film, initially titled Admissions and partially shot at WSU Pullman. Look for turreted Thompson Hall, the Entrance Arch, and Honors, Murrow and Bryan halls, as well as the walkways between them.
Water for Elephants (2011)— Scott MacDonald (’82 Comm., Theatre Arts, Speech) is Blackie, a bodyguard for the abusive August (Cristoph Waltz) in the adaptation of a critically acclaimed 2007 novel by the same name. Jacob (Robert Pattinson), a veterinary student whose life is turned upside down, becomes enamored with August’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), an equestrian performer, after dropping out of school and joining the circus.
Jarhead (2005)—MacDonald is D.I. Fitch, a menacing drill instructor in the U.S. Marine Corps who makes life miserable for Anthony “Swoff” Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) during boot camp.
Avatar (2005)—Eric Saindon (’96) served as visual effects supervisor on this James Cameron blockbuster. Saindon, of Wellington, New Zealand, has served as the visual effects supervisor for numerous high-grossing movies—from Avatar to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His film credits include King Kong (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), The Hobbit trilogy, and Peter’s Dragon (2016.)
Good Night and Good Luck (2005)—This black-and-white historical drama, directed by George Clooney, portrays the conflict between veteran broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (’30) and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, particularly in relation to the anti-Communist senator’s action with the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Jerry Maguire (1996)—Standout Coug quarterback and top pick in the 1993 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, Drew Bledsoe (x’94) makes a cameo appearance in this film, which follows a sports agent who’s fired for expressing a moral epiphany then tests his new philosophy as an independent agent with only one athlete and a loyal colleague.
Volunteers (1985)—John Candy immortalizes the WSU fight song as WSU graduate “Tom Tuttle from Tacoma,” who is assigned to build a bridge for villagers in Thailand with co-stars Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.
Rocky IV (1985)—Dolph Lundgren, a Swedish actor and karate champion who studied chemical engineering for a year at Washington State University, portrayed Russian boxer Ivan Drago in this sports drama, starring Sylvester Stallone. It was Lundgren’s second movie, and it helped launch a long career of action films—from Universal Soldier (1992) opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme to The Expendables franchise. He was He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987) and King Nereus in Aquaman (2018).
Logan’s Run (1976)—David Westberg (’62 Comm.) is Sandman in this science-fiction action film. More recently, he was Sergeant Emerson in six episodes of the sci-fi TV series Broken Toy between 2009-2013 and guest-cast as Elder Jacob in one episode of Pretty Little Liars in 2016. He was also in a long list of TV movies and shows in the 1970s. Fun fact: He had an uncredited role as a valet in The Graduate (1967).
Brown of Harvard (1918)—This silent, six-reel, black-and-white film—billed on movie posters as “The Best College Story Ever Written”—features the WSC football team and coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who participated in filming in Southern California while there for the 1916 Rose Bowl. Sadly, it appears this film might be lost to history. If you can find a copy of it, let us know.
Babies (2020)—WSU professor of psychology Masha Gartstein explores how social-emotional development unfolds rapidly during infancy in an episode of this Netflix documentary series.
Bridging Divides (2020)—Scott Shigeoka (’11 Comm.) hosts and produces this video interview series, part of David Byrne’s multimedia project We Are Not Divided. The six-week project originally ran from September 17 to November 2, 2020, and focuses on overcoming differences.
Fantastic Fungi (2019)—Lori Carris, a recently retired professor in WSU’s Department of Plant Pathology, appears in this documentary, directed by Louie Schwartzberg and narrated by Brie Larson.
The Frontiersmen: The Men Who Built America (2018)—Buddy Levy, who’s taught writing at WSU for more than 30 years—appears as an on-camera expert in the final two episodes of this four-part docudrama on the History channel.
The Weight of Water (2018)—Levy was a contributing writer for this documentary film, which follows blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer on a solo kayaking trip the length of the Grand Canyon. Based in part on one of Levy’s books, the film premiered at the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival, winning Grand Prize and the Best Mountain Film Award. It also won The People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the 2018 Denver Film Festival, Best Sport and Adventure Film at the 2018 Mendi Bilbao Film Festival, and Audience Choice Award at the 2019 Waimea Ocean Film Festival.
Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence (2017)— This two-hour History channel special features Dick Spink (’85), who found airplane parts in the Marshall Islands consistent with the aircraft Earhart was flying when she went missing.
Brad Meltzer’s Decoded (2010-2012)—Levy co-stars in 25 episodes of this History channel docuseries that, according to its website, aims to explore “history’s most compelling and perplexing riddles.”
Back to the Garden: Flower Power Comes Full Circle (2009)—This film by Seattle’s Kevin Tomlinson (’75) revisits a group of back-to-the-land hippies whom he first filmed in 1988 living off the grid in rural Washington state. In 2006, he tracked them down to find out what had become of their families and utopian dreams.
Busting Out (2004)—Two female filmmakers—including Francine Strickwerda (’89), who wrote, produced, and directed this documentary—explore America’s fascination with women’s breasts. Note: Strickwerda also served as director, producer, and writer of 2014’s Oil and Water, was part of the editing team for the 2006 TV movie documentary Exploring Space: The Quest for Life, produced 2004’s The Video Game Revolution, and worked as associate. Producer on 1997’s Affluenza.
This is WSC (1952)—Edward R. Murrow (’30) narrates this tour around WSC, emphasizing research, practical training, and the school’s extension mission as a land-grant institution.
CNN Newsroom—Ana Cabrera (’04) anchors the weekend primetime edition of this news program.
Ratched (2020)—Elinor Gunn (’10 Theater Arts & Drama) plays Helen in the Ice Pick episode of this highly stylized new drama series, meant to serve as a prequel to Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Look, also, for Gunn in the forthcoming film Kin Dread, slated for release in 2021.
Bosch (2019)—Bianca Kajlich (x’00) plays Christina Henry in eight episodes of the fifth season of this Los Angeles-set detective show. Henry works in the District Attorney’s Office and has an adversarial relationship with the show’s title character, whom she believes played a role against her career advancement.
Catch more Kajlich: Kajlich attended WSU for a year and a half from 1996 to the end of 1997 before moving to LA to pursue acting. Since then, she’s been acting regularly in TV and movies. She was “Coffee Girl” in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), the cheerleader Carver in Bring It On (1999), and Sara Moyer in Halloween: Resurrection (2002). From 2000 to 2001, she played Lisa Grier, a high-school senior whose affair with an English teacher led to his dismissal and her transfer, in Boston Public. Kajlich also appeared in eight episodes of Dawson’s Creek from 2002 to 2003. And, from 2007 to 2013, she portrayed Jennifer Morgan, fiancée and later wife of Adam Rhodes (Oliver Hudson) in the sitcom Rules of Engagement, also starring David Spade.
S.W.A.T.—Former WSU football player Matthew Excel Simmons (x’14 Crim. Jus. & Crim.) appeared in two episodes—titled Octane and Blindspots, respectively—of this crime drama in 2017 and 2018 as Officer Wallace. He’s the son of the late Cougar defensive back Randal “Randy” Simmons (’79) who was killed in the line of duty during an 11-hour hostage rescue standoff in 2008 after serving 27 years with Los Angeles Police Department. He was a member of the SWAT team.
Max Headroom (1987-1988)—WSU Press director Edward Sala, then a post-production supervisor for Lorimar-Telepictures Corporation in Culver City, California, was part of a team responsible for editing the video clips that appeared on the monitors during this satirical science-fiction series set in a futuristic dystopia ruled by an oligarchy of television networks.
St. Elsewhere (1982 to 1986)—Terence Knox (’70) portrayed Dr. Peter White in this medical drama set at a rundown Boston teaching hospital. He made his debut in Robert Zemeckis’s satirical dark comedy Used Cars (1980), and has since appeared in numerous television series, including The Dukes of Hazzard, Knots Landing, The Twilight Zone, Six Feet Under, and Murder, She Wrote as well as a long with a long list of TV movies. He also had a supporting role in the Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992).
The Red Skelton Hour—For 16 seasons, from 1954 to 1971, Art Gilmore (x’35 Speech) served as the announcer of this long-running variety show.
Get more Gilmore: Gilmore narrated more than 2,700 movie trailers during the course of his career, including those for It’s a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dumbo, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, White Christmas, South Pacific, and the original Ocean’s 11. He also worked as an actor on Dragnet, Emergency! and Adam 12. Before working on television and film, Gilmore announced various radio shows, including Amos ’n’ Andy, The Sears Radio Theater and Red Ryder.
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