Leaving the nest to hatch a better world

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor

PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

Ellie Quackenbush has a seriousness about her that belies her 17 years.

Tall with large, dark-framed glasses and a fashion sense that alludes to her indie musical tastes, the Lone Peak High School senior plays three instruments—bass guitar, piano, guitar—and is a talented vocalist (you may remember her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at this year’s Big Sky PBR).

But her true passion is documentary film.

She and fellow LPHS senior Dasha Bough started their own film production company, The Exchange Project, when they were freshmen under the guidance of iconic filmmaker Warren Miller, Big Sky School District language arts teacher Patty Hamblin and Warren Miller Performing Arts Council Artistic Director John Zirkle.

Last spring, The Exchange Project released their first film, an eight-minute eponymous documentary about the Big Sky community from the perspective of LPHS students. The film also extended an invitation to students worldwide to participate in the project.

“The company is an outlet to promote digital exchange between high school students across the country and the world,” Quackenbush said. “We reached out to other students to make a documentary similar to ours to create a dialogue and destroy the stereotypes we have about each other’s cultures.”

The Exchange Project recently fulfilled the outreach component of their mission with the completion of a short film by a college student from Cheboksary, Russia.

Quackenbush is driven by a desire to address, and in doing so alleviate, some of the world’s most pressing problems—from poverty to the chasms created by religious, racial, cultural and political differences.

“I want to make documentary films that change the world,” Quackenbush said. “I want to talk about the stuff people don’t want to talk about because it makes them uncomfortable. I want people to go to the movies to embrace their lives rather than escape them and to talk about the things that matter.”

Given Quackenbush’s creative means to make the world a better place, it comes as no surprise that this was her second year as an invitee of the HATCH experience, a retreat that brought 150 innovative minds together at Moonlight Basin Lodge from Sept. 14-18.

This year Quackenbush performed an original piece she co-wrote with LPHS alum Ben Michel.

“When Ellie got on stage at HATCH this year and began singing, jaws dropped,” said HATCH founder Yarrow Kraner. “But above all, her heart will take her where she wants to go.”

In terms of college, Quackenbush is tight-lipped on where she wants to go, citing a somewhat competitive atmosphere at school. She did say she will apply to universities with strong programs in film production, comparative religion, international development and politics, economics and political science.

During this exciting—and inherently tumultuous—time of transition, Quackenbush found the HATCH experience especially reassuring.

“The people there are so inspiring and the connections we make at HATCH we keep forever,” she said. “They’re very helpful for a graduating student when we’re freaking out about what’s next … we have these mentors during this crazy time, and it’s uplifting and inspiring and gives you hope that a successful career in the arts is not impossible.”