Fueling the Documentary Revolution
This Field Work Term, Kayly Hernandez Panameno ’22 and James Walkergoutal ’20 worked as Production Fellows at XTR, a nonfiction film and television studio founded by Bryn Mooser '01.
XTR is a nonfiction film and television studio “fueled by the documentary revolution.” The company’s star is already rising: four of the company’s feature films were included in the 2020 Sundance Film Festival lineup.
Kayly Hernandez Panameno ’22 and James Walkergoutal ’20 spent Field Work Term as Production Fellows for Mooser and his team.
“XTR aims to become the main streaming platform for documentary films, like the Netflix of documentaries,” said Walkergoutal. “That’s an awesome goal because a lot of documentary films don’t have a dedicated platform, so they end up going on Vimeo, or they do the festival circuit and then disappear. XTR wants to make documentary films more prominent in people’s minds.”
Hernandez Panameno and Walkergoutal joined XTR as the team was preparing to attend the Sundance Film Festival. Throughout the course of their internships, they worked with each XTR staff member on projects that ranged from securing festival housing to transcribing interviews to coordinating afterparty attendance.
“Bryn and the XTR team were really nice and showed me that hard work and passion help doors open,” said Hernandez Panameno. “Before this Field Work Term, I assumed that being nice was not part of filmmaking; I thought you had to be cold-blooded and calculating. But XTR taught me you can be a great human being and do great work. It helped me relax when I realized I didn’t have to put on a mask.”
Likewise, Walkergoutal was pleasantly surprised by how quickly he and Hernandez Panameno were embraced by the company.
“t was inspirational to work with an alum like Bryn. He’s successful, he’s started his own company, and he’s young—just in his 30s. As a graduating senior, that’s an important possibility for me to see.
James Walkergoutal '20
“When they would have a group meeting, we would also be present, and they would ask us for our opinions,” said Walkergoutal. “It was a pleasure to actually have a voice. Sometimes, as an intern, you don’t really know if you can share, but at XTR, they were so open that it was easy to voice our opinions and not feel awkward about it.”
An Expanded Perspective
“Growing up as a low-income Latina person, I felt there was a very small window of seeing past a certain life,” said Hernandez Panameno. “But through movies and books, I was able to grasp what the world is like—they made me more human, helped me grow my compassion and understanding of different types of people.”
Hernandez Panameno’s interest in storytelling informs her Plan at Bennington, which encompasses documentary filmmaking, fiction, and novel writing. Following her experience at XTR, she is considering branching out into further disciplines, as well.
“At XTR, I realized that filmmaking, and particularly documentary making, is about learning about things you might not know about. The beauty of documentaries is that they’re not about you—they’re about other people and other interests,” said Hernandez Panameno. “Now, I want to try courses that seem interesting to me, like a chemistry class or GANAS, regardless of if I’m particularly good at them.”
Hernandez Panameno encourages future Bennington students to pursue their interests just as bravely, through signing up for clubs, courses, and Field Work Term internships that push them out of their comfort zones.
“If you want to explore, but feel nervous or afraid, you should do it anyway,” said Hernandez Panameno. “Most of the things I have tried here, I was nervous about beforehand, but the experiences turned out to be great. All the new classes, my Field Work Term—they were scary as hell, but I tried them because I wanted to get over the fear. And it’s been really fun.”
Forward to the Future
“I’ve always been in love with TV, so I envisioned myself as a TV writer,” said Walkergoutal. “I love dialogue, delving deep into characters, and showing their motivations through their dialogue and personalities.”
Though his Plan centers on filmmaking and screenwriting, Walkergoutal feels that his education has been all-encompassing.
“Bennington studies are diverse, and you end up learning about many different fields through your friends and the people you’re around,” said Walkergoutal. “I’ve used that in my writing, and I’ve come to see film as a big thing that can impact people in different ways and is always evolving.”
Across Walkergoutal’s four years at Bennington, he has explored various aspects of film—he’s worked on a National Geographic documentary on Jane Goodall, learned how to operate a film reel at The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, and studied abroad in Australia at the New York Film Academy.
Walkergoutal’s experience at XTR presented him with a working style he hopes to model in his own career.
“The environment at XTR was incredibly laid back, yet everyone was constantly working,” said Walkergoutal. “They managed to have a balanced atmosphere, which was amazing to see as a student and to apply as a young professional. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, it was possible at XTR to be calm, focused, and productive. That’s a future I’m looking forward to.”
Working alongside Mooser at XTR has inspired Walkergoutal to set his own professional aims high. After Bennington, he intends to move to Los Angeles and network with his past Field Work Term employers to get his foot in the door of the film industry.
“It was inspirational to work with an alum like Bryn,” said Walkergoutal. “He’s successful, he’s started his own company, and he’s young—just in his 30s. As a graduating senior, that’s an important possibility for me to see.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer