Film Company Led by Media Studies Faculty Member Set to Expand

June 24, 2011
June 23, 2011 — The walls of Silverthorn Films' offices in downtown Charlottesville are decorated with images of history and culture.

There's a movie poster for "The Tuskegee Airmen," a 2003 PBS documentary on the once-forgotten World War II African-American fighter pilots. Another features "World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements," a feature-length documentary that has received critical acclaim at national film festivals. Nearby is a poster advertising a PBS documentary on Virginia winemakers and vineyards.

Bill Reifenberger is a faculty member in the Department of Media Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, and has been teaching filmmaking since 2003. He’s also the senior producer and founder of Silverthorn Films, a local film production company poised to expand.

The company, which employs eight people full time – including some current and past media studies students – is adding new a new production facility to cater to potential customers who want to shoot smaller projects such as interviews, legal videos, band demos or even college admission reels.

"We're finding different things we can do with it all the time," Reifenberger said. "But we're hoping it'll be a big asset to the University."

His U.Va. works have included a documentary, "The Murals of Lincoln Perry," which decorate the lobby of Old Cabell Hall; an architectural tour of Venice with faculty member Mario di Valmarana, who died in October; and a campaign video featuring students and professors from the College.

Silverthorn's new facility is a 31- by-18-foot studio with white and black backdrops and a green screen that can be used to impose background images. It can be used to generate Web content, short videos or even components of research projects, Reifenberger said.

One recent client was the Behavioral Health & Technology Program at the School of Medicine.

"They have a really cool program in which they are developing online intervention programs," Reifenberger said. "Their most recent one was a treatment on insomnia. So we did the video work for that, and they came in and were able to do a bunch of work in the studio."

Silverthorn develops some original projects from conception to completion, such as "Vintage: The Winemaker's Year," a feature-length documentary on the rapid growth of the Virginia wine industry and its increasing impact on the state's cultural, social and economic landscape. The film was part of last year's Virginia Film Festival and airs statewide and nationally on PBS.

The studio also does commissioned projects for clients such as Montpelier and the University, and sometimes collaborates with other filmmakers, as it did on "World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements."

Liza Dunsmore, a 2011 media studies graduate, started working at Silverthorn during her fourth year after having Reifenberger for a documentary film production class and is now the company's marketing and social media coordinator.

She said use of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter can give smaller film companies an edge in getting their content out to interested audiences, and cited "Vintage: The Winemaker's Year," as an example.

"We've really been able to market that through social media, especially on Twitter," Dunsmore said. "A lot of our followers are winemakers and vineyards from the area, and it's really cool to communicate with them about the film, and about them watching the film after its air dates on PBS."

Dan Carter, a rising fourth-year student double-majoring in media studies and Spanish, joined Silverthorn to satisfy an internship requirement for the media studies program. 

"I was looking around New York and D.C. and places like that, but I found this instead," he said.

Carter, who interned during the school year and is now working at Silverthorn for the summer, said the opportunity has allowed him to see a practical side of media production that enhances the things he's learned in the classroom.

"Obviously, I'm going to analyze a film or even make a film, but because I was never selling my films or putting them up for broadcast, it's a totally different perspective," Carter said. "You have to ask 'Who is going to watch this?' and questions like that."

Reifenberger said the company has benefited from a reciprocal relationship with University students. The students get some needed experience, and the studio gets quality work from what he described as an impressive pool of young talent.

"The caliber of students I've had over the years is just fantastic," Reifenberger said. "One of the advantages of being a little bit larger now is being able to bring them into the work that we're doing here."

There will be an open house June 30, from 6 to 8 p.m., to showcase the studio's new production facility at 313 Second St. SE, near the Downtown Mall. Those interested in attending should RSVP to Dunsmore at

-- by Rob Seal

Media Contact

Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications