The West Hills College Coalinga football program is the focus of a new documentary released by St. Louis based Emmy-winner Wes Murrell.
Murrell has been working in reality television and media productions for the past six years and SOUL SPORT: A West Hills Falcons Football Documentary is his first sports project in a short film format.
“Football is my favorite sport to watch and I always wanted to direct something sports related,” Murrell said.
“West Hills College Coalinga is home to a transcendent nature of football and those who play it. I was really happy with the film and excited about the final product.”
After contacting Falcons head football coach Justin Berna last summer, Murrell brought a camera to Coalinga and spent two days in August interviewing student-athletes and coaches.
The 15-minute film includes Berna, a successful alumnus of WHCC, and several members from his 2018 team.
They discuss how college football in the small town of Coalinga helps students reach their athletic and academic goals – and, as sophomore Doniaj Smelker states: “saves a lot of people’s lives.”
The film also features one of Berna’s former WHCC teammates, Darius Vinnett, shown in a video message during a team meeting.
Vinnett was an Academic All-American at West Hills in 2002 before playing for the University of Arkansas and the St. Louis Rams. He was inducted into the WHCC Hall of Fame in 2015 and has been an NFL Scout for the Arizona Cardinals since 2013.
“Having Darius as part of the film was a happy accident,” Murrell said.
“I didn’t know coach Berna was going to show the video message from Darius on that day. His message to the team became a perfect voiceover near the end of the film. It’s one of the cool things that was unexpected and you don’t know what you have as a director until you come back and edit. We are grateful that Darius allowed us permission to use that in the film.”
Murrell said that Berna’s program motto “Culture Over Scheme” was a common theme during interviews with student-athletes Doniaj Smelker (Colorado Springs, CO), James Ehoff (Bakersfield, CA), Kahlil Harshaw (Fresno, CA), Fred Feleti (Pago Pago, American Samoa), and Asante Jones (Ocoee, FL).
“You’re never certain on how interviews with college students will turn out, but they were very engaging and better than expected,” Murrell said.
“I was able to complete the editing in December, so I was glad to include the names of universities they received scholarships from. That was a fitting way to end the film.”
Murrell said he plans to submit the documentary into film festival competition, and is hopeful for award recognition.
In its first week of being posted on YouTube, the film was near 1,000 views.
“I think the documentary provides some great insight to our unique setting at West Hills,” Berna said.
“The focus of the film mirrors the focus of our philosophy – and that’s on the students. They all have a story to tell and we are proud they decided to attend our college.”
Film Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTBzYqRfmCo