Christopher Kyle Walker, a UCF film graduate whose latest documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and played this week at the Florida Film Festival in Maitland, will be part of an invited filmmakers’ panel Thursday.

Walker will be part of the panel “Making Meaning: Films that Change the World” at 11 a.m. at Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland.

Walker’s film, “Welcome to Leith,” is about a small North Dakota town that confronts a white supremacist who moves in and plots a takeover of city government, setting up a town struggling for sovereignty against one man’s extremist vision. After Craig Cobb moved to Leith in 2012 and started buying up property, his behavior became more threatening and tensions soared.

“We read about the story in The New York Times when the story broke,” said Walker, who now lives in New York. “On the surface we thought it was kind of an incredible story, a real life western in a way. As we dug deeper we realized this little town in North Dakota was going through a pretty severe test of democracy, bringing up questions such as: How far should the First Amendment go in protecting all speech? Who has the right to control a community? How does a free society deal with unpopular ideas?”

Walker and co-director Michael Beach Nichols began documenting the story in November 2013 and the film premiered this past January. “Welcome to Leith” was one of 45 feature documentaries screened at Sundance from the 12,166 films submitted and 184 accepted. The 86-minute film was listed as one of Rolling Stones’ 25 must-see movies at this year’s Sundance festival.

Despite the high tensions during the filming in Leith, Walker said he didn’t feel threatened.
“We made it clear that we were there to cover both sides of the story, letting everyone speak for themselves — and everyone understood this,” he said.

Walker said most of his time at UCF was spent thinking that he wanted to direct fiction films. But once he discovered associate film professor Lisa Mills’ documentary workshop class, he said everything seemed to click for him.

“I realized that my personality and stories I wished to tell were better suited for the documentary format,” he said.

After receiving his bachelor’s in cinema studies, Walker moved to New York and began editing documentaries that have aired on HBO. He has edited and produced Emmy-nominated and duPont-winning feature and short documentaries. He is now co-president of his own production company, and “Welcome to Leith” is his directorial debut.

His advice for UCF student filmmakers is just “go out with a camera and make something. There is no excuse not to. Cameras are cheap, editing software is cheap. Take risks with your work and don’t be afraid to fail.”