Three Ovations in Utah

Alumnus’ documentary takes film festival by storm

Allan Luebke’s debut documentary was a hit at Slamdance, a yearly showcase for innovative and independent  filmmaking, and has attracted Hollywood attention.

The world is littered with people who dream big, but lack the desire to try and turn their dreams into reality.

Glena Avila, a mother of two who rose through the ranks of mixed martial arts, is not one of those people.  And Allan Luebke, a 2007 graduate of the School of Journalism and Communication, knows a good story when he sees one.

The Dalles woman gave up a stable job at the VA to try her hand at mixed martial arts (MMA), where she turned out to be a natural. MMA is a full contact combat sport that allows the use of a variety of fighting techniques.  Only, Glena’s rise through the ranks threatened to cost her both her family and her home.  As she trained to enter the professional world of full contact fighting, she also battled for custody of her child and faced foreclosure on her home. Each time she stepped into the octagon, she was fighting for more than just a win—she was fighting for her future. 

Through all of the changes and turmoil in her life, there was always one constant—the presence of School of Journalism and Communication graduate Allan Luebke ’07, who spent almost a year filming Avila’s rise for his debut documentary, Glena. Glena premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year, where it received multiple ovations and was called, by one publication, the “astonishing, real-life saga of grit, tears and vicious competitive combat.”

Luebke originally enrolled at Portland Community College. After discovering a passion for video editing, he transferred to the University of Oregon to study video production.

Following graduation, Luebke worked for a while at a small TV station outside Portland, where he came across the story of up-and-coming cage fighter Glena Avila. Luebke lost his job before he could complete a web series on Avila, leaving him with the time needed to turn the four-part series into a full documentary.

“I did a Kickstarter campaign and raised about $5,000, enough to pay me to make the documentary,” Luebke said. “While filming, I realized there was a lot more going on in her life.”

That “lot more” was a life that was threatening to collapse the closer Avila got to realizing her dream of becoming a professional fighter.

“Her teenage son had been best friends with her his whole life, but suddenly had to share her with the gym each day,” said Luebke. “Her boyfriend fought as a hobby, and didn’t understand why she wanted to do it as a career.”

Add in a custody battle with her ex-husband and a house facing foreclosure, and all of a sudden Luebke had a real-life Rocky on his hands.

Luebke spent two years editing the film with his exclusively Oregon crew, consisting of producer Josh Leake, composer Peter Bosack, writer Matt Mastrantuono, and executive producer (and wife) Ashley Scherman.

When completed, Luebke’s next job was to get the film shown at one of the largest film festivals in the country: Slamdance.

Held in Park City, Utah, at the same time as its more celebrated brother Sundance, Slamdance is a festival only for first-time independent filmmakers. Among the directors discovered there are Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster, and Jared Hess, and in 2008, two years before it earned $107 million at the box office, the supernatural horror film Paranormal Activity made its festival debut at Slamdance.

But getting a film screened at Slamdance isn’t easy—it is harder to get into than Sundance, with only eight out of every 5,000 submissions accepted.

“I sent them my DVD and a check for $100, and waited for three months,” said Luebke. “One day I was having breakfast with my mom, telling her that I didn’t think anyone would pick up the film. I was pretty discouraged. Then, that night, while Ashley was cooking dinner, they called and said they loved the movie and would love to program it.”

Glena aired twice at Slamdance, and during one showing received three ovations from the crowd.

“A guy came up to me afterwards and shook my hand and said, ‘I’m a country boy and I don’t tear up, but I teared up several times during that movie,’” said Luebke.

The reception at Slamdance turned Luebke’s life upside down.  Since the premiere of Glena, a steady stream of agents and distributors has approached him, wanting to represent him and the film’s nationwide release. Luebke has also met with a number of studios and agencies, some of whom have discussed turning Glena’s story into a major fiction movie in addition to a documentary. With an official movie offer in place, Luebke looks forward to what’s to come.

Luebke says he’s “curious” to see who will be cast in the starring role.  “We always liked the idea of Charlize Theron, who’s a big MMA fan.”