As the lights dimmed and the big screen flickered to life at Dulany Library Auditorium in the early evening of Thursday, March 30, the audience of William Woods students, faculty members and staff were about to be drawn into a harrowing true story of a man whose life was upended by a false conviction.
“Free Chol Soo Lee,” a documentary about a Korean immigrant wrongfully convicted of a 1973 murder in San Francisco who inspired a movement to free him, was the latest screening of the Indie Pop-Up Film Festival, which is new to William Woods in 2023. And the saga playing out on the big screen certainly made an impact on Cyma Opara, a first-year student at The Woods studying Criminal Justice.
“It shines a light that has always been present in the criminal justice system,” said Opara, ’26. “(Chol Soo Lee’s) story is one that happens more than we are willing to admit. Being a Criminal Justice major, I have always believed that there is more than one way to save a life. I want to believe that I will have an impact to help others who are wronged like Chol Soo Lee so they get the freedom they deserve.”
The pre-broadcast screening of “Free Chol Soo Lee” was the third film that was featured so far this year at The Woods as part of the Indie Pop-Up Film Festival, under a new agreement between the University and KMOS-TV, the PBS-affiliated station based in Warrensburg, Missouri. Through the agreement, William Woods will host four pre-broadcast screenings of acclaimed independent films throughout the year, which include discussion of the films with WWU faculty and on some occasions, the creative teams behind the productions. Earlier this year, the William Woods community had the opportunity to see two other compelling independent films, “Love In The Time Of Fentanyl” and “Storming Caesars Palace.”
The new series presents a unique opportunity for William Woods students interested in a career in the film industry, or anybody in the campus or surrounding community who loves movies and the chance to see new, independent productions, to experience a genuine film festival.
“We find that within a college campus environment such as William Woods, this series provides a great learning opportunity to tell these stories, stories which sometimes not only the students but the faculty members have not heard before,” said Scott Alvested, Community Engagement Coordinator with KMOS-TV. “Each of these films really aligns with the mission of public broadcasting, which is to educate, entertain and engage, and there is no better place than on a college campus to do that.”
After the Free Chol Soo Lee screenings, members of the WWU faculty, including Tony Weed, Dean of the School of Social Studies, Melissa Alpers-Springer, Assistant Professor of Communications; Cynthia Kramer, Professor of Legal Studies, Timothy Kazmarek, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, and Stephanie Washington, Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, facilitated a discussion of the many themes of the film with WWU students.
“Getting the opportunity to host the Indie Pop-Up film series on an annual basis at William Woods is a real benefit to our students and Communication program,” said Weed. “For nearly 20 years, this series has brought hundreds of thousands of participants together across the country to view the work of aspiring filmmakers, and to discuss issues that impact local communities. We are thrilled to now have what will be a yearly event at William Woods.”
Hosting the Indie Pop-Up Film Festival is another great reason for those prospective students interested in a career in filmmaking to consider attending William Woods. Last year, the University announced the establishment of a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Filmmaking. The degree is designed for students interested in entertainment, advertising/commercial video, YouTube, film studies, cinematography, video editing, screenwriting / script writing, directing, producing, sound design, music videos, short films, and feature films.
But even students or members of the WWU community who may not end up studying film can experience, and be impacted by, the powerful, creative works that will now be featured as part of the Indie Pop-Up film series going forward. Like Cyma Opara.
“I love hearing about the topics that will be covered because they give us such insight into other lives and cultures that happen all around us,” she said. “Through these stories on film, we get to see the challenges other people have in life and how these films can really bring them to life and impact change.”
For more information on the Film program at WWU, please visit: