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Gainesville resident and Chestatee High grad premieres documentary in SCAD Savannah Film Festival
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McKinley Benson's short documentary, "Death of Childhood," premiered in the SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Oct. 26, 2020. The film features Benson's friend and fellow artist, Brady Dollyhigh, who also graduated from Chestatee High School. Photo courtesy McKinley Benson

On the trip back from last year’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival, McKinley Benson of Gainesville said he remembers telling his friend that one day his documentary would premiere at the prestigious event. 

A year later, Benson’s film, “Death of Childhood,” was chosen along with 22 others from 828 entries around the world to be screened at the competition. It premiered in the online film festival Monday, Oct. 26. 

“I felt honored and very excited,” Benson said. 

“Death of Childhood” 

What: Short documentary directed, written and filmed by McKinley Benson 

Premiere: Monday, Oct. 26 at  

According to a press release from the Savannah College of Art and Design, the eight-day event is the largest university-run film festival in the country and described as a “distinguished stop on the road to the Oscars.”  

Since it began 23 years ago, the competition has screened more than 125 Academy Award-nominated films and honored more than 90 legendary actors, directors, producers, writers and filmmakers. 

Benson, 21, graduated from SCAD’s Atlanta location this year with a bachelor’s in film and television. Before college, he attended Chestatee High School. 

The young filmmaker said he fell in love with storytelling at a young age and would regularly write his own short stories. 

“When I actually got my hands on a video camera at the age of 10 or 11, I would shoot with it every day, making little movies with my friends and family members,” Benson said. 

In September 2019, he packed up his camera equipment and traveled to Denver, Colorado to film, “Death of Childhood,” which was inspired by his friend, Brady Dollyhigh. Dollyhigh also graduated from Chestatee High.  

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McKinley Benson of Gainesville premiered his short documentary, "Death of Childhood," in the SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Oct. 26, 2020. Photo courtesy McKinley Benson

The short documentary follows Dollyhigh as he struggles with the loss of his beloved sketchbook containing memories of his estranged father and learns to accept adulthood. 

Benson said the documentary is named after Dollyhigh’s first solo art exhibition, also titled, “Death of Childhood.” 

“Brady approached me in the summer of 2019 to document him drawing a single line for 24 hours straight,” he said. “After the success of that video, I wanted to continue documenting Brady but focus more on his actual life, his goals, aspirations and his struggles.” 

“Death of Childhood” was a solo production, which Benson said took four months from start to finish. While Dollyhigh starred in the documentary, Benson wrote, produced, directed, shot and edited the film.  

Benson said editing proved the most daunting task. He ended up condensing 50 hours of footage to under 10 minutes. 

“There was a lot of stuff that hit the cutting room floor, and some of it was hard to let go of,” he said. “But in the end, it was for the best. I wanted to challenge myself to tell a succinct story under 10 minutes and having that constraint was a necessary thing, I think.” 

Through jumping headfirst into his first solo documentary, Benson said he learned firsthand a lot about the art form, as well as how to be vulnerable behind the lens and flexible to changes.  

"I hope viewers will take away a sense of hope and perseverance from the film, and that other artists and young people will be inspired to always push forward, always pursue what you love to do, no matter the circumstances,” he said. 

Benson recently directed and wrote a short film called “Homestead,” which can be viewed on YouTube. The 15-minute piece is set in 1870s Oregon and captures the journey of an “obsessive carpenter who relocates his pregnant wife and young daughter to an isolated land with the promise of a better life but is instead plagued with grief and paranoia.”  

Benson, who currently lives in Gainesville, said he is in the post-production phase of a TV pilot he wrote and produced called, “The Green.” Benson said he aims to complete it by early 2021 and hopes to film a full season if it gets picked up by a network or streaming platform. The crime-drama's first episode was filmed at Cateechee, a lodging, golf and venue space in Hartwell. 

Ten years down the road, Benson said he wants to be making movies he’s proud of, surrounded by those who are “much better” at the art form. 

“My advice to young filmmakers would be write what you want to write, make what you want to make,” Benson said. “Don’t let the opinions of others dictate the success of your art. Also, watch as many movies as you can, and not just American cinema. World cinema is so important.”