A scene from Jonathan Pope Evans’ award-winning film, The Buried.

Jonathan Pope Evans, assistant professor of theatre, admits his film may not be easy to watch. The Buried chronicles the hate crime murder of a gay man in rural Alabama, and Evans opted for a surreal filmmaking style, recounting the event with dreamlike imagery.

But the experimental narrative about the 2004 murder is gaining fans and praise in the film festival community and this summer won the Best International Short Film Award at the Berlin International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Professor Evans, who returned to his native Alabama to meet the murderer, the victim’s family and police investigators, admits it was a risky choice. But it was an artistic direction he says he felt compelled to follow.

“It’s both complicated and risky. Sometimes you make a film or you make an art piece. You have to have that courage to step up and let it be what it wants to be,” Professor Evans says.

Professor Evans based the film on the murder of Scotty Joe Weaver, a young gay man killed by his best friend. Professor Evans shot the film entirely in his home state and combines long takes with stark and desolate image of rural Alabama and an intricate soundscape that creates “such a feeling of place and atmosphere that it very immediately becomes this work in which the viewer experiences place…This sense of atmosphere where this horrible crime happened.” His hope is that the viewing experience will prompt discussions about hate crimes and violence against gays.

International filmmaker Nina Menkes praised the film, saying “Jonathan Pope Evans powerfully explores the territory where inner and outer realities tragically erupt in a surreal–yet also: so very real, lonely landscape of the rural South.”

The film has screened at a vast amount of film festivals, including at The Nashville Film Festival, the Montreal World Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Big Muddy Film Festival, Prague International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival and in the out-of-competition selections invited to the Cannes Film Festival.