Allison Walsh Believes in the Power of Storytelling

When Allison Walsh ’17 was a high school student in Mount Prospect, Ill., near Chicago, one of the school’s most popular classes also was one of her favorites — comparative religions. It taught her how big a part culture and religion play in our lives and made her realize she enjoyed learning about others.

At Bradley, she linked her interests and studied studio art with a concentration in painting, Spanish and philosophy. That led to an interest in documentary filmmaking. 

 “I think documentary is a great fusion of all of my areas of study,” Walsh said. “It's an opportunity for me to make an art piece that isn't just me by myself in my studio sharing my viewpoint. I really get to be out there in the world and take in other people's viewpoints and help share those.”

She’s doing about a year of post-production work on her first feature-length documentary — Teaching About Religion — which follows the world religions class at her high school for a year. The 90-minute piece required 50 days of filming throughout the school year. Walsh hopes to debut the film at festivals in early 2023. 

“It's known as a really popular class and people talk about a transformation that happens, so I wanted to see if I could capture that. And it was a really incredible year to follow this class and get to know the students.”

She appreciated the chance to follow the 30 high school seniors in the class, but the pandemic caused complications when the high school moved to virtual learning.

“They were all seniors ... We were supposed to film their graduation and have that be the big ending to the film,” Walsh said. “And then COVID happened, so the ending is a little different than we had planned. We didn't shut down production but we really changed the way that we filmed.”

Zoom classes and interviews were used and students filmed themselves with their phones, along with some socially distanced outdoor filming. Using her high school and the same teacher she had for the course made things easier, although security did sometimes mistake her for a student. 

Walsh's earlier projects include “Down the Hill,”about misconceptions related to gun violence across Peoria; “The Daily Aesthetics of Alexander Martin,” about a queer artist and drag queen in Peoria; and “Parallel Lines,” about life on the border divide between Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, honored by the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts in 2017. Walsh’s work has been screened at festivals and events in places like Paris, Barcelona and Chicago.

“I think there’s a lot of power in storytelling. I feel honored to be able to tell people’s stories, and I think it takes great responsibility to work with other people’s stories. I think there are so many incredible stories that are not known and not shared.” 

With the work involved in planning, creating and organizing a documentary, Walsh still lets her fine arts side out. “I'm in my studio office right now and I'm still very interested in painting. I have all of my paint out and waiting for me ready to go.”