Javon Stovall and his friend Mariah Roller pack up Javon’s belongings to move from his apartment in South Beach Fla., to his campus apartment at Florida International University on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. (Jake Maish)
Javon Stovall and his friend Mariah Roller pack up Javon’s belongings to move from his apartment in South Beach Fla., to his campus apartment at Florida International University on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.

Jake Maish

Behind the Scenes | ‘Lost in the In-Between: Graduating into 2020’

The Daily Iowan Documentary Workshop's "Lost in the In-Between: Graduating into 2020" premieres May 4 at FilmScene.

May 2, 2023

The Daily Iowan Documentary Workshop’s latest film didn’t start how anyone expected.

When the workshop was founded in fall 2019, the plan was to fundraise for three years before beginning any major productions. But the COVID-19 pandemic turned the workshop’s initial timeline on its head.

In April 2020, DI publisher Jason Brummond pitched the idea to create a documentary that would follow University of Iowa graduates for a year as they navigated post-college life. Three weeks later, filming for what became “Lost in the In-Between: Graduating into 2020,” began on the day of the UI’s online commencement in May 2020.

“Lost in the In-Between” will premiere May 4 at FilmScene at the Chauncey in downtown Iowa City.

Bringing an idea to life

Film Still by Jenna Galligan/The Daily Iowan

Ayotoluwafunmi (Ayo) Ogunwusi sets up a camera in Locust Grove, Ga., on Friday, May 28, 2021.

Bringing an idea to life

Ryan Adams, a UI graduate and the documentary’s assistant director, said the unique storytelling opportunity necessitated the DI Documentary Workshop crew accelerate the pre-production process.

“If we wanted to get the story, we had to dive into it,” Adams said.

The documentary chronicled the post-graduation life of the UI Class of 2020 as they left Iowa City and moved across the U.S. Among these former UI students are now spouses Clara Reynan and Maeve Biscupski, aspiring filmmaker Ayotoluwafunmi Ogunwusi, graduate student Javon Stovall, and wrestler Pat Lugo.

Clara and Maeve Biscupski sit on a couch at their new apartment in Newark, Del., on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020.

Despite their separate life paths, these five were brought together to record their perspectives while navigating a world changed by unforeseen circumstances.

Filming these journeys would require careful coordination under normal circumstances, but the pandemic only amplified this complexity, documentary director Jenna Galligan said.

“This film got made — just out of necessity — in such a different way than I think anything else any of us have worked on,” Galligan said. “Because so much of it relied on phone calls and Zoom and contributed footage and just hoping that people’s schedules would work out and people would be healthy and well.”

Though Galligan said safety precautions limited the number of times the filmmakers could travel, she said she frequently interviewed sources over Zoom and through phone calls. Each source also recorded at least one video update a week where they talked into their phone’s camera and provided visuals of what their life looked like at the time.

This process worked in the documentary’s favor, Galligan said, noting that some of its best moments came from video diaries.

Where are they now?

Jenna Galligan

Clara and Maeve Biscupski sit on the front step at their new apartment in Newark, Del., on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

Where are they now?

Reynan, one of the documentary’s main subjects, graduated with a theater degree. In the following years, she traveled across the country to Delaware and California, married her wife Biscupski, and has since returned to the UI to pursue a graduate degree in library sciences.

“I feel like the second Jenna stopped filming us, it was like, so much in our lives changed so drastically,” Reynan said. “It’s kind of silly. Like, even just watching the trailer, I was like, ‘Oh man, like that was only two years ago.’ But I feel like an entirely different person.”

Reynan said she was initially approached by Jake Maish, the second assistant director of the documentary, and was eager to join the project. It provided her a chance to be on-screen — even if she was only portraying herself rather than a character. She ultimately described her involvement in the documentary as serendipitous.

About a month after Reynan and Biscupski’s wedding in August 2021 — which was filmed and featured in the documentary —  Biscupski came out as transgender. This drastically changed both their lives for the better, Reynan said, but it also made the documentary experience more surreal.

“Can you strike this balance between being authentic or being truthful and vulnerable about what’s actually happening in your life without necessarily knowing, like, what are the underlying causes of why this is happening?” Reynan said.

Ayotoluwafunmi (Ayo) Ogunwusi looks up at a statue at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Ga., on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Jenna_Galligan)

Filming ended for Reynan and Biscupski shortly after their wedding, with the COVID-19 pandemic still underway despite the availability of vaccines and loosened lockdown restrictions. Reynan said that while some people wanted the world to return to normalcy, the fear she felt during the pandemic’s height hasn’t gone away.

She said much of the conservative politics that have surfaced in the wake of the pandemic hit close to home.

“You know, like, if my wife and I don’t feel comfortable eating at a restaurant in public because we don’t know what the pe ception of a queer couple with a trans woman will be like, has the pandemic ever really stopped for us?” Reynan said. “Are we still on lockdown? I don’t know, honestly. Like, that might sound kind of cynical, but in a lot of ways, I feel like nothing has changed.”

Lugo, another documentary subject and a member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, said he’s changed a lot as a person since 2020, even if his daily routine remains similar.

The pandemic prematurely ended Lugo’s collegiate wrestling career and left him without a chance to claim the title of NCAA national champion. Instead, Lugo finished his senior year working out at home — a time he recalled as restless.

During the documentary and post-graduation, Lugo continued to train with the intent of wrestling in the Olympics. The wrestler said he didn’t feel uncomfortable recording the video diaries because he wanted to inspire people through the documentary, he said.

“I was honest with every question, you know, that they threw at me. You know, how was I feeling when they asked — I gave the truth,” Lugo said. “Because I know someone somewhere out there is gonna watch this and be like, ‘Man, I probably felt the same thing during those times.’”

Even so, he described recording interviews as the hardest part of the process as well as his favorite. The conversations challenged him, he said, because they forced him to relive difficult moments — such as when he didn’t make it past an Olympic qualifier. But Lugo said those moments motivated him to improve himself.

Lugo continues to train in Iowa City and is aiming for the 2024 Olympics. After that, he’s tasked with making a critical decision: continue his wrestling career, jump into coaching, or try something entirely different.

Regardless of what life looks like three years from now, Lugo said he has learned to live in the moment instead of fixating on the future as he did in 2020.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” Lugo said. “And I love the pain and adversity that I went through at the time and, you know, for the ones that are yet to come.”

Stovall’s legacy

Film Still by Ryan_Adams

Javon Stovall participates in a Zoom meeting from his apartment in Miami, Fla., on Friday, May 7, 2021.

Stovall’s legacy

“Lost in the In-Between” is dedicated to Javon Stovall, another graduate featured in the documentary. He died unexpectedly in November 2021, just months after filming ended.

Mariah Roller, a close friend of Stovall who is also featured in the film, described him as someone who took up a lot of space in a room and made even the most mundane activity fun.

The two met during Roller’s freshman year and later went on to participate in several student organizations together, including the UI’s Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

In 2019, Roller stepped away from school and moved to Florida — a decision she attributes to Stovall.

“He was one of the first people that really told me that I can do better than small-town Iowa,” Roller said. “You know, that’s not really something that I had ever considered for myself.”

“Lost in the In-Between” followed Stovall during his own move to Florida. For the first month, Stovall slept on a couch in Roller’s apartment after arrangements for his apartment fell through at the last minute. Despite the chaos of the time, Roller said she wouldn’t have traded that month for anything in the world.

“I was, in hindsight, really lucky — selfishly — that that had happened,” Roller said. “Because I got to spend an extra month with, you know, one of my favorite people on Earth.”

Once he found a place in Miami, Stovall pursued a master’s in higher education at Florida International University. Roller said he continued to make an impact on his community even after the documentary cameras stopped rolling. While at FIU, Stovall was heavily involved in the university’s Pride Center.

Two scholarships have been awarded in Stovall’s name: the Javon A. Stovall Memorial Scholarship at FIU and the Javon Stovall Leadership Hawkeye Legacy Award at the UI. Roller said Stovall would be happy to see them go to people who exemplify the issues he fought hardest for as a queer and disabled person of color.

“Javon put himself in rooms with important people, and he wasn’t afraid to share his identity,” Roller said. “So, he made sure people knew those things about himself. Not just so he could be the gay guy or the Black guy, but because he wanted people to know that you can succeed in those roles and in those identities.”

Roller said she looks forward to seeing the film so she can revisit a pivotal part of her and Stovall’s lives.

“I’m really glad that the world is going to get to see some of him, even if it’s briefly,” Roller said.

Reflections on the future

Nichole Harris

Iowa’s 149-pound Pat Lugo bites his gold medal during the final session of the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament in Piscataway, NJ, on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Lugo won by decision 2-1, securing the 149-pound championship, and Iowa won the team title with 157.5 points.

Reflections on the future

As a recent graduate, Galligan said she sees herself in the documentary’s main characters, even though their circumstances differ. She added she hopes the documentary sparks conversations about people’s own 2020 experiences.

“You can feel when you watch the film that everyone is learning both about the pandemic and about the real world,” Galligan said. “But also, there’s a sense of learning how to talk about these things that comes across in the film, too.”

Adams said he hopes viewers will continue to make connections with “Lost in the In-Between” both now and in the future.

“We’ve talked about this being a time capsule and something where people 100 years from now will be able to look at this as a historical document, as something that encapsulates what it was like for these graduates to experience everything that happened in 2020 in a very intimate way,” Adams said.

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