Elon University alumna Emily Prins ’23 produced a film titled, “Not without a Trace” during this past summer. The 14-minute film premiered at the Grand Rapids film festival in Michigan and captured the audience, leading her to win “Best student short" award.
Prins' movie is an authentic retelling of the 1981 incident when 14-year-old Deanie Peters went missing. On Feb. 5, 1981, Peters stood up to go to the restroom during her brother's wrestling competition and never reappeared. More than four decades later, the suburban community near Grand Rapids remains haunted by the lingering impact of her disappearance.
Prins said she learned about this unsolved case because her father is from Grand Rapids and knew Deanie before she disappeared.
“To have my film honored in this extra way felt very special, especially getting to have my Dad there to see it,” Prins said.
This led Prins to pursue the story for her Elon honors fellows thesis and cinema and television arts BFA thesis. While working on her film, Prins said she was also researching true crime documentary ethics.
Prins also said it was important to her to try to mitigate potential harm to those involved with the case. This eventually turned into a set of ethical recommendations for student filmmakers that was a part of her honors thesis.
Prins got a SuRE grant, which is the Support for Research Excellence, to begin filming and said she spent two weeks in Michigan with her dad filming in June 2022.
“It was definitely an emotional whirlwind,” Prins said. “I interviewed six participants including friends of Deanie's, a current teacher at the school where she disappeared, a journalist who covered the case for about a decade, the former cold case detective who worked on the case and Deanie's mother.”
Prins screened the final documentary at the CTA BFA showcase in April and traveled back to Grand Rapids to host a friends and family screening in May.
“The whole process was very intense, secondary PTSD is no joke,” Prins said. “But very rewarding, and I'm incredibly happy with the end product.”
After the premiere, “Not without a Trace” was shown at the Raleigh Film and Arts Festival Oct. 8.
The film was also shown at Indigo Moon Film Festival on Oct. 14 in Fayetteville, which is about a two hour drive from Elon.