To watch the trailer for Galileo: https://vimeo.com/401747283
To watch the trailer for Outside Agitator: The Story of Rev. James Lawson: https://vimeo.com/517303106
Since the beginning of his blossoming film career, Ryan Gentle has had a special place in his heart for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.
Gentle, a 2015 graduate of the UTC Integrated Studies program, originally came to UTC to play for the Mocs basketball team. He also was a biology pre-med major, but everything didn’t click the way he thought it would.
“I was struggling in class because I had no time, and I took probably the hardest major to do while being a student-athlete,” Gentle explained. “A year and a half in, I ended up having three hip surgeries, so that put my competitive basketball career to the side. I remember asking myself, ‘What do I want to do? Who do I want to be?’”
He decided to pursue a degree in integrated studies, which allowed him to blend several of his interests, including business and communication, with a passion of his since childhood—film.
“When my brother (Chris) and I were kids, we got out our family-vacation camera during the summers. We had these little Hot Wheels cars and we drew a street intersection on a piece of paper and would record one frame, move the car, record another frame, move it,” Gentle said.
“By the time I was done with basketball, I had a lot more time to look at that. It was really fun to do as a kid and I thought, ‘What does that look like now?’”
Karen Henderson, a lecturer in theater, and Elizabeth Gailey associate professor in communication, were huge supporters in helping Gentle study film. He also had the backing of his roommate, Austin Quarles, who shared the creativity bug. They began making films; their first was a short titled Limerance in 2013. Gentle calls it “terrible.”
“But we used UTC’s canvas and learned so much from it,” he said. “It was terrible production value, but it was a great learning experience. We filmed a lot of it in South Campus dorm rooms and around some of the buildings around campus.”
Gentle and Quarles are now business partners in Physically Awkward Films, an indie, award-winning production company in Nashville. They may be a couple of hours away, but Chattanooga and UTC continue to play huge supporting roles in their work.
Their most-recent work, the science-fiction film Galileo used the UTC Library’s exterior and its fourth-floor Roth Reading Room
“What’s funny is I wrote the original draft for Galileo during my junior year and we’ve been working on it ever since,” Gentle said. “So the groundwork was laid here in school.”
The film recently was invited to numerous 2021 film festivals around the country, including ones in Boston, Miami and Oregon.
“It was weird and very humbling to get invited to these festivals,” Gentle said.
Physically Awkward Films currently is working on a feature-length documentary called Outside Agitator: The Story of Rev. James Lawson, the story of the activist, teacher and Civil Rights Movement tactician of nonviolence.
The production company also does promotional, commercial and narrative work for local companies around town, including the Chattanooga Tourism Co., River Street Architecture and the Chattanooga Symphony & Orchestra.
Despite the variety of all the projects, UTC is never too far away, Gentle said.
“It has taken several years to get on my feet, but perseverance, continual experiential learning and a belief in myself—and a strong circle around me—helped me get to where I am today,” Gentle said.
“Looking back, I met my best friend and business partner at UTC. I met my girlfriend at UTC. And we filmed our first short on UTCs campus. To have worked there and to see how the school changed over the last 10 years—and how my life changed over those 10 years—UTC has been an integral part of how my life has turned out.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Chancellor’s 2021 Annual Report to the UC Foundation.