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Former COC professor and COC alumna win Emmy for “Cheer”

Arielle Kilker and Dave Nordstrom on set.

For College of the Canyons alumna Arielle Kilker, there is nothing more rewarding than giving a voice to those who might be overlooked. Working on Netflix’s docuseries “Cheer” gave her and her husband Dave Nordstrom the chance to do just that. 

“Their stories aren’t often told, and definitely not in this true documentary format,” she said. “It was just really fulfilling as an artist to be able to tell those kinds of stories, because I’ve been doing this for a long time now and it’s the first time in my career where I got to tell the story of a female perspective.”

Nordstrom, who is a former COC professor, said that “Cheer” is an honest portrait of people who live and breathe cheerleading. 

“We examine a lot of stuff from LGBTQ issues, racial issues, issues of class on a societal level, and this kind of strange, uniquely American invention,” he said.

Nordstrom said it was imperative that they accurately portrayed both the beautiful and brutal realities of the sport.

“There’s like a popular image of cheerleading that’s really flat that kind of pigeonholes them and minimizes them as people and athletes,” said Nordstrom.

Netflix’s “Cheer” documents the trials and tribulations of Navarro College’s elite collegiate cheerleading squad. It was a hit with audiences everywhere, walking away with three Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program.

Nordstrom, hard at work in the studio.

This is Nordstrom’s second Emmy win and a first for Kilker, who believes that there’s a lot more to reality documentary editing than meets the eye. 

“There’s a lot of crossover with editing documentary with writing, because you’re given a lot of footage and it’s your job as the editor to figure out what the story is and the best way to tell it,” she said.

Kilker said “Cheer” was rolling 10 hours a day, six days a week for three months, which resulted in a huge amount of footage. She said the role of a reality documentary editor is something a lot more complicated than it sounds. 

“You’re finding what’s important to the story, what’s going to resonate with an audience, what’s important to you as a filmmaker, what you want to say with the work, and most importantly staying true to the subjects,” Kilker said.

Working on “Cheer” was something Kilker was very excited about. She said she’s especially grateful for the choice she made in going to COC and subsequently Cal State Northridge because it gave her the ability to turn down jobs so she could focus on the projects she was passionate about.

“My time at COC was incredibly valuable to me in part because it allowed a lot of flexibility,” Kilker said. “I know a lot of artists that have actually been hindered because they graduate with a ton of debt and it can be really crippling to your creativity and the risks that you take, the decisions that you make, the jobs that you take or let go because you have this monthly debt that you’re paying off, so I’m really grateful that I went to COC and CSUN where I came out mostly unscathed in terms of finances.”

The entertainment industry is very much a gig economy, and Kilker said it’s very easy to get started on a trajectory that may steer you in a direction you might not necessarily want.

“Given that I kind of had my best foot forward after graduating because of the schools I went to, I was able to pass up jobs, which is what you need to do in order to get to where you actually want to be. I’m very grateful and happy with the path that I’m on right now,” she said.

While “Cheer” gives a voice to a group of people mostly unheard, Kilker said COC was a big factor in putting her on that path, giving her a chance to explore her own voice.

Kilker behind the scenes.

“I took the film classes there, and that’s where I was able to get more hands on experience, and really figure out that [filmmaking] is actually something I wanted to pursue. If I hadn’t had that opportunity, I might not have chosen this field.” 

Now, with an Emmy under her belt, she says anyone should give community college should try.

“Higher education wasn’t necessarily a given for me growing up and it wasn’t an obvious path for me, but I decided to give it a shot by going to COC, and it’s a really low-risk way to explore different avenues your life could take, and get experience with a bunch of different things. I wouldn’t have the career or the life that I have if I hadn’t done that.”

COVID-19 has slowed down production for most things in the realm of entertainment, but Kilker and Nordstrom are in the process of developing more projects to pitch in the near future, and you can catch the award-winning docuseries “Cheer” now available to stream on Netflix.

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