February 24, 2023

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

A Conversation With Ben Strickland: VSU Alumnus, Filmmaker Introduces “No Limits No Refunds” to South Georgia Film Festival Audiences

Ben Strickland's "No Limits No Refunds" is one of 95 films that will be screened during the seventh annual South Georgia Film Festival March 3-5 at Valdosta State University. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Mass Media from VSU in 2022 and says this is the first film festival that will show his film to the public. He is very excited to return to his alma mater and spend some time among the stately pines. He works in sports production with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida, but says he will always consider Tallahassee, where his family has resided for generations, home.




VALDOSTA — Ben Strickland's "No Limits No Refunds" is one of 95 films that will be screened during the seventh annual South Georgia Film Festival March 3-5 at Valdosta State University.

Strickland, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Mass Media from VSU in 2022, says this is the first film festival that will show his film to the public. He is very excited to return to his alma mater and spend some time among the stately pines.

The South Georgia Film Festival celebrates the art and industry of film, particularly those films that showcase the beauty of South Georgia and its people. Preference is given to filmmakers from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina, but the festival also includes films from across the United States and around the world. Selected films represent a variety of categories, including shorts, features, family friendly, high school student made, and college student produced. Visit http://southgeorgiafilm.com/ to purchase passes and view the full schedule of special events, screenings, and panel discussions.

VSU: What have you been up to since you graduated?

BEN STRICKLAND: My dream is to stay involved in the world of sports as long as I can. I am using my degree to pursue a career in sports production. I worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2022-2023 football season, and I am looking to work with them again for the next one.

VSU: Tell us about your film.

BEN STRICKLAND: This documentary takes just shy of half an hour to cover Gus Altenburg, his early-life struggles with Autism, and his athletic achievements despite his diagnosis. The story is told through the words of his parents, one of his closest friends, and his wrestling coach and covers the first times he started showing symptoms, how he used friends and sport to challenge himself in overcoming his unique struggles, then culminating to his five regional tournament matches that earned him the respected title of “state qualifier.”

VSU: What inspired you to make this film?

BEN STRICKLAND: Gus competed in the 2018 Florida High School Athletic Association wrestling regional tournament during my spring semester of freshman year. I went down from Valdosta, Georgia, to Tallahassee, Florida, to support him as his best friend with no premeditated intentions of capturing any film. Recording his regional matches was only a thought I had the first day of the tournament, right before matches started. I was lucky in doing so because I was able to record all of his matches that led to his qualification to the state tournament. In the wrestling world, qualifying for the state tournament sets you apart from all the other wrestlers; it’s an achievement that garners respect from everyone in the sport and speaks to your talent and hard work. When I came back from Tallahassee and I was able to reflect on the impact, I knew this needed to be made into a story and shown to many more people.

VSU: Where was “No Limits No Refunds” filmed?

BEN STRICKLAND: I filmed the interviews in Fort Myers, where Gus attends Florida Gulf Coast University, and Tallahassee, where his parents and supporters live. I gathered past photos and videos from his parents ranging from his infant years to his wrestling matches in high school.

VSU: What are some highlights of this filmmaking experience?

BEN STRICKLAND: If I didn’t make the quick decision to film all of Gus’s matches my freshman year, then I would not have had this idea to work with my senior year. It was the perfect mix of luck and fate to be able to have that weekend in solid proof and is the backbone to the documentary. I also enjoyed speaking with the coach and hearing about his experiences with Gus. To hear the perspective of a coach for a player is unique in that they have the wisdom to see through the surface-level struggle of the day-to-day and find the growth taking place in the long term. The coach’s words during his interview reflect parallels between Gus’s time in wrestling and all of his childhood.

VSU: What challenges did you have to overcome?

BEN STRICKLAND: The initial challenge that I faced through the whole filmmaking process was turning this into a one-man project. This was my project for Senior Capstone, and the professor wanted us to pair up to help divide the workload. One student already requested to film their project solo, and I couldn’t find someone willing to partner up to work on an idea that was already formed, and probably not helpful towards their goals. However, I enjoyed having artistic control in all phases of production and it made traveling way easier to accommodate.

Finding a way to film Gus’s interview at the level of quality I required for my piece was also a big challenge. I did not want to screen-record a Zoom call due to lack of artistic and quality control; I wanted to set up the interview space through the eye of a filmmaker instead of through the lens of a laptop, and audio quality drops immensely through online video calls. I resorted to traveling the seven hours to Fort Myers for a weekend to spend time with my close friend as well as film his interview in the best quality I could achieve.

VSU: What advice do you have for emerging filmmakers?

BEN STRICKLAND: There are impactful stories all around you, walking the streets alongside you, taking notes in class next to you, or eating a quick meal a couple tables down from you. You just need to ask the right questions to find the one that speaks to you in a way that flows the creative, media-story juices. I’m still anxious about putting other people in front of the lens, but after this project I gained appreciation for the different sides to people I knew for years because they were telling a story they hold dear to their hearts and being filmed doing it.

VSU: What’s next for you?

BEN STRICKLAND: I am still finding film festivals to submit this story, as I feel Gus’s story is important for as many people to listen to as possible. It speaks to a resiliency that is not seen as much these days. Regardless of whether you suffer from a mental illness or not, Gus shows that anything is possible with enough dedication, and I want as many people to learn that through him as possible.

VSU: How do you hope “No Limits No Refunds” impacts audiences?

BEN STRICKLAND: Becoming a state qualifier in wrestling requires perseverance, resiliency, and inner strength, not to mention a great deal of physical fitness. Children suffering from Autism deal with hypersensitivity to touch and loud sounds, as well as difficulty with picking up social cues and interpersonal communication. Gus was able to achieve a feat in the social and physical battleground of wrestling in spite of his additional obstacles. I want the audience to finish listening to his story, rejuvenated towards their goals and inspired by Gus’s accomplishments without any personal boundaries holding them back.

Strickland lives in Jacksonville, Florida, but says he will always call Tallahassee home. “It’s where my family still resides and many family members from multiple generations grew up.”

When asked about his support system, Strickland says, “I’m still very close to my parents, Tim and Cindy, and my brother, Tyler, the same as seen in the film. I enjoy coming back home regularly to visit them and our three cats, Chief, Frosty, and Pixel. I currently live with my close college friend, Dylan Tedder, who has a Bassett Hound puppy named Rowe.”

“No Limits No Refunds” Cast: Gus Altenburg; his parents, Bethany and Joe Altenburg; his friend Tyler Strickland; and his wrestling coach, Mike Crowder. Crew: Ben Strickland, solo filmmaker