Former students document Scav Hunt

By Carden Safran

Every spring, the stereotypically reserved students of the University of Chicago cut loose as they devote four days, not to studying, but to scavenging. Last spring two former University students and active scavengers, Sean Daily and Christopher Plotner, organized the documentation of Scav Hunt, the largest scavenger hunt in the world. The fruit of their efforts, Hunt, will premiere at Doc Films Tuesday, November 19.

The annual University Scav Hunt was founded in 1987 by Chris Straus, now a radiologist at the University Hospital. The hunt was originally battled out between numerous groups, but has turned into a full-scale war between a few large coalitions. There were nine teams last year, most representing dormitory houses competing to find, build, or complete 300-odd tasks over a four-day period.

According to Daily and Plotner, the director and producer of Hunt, respectively, larger schools have highly competitive sports teams that students and alumni alike become passionate about, often treating games as near life-or-death matters. At the U of C, where study is often what people display the most passion for, Scav Hunt is one instance where play comes before work on a large scale.

“The University is this grand nose-in-the-book place, but for those four days, people show a side of themselves that they don’t normally show here,” Daily said.

Having joked in the past about videotaping the hunt, Daily e-mailed Plotner last spring about doing just that — but on a much larger scale. As a member of Fire Escape Films, the University’s student film organization, Daily was able to borrow a lot of the necessary equipment and receive some funding, which was supplemented by a grant from the Student Arts Fund. Daily and Plotner also contributed a great deal of money to the documentary.

In the end, the project included 12 crew members working nine cameras to record over 120 hours of film.

The film focuses primarily on three teams: Pierce, Max Palevsky, and Burton-Judson, as well as on events such as the Thursday night talent show and the final judging ceremony. Narrated by Bob Levey, a columnist for the Washington Post, a University alumnus, and former Maroon editor, the documentary features music from two University bands, Millimeters Mercury and the Planck Length, both of which aim to show the passion, intensity, ridiculousness, and sheer coolness of the Scav Hunt.

Hunt is intended to cater to audiences from outside Chicago who may be unfamiliar with the University and its reputation. After the Doc premiere, Daily and Plotner hope to screen Hunt at other Chicago independent theaters. The two also plan to submit the film to the Full Frame Documentary Festival, which takes place in North Carolina in the spring, as well as other film festivals throughout the country.

Hunt will likely be released on DVD and VHS sometime in early December.