Winona State alum releases first feature film

Gabriel Hathaway, Editor-In-Chief

One of Winona State University’s very own alumni, Lauren Barker class of 2013, has written, directed and produced the film “Cohabitation” (2020), an alluring thriller film that has received both accolades and a distribution deal. 

“Cohabitation” follows the story of ex-paramedic Emily Jacobsen (Tiffany Streng) as she struggles with her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and new mysterious roommate, Sarah (Stephanie Rose).

Barker graduated from Winona State in 2013 before there was an established film major or minor. While at Winona State University, Barker majored in English Writing and later went on to study screenwriting at Vancouver Film School. 

“It is a feature length film, it is my first feature,” Barker said. “I’ve done two short films previously. I was really ambitious to make it, to be honest, I know a lot of people spend a little more time making short films and learning and stuff, and I was just really impatient in a lot of ways which ties to my ambition.”

“Cohabitation” was filmed with a small crew in Milwaukee, Wis. in 2018 and was completed by the end of 2020. This independent film was personally financed and crowdfunded to reach a total budget of $25,000. “Cohabitation” was submitted to multiple film festivals, earning a Best Actress in a Feature Film award for Streng and a distribution deal with Indie Rights.  

“Cohabitation” also features performances from two Winona State alumni of the 2012 theater program. Streng leads the film as Emily, the PTSD stricken protagonist looking to live her life. Streng brings a nuanced and human performance to the film as she deals with her PTSD, creepy landlord and death of a friend. Cailtin McCoy, another Winona State alum plays the smaller role of Liz in the film.

This film’s tagline, “Do you really know the person closest to you?” promises suspense and mystery that is surely delivered in the film. Rose convincingly plays the antagonist of the film, a mysterious and murderous roomate. Rose steals many scenes and does a great job fluctuating between nice innocent roommate and psychotic murderer.

For any current film students looking to get into the film industry, Barker provided some advice.  

“It comes down to two main things. You have to try multiple different avenues and then you also need to be persistent,” Barker said.

There are many ways to be involved in the film community and Barker listed a few; attend networking events; spend time writing; attend film festivals; freelance; and work on your own projects as well as others’. Barker emphasized the importance of “getting a lot of balls in the air.” 

Barker also stressed the importance of making connections in the film industry. 

“Some people are going to kind of recommend you for jobs and other people are just going to be there for advice and mentorship,” Barker said. “Then there are other people that you are going to want to hire and bring onto your film sets. So there are various reasons but those connections are so important. The more you are doing, too, the more you are going to meet people.”

“Cohabitation” is streaming on Amazon, Google Play, Tubi TV and Youtube.

Barker currently lives in Los Angeles with the goal of continuing to make bigger and better films.

“Ultimately what I am trying to do is kind of like quieting that inner critic,” Barker said. “It is really important because that is how you move forward and you cannot be focused on perfection. Because I have that high standard, like I want to make great films, but…I needed to make the mistakes that I did in order to really keep moving forward.”