Walking around Penn’s largely pre–professional campus, the chances of seeing a movie camera that doesn’t belong to a news network are minimal. But Penn does have its fair share of aspiring filmmakers who pursue this art both on and off campus. Street had the opportunity to talk to three of them about how they discovered their passion, how they used it to put their thoughts on screen, and what they plan to do with it in the future.
Justin Lee, C’18
Justin Lee is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics. Justin came to Penn with a future in politics in mind, and didn’t pick up a Cinema Studies minor until his sophomore year.
“I mostly picked up film because, after the academic stress of first semester freshman year, I was like, ‘get a hobby!’ Then, this thing I was doing for fun turned into the only thing I could think about. I couldn’t wait to pick up the camera again.”
Lee’ Seagull, which took home second place in last year’s Penn Film Festival tells a big tale about a little dog. “Stuffed dogs are easy subjects to work with,” he says of the film with a smile. On a more serious note, he speaks of his real intention in Seagull saying, “Seagull was a sort of personal therapy. At times, I thought it might be getting too emotional or too sappy…I didn’t want it to just be a sappy, short film. I wanted the whole thing to be self–aware, and to undercut the sappy with the reality.
Right now, Justin is working on several outside projects while trying to write the script to his first feature film. As a self–proclaimed Charlie Kauffman fan with an eye for a good story, Justin says he loves when movies feel personal to the director or writer, because that will feel personal to the audience. All in all, he says, “I write me.”
Ari Lewis, C’18
Ari Lewis is a senior double–majoring in Communications, and Cinema & Media Studies. Talking about when she first decided film was her path, Ari says:
“I vividly remember my aunt giving me a Hot Wheels film video camera for my 10th birthday. I became obsessed with that camera, recording everything from a makeshift safari in my backyard, to a wedding bringing two stuffed animals together in holy matrimony, and to a family brawl of sorts...That was definitely the first time I tapped into my passion for storytelling through the film medium, and I’ve known I wanted to go into the film industry ever since.”
On Penn’s campus, Ari is known as a comedian—but her dedication to her craft is no joke. “Film and television are powerful tools in shaping the conceived notions surrounding particular groups of people. My ultimate goal is to change the dangerous, long–lived stereotypes—which continue to dominate the industry—that hyper–criminalize, sexualize, and generally limit minorities. I am determined to better the current landscape by becoming a creative producer and putting together my own original content.” She talks about the worlds she hopes to invent: vivid societies abiding by her own pre–determined rules. It’s no wonder she states that her favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy stories.
“These genres create worlds that suspend the audience from their subjectivities and beliefs. Then, they can see a particular issue within another context. Thus, creating alternate universes through those genres can potentially break down societal fallacies and develop empathy.”
Currently, Ari is working on a music video for a song off her second mixtape, ‘21 BARZ.’ Each song on the mixtape is about a different beverage—and this one, entitled “Hydrated Nights,” is all about water. “So, please…stay hydrated folks.”
Mary Osunlana, C’20
Mary Osunlana is a sophomore, studying English in the College, who calls Plantation, FL her home. “But we don’t have to talk about that!”
Though she came to Penn on the pre–med track and toting an impressive associate’s degree in Chemistry, she was honest about her true passions soon after she hit Locust Walk. “I’ve always been interested in English, writing, and art. It’s just the truth.”
A fan of new cinema, Mary says her favorite recent movies are Brigsby Bear and THOR: Ragnarok. Of the latter, she feels the need to explain: “Despite the homogenous monster Marvel can often be, his voice in that movie is so clear.”
English major or not, Mary’s interest in film is less than theoretical—both of her favorite courses this semester are hands–on workshops in Digital Photography and Film Sound, which allow her to leave the classroom with tangible and actionable “nuggets of work.” It’s no surprise that her affinity for film comes from an interest in the production and post–production phases of filmmaking where there is arguably more creative control. “Film is a collaboration, but I want to preserve my vision and my voice.”
When asked what she wants the voice of her work to say to audiences, she admits to simply wanting to capture a moment, and her current work—an upcoming documentary about the Kelly Writer’s House—intends to do just that. “Every day we create—that’s what I’m doing. That is the House. All the tools are there. It’s so organic. I love it.” But this project also bears the mark of her distinct voice and vision: “I want to capture the moment that we’re in while we’re here—the people who come through the doors of the [Kelly] Writer’s House with their own beautiful moments and unique perspectives, like a collage that amplifies the whole.”