The Mosaic Film Experience (MFE) celebrated a decade of student storytelling with its annual Mosaic Event on Tuesday, November 3. The Mosaic Event was broadcast live from Celebration Cinema North in Grand Rapids.

“The Mosaic Film Experience works at the dynamic convergence of education, diversity, and innovation on the platform storytelling because storytelling is a strategic muscle that students need to have for 21st century careers,” said Skot Welch, Founder of the Mosaic Film Experience.

An impressive list of guest speakers from across the film and digital media industries coalesced to provide high school students with an exclusive look at their work, career journey, and the importance of storytelling and creativity.

Phillip Boutte Jr., the co-founder of Los Angeles-based 9B Collective, the first Black-owned concept art studio, was one such speaker. 9B Collective has worked with Netflix, Marvel, HBO, Hulu, and Lucas Films Ltd. Boutte Jr.’s costume concept art can be seen in Hollywood blockbusters like Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Inception, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2, The Greatest Showman, and The Hunger Games.

“With Mosaic, there’s such a wide range of creatives that come to speak to the students that also look like them,” said Phillip Boutte Jr. “That provides an opportunity for jobs they didn’t know existed.”

Students were introduced to opportunities within augmented reality and experiential installations by Rolando Gonzalez. Based in Mexico City, Gonzalez is the creative director of the digital art, installation, and video mapping agency Runente. He shared the importance of harnessing new technology as a creative.

“It’s not just the medium,” Gonzalez said. “You get excited about everything new and what you can do and accomplish with new technology.”

Julien and Justen Turner are filmmaking brothers from Columbus, Ohio and the co-owners of Dreadhead Films. Their credits include work with Sesame Street, Nike, Air Jordan, and Amazon. The Turner Brothers shared how they got started in storytelling and how their technology and tools advanced as they continued making films.

“All you have to do to become a filmmaker is make a film,” said Justen Turner. “It may not start out as the best. As you keep doing it with the resources you have, it can only get better.”

Mimi Chakarova is a Berkeley, California-based photographer and filmmaker who finds inspiration in helping young female artists. Chakarova is the founder of the Still I Rise film series and fellowship program. Still I Rise celebrates people who persevere in spite of struggle. The film series shatters stereotypes and honors those striving for dignity and justice. Chakarova discussed the importance of owning your own story and voice as an aspiring filmmaker.

“Try not to imitate other people,” Chakarova said. “If you have a vision of your own, don’t be scared to try it.”

Chakarova shared the virtual stage with Columbia University sophomore Mariah Barrera, a 2019 City High-Middle School alumna who returned to the Mosaic Event after winning first prize at the Mosaic Mobile competition in 2017 and 2019. Barrera was awarded a Still I Rise Films fellowship for her short film “My Brother’s Keeper.” With help from the fellowship grant, Barrera expanded the film. “My Brother’s Keeper” has been selected to be screened at the 2021 DOC NYC film festival beginning on November 10.

“There are always going to be people telling stories and making films. There is always going to be someone making the YouTube videos you watch, the commercials you watch, the movies and TV shows you watch. There’s no reason it can’t be you,” Barrera said.

In addition to Barrera, several other professionals had roots in Michigan, including Robert Butler, the owner of Detroit-based Easy Breezy Productions. The production company is helping to expand creative opportunities across the state. Butler shared his inspiration behind his most recent project, “Life Ain’t Nothing Like The Movies.”

“There’s a director named John Hughes and he always says, ‘write what you know.’ So, there’s a character in my film based off my grandfather. It’s semi-autobiographical, just a little more dramatized,” said Butler.

The creative minds behind Los Angeles-based Branch Out Productions also talked with students about their experience making films and their commitment to creating jobs in West Michigan. The film “Block Party” was shot in Grand Rapids.

“Why not do it in our own backyard?” said Lisa Oliver King, Co-Founder, Branch Out Productions. “Detroit gets all of the hoopla, which is deserving. We are a big hoopla up here in Grand Rapids also.”

Branch Out Productions has a history of working with diverse productions teams and expanding opportunities for women. Co-Founder Lisa Mathis Allen had some advice for aspiring filmmakers.

“Just start making movies. Everybody has an iPhone now. You don’t need a bunch of huge equipment. Just start doing it,” Mathis-Allen said.

In addition to a full lineup for speakers, the 2021 top 10 Mosaic Mobile films were also screened at the event and the top three winners were announced. Mosaic Mobile student-made short films that are entirely shot, edited, and submitted on mobile devices.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve been building a network of industry professionals to open students’ eyes to prospective career journeys and develop the creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills that are required to be successful in any field,” said Skot Welch, founder of the Mosaic Film Experience. “These inspiring creatives are challenging the status quo and making a place for diverse voices in the world of storytelling.”



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