In response to a series of thought-provoking questions from Project Atrium artist Carl Joe Williams, senior-year students from the Cinematic Arts department at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville recorded fellow students talking about their family stories, the American Dream, and their vision of the future. The diversity of answers reflects the many versions of the American experience that together form our common identity. Directed by Dr. Corey Thayer with cinematography by Brandon Mosquiero, Dallas Thompson, and Sebastian Keller.
The project was produced and edited by Douglas Anderson student Rori Links, who we asked a few questions about her interest in the arts and involvement in the project.
Q: Tell us about yourself and how you first became interested in cinematic arts?
A: When I was in middle school, I saw a flyer for a musical at my school, Fletcher Middle School, and that was actually what got me into the arts. I started out doing some minor theater, although around seventh grade I realized I didn't really have any talent in that area. So, then I actually said, 'Well, I like this environment but what can I do that's on the opposite side of things?' That's how I got into film. I did some film camp, I worked on some films by myself, and when I found out that D.A. had a film program, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I worked really hard on my audition film and got in. I was so thrilled, I accepted immediately.
Q: Who are your artistic influences?
A: Two of the people I draw the most inspiration from are John Hughes and Wes Anderson. I always was interested in the '80s and would often talk to my parents about what it was like to grow up in the '80s, and I love those coming-of-age films. I loved Wes Anderson's take on coming-of-age and looking at the different perspectives they both had. So, for me, those were just two people who have a really big impact on my art.
Q: now you have credits as a Director, Writer, Cinematographer, Editor, Producer, and Actor. Which is your favorite role, and what inspires your process for that role?
A: It's hard to choose just one role. I think one of the best things about film, and especially the Cinematic Arts program at Douglas Anderson, is that you can do as many as you want. I think writing has always been very close to my heart and screenwriting has also inherently been so. Direction was the first thing I was interested in when I learned about film, but lately I've been really interested in and passionate about cinematography. So I would say all three of those are my favorite. I'm editing my thesis film and that's something that really interests me. It's a combination of everything. I think it's just really satisfying to say that you wrote something, and then you directed it, and then you edited it. It's really a thorough line of 'this is your artwork, this isn't anybody else's.'
Q: How did you become a part of this project as an Editor?
A: I was in on this project from the beginning. I remember Dr. Thayer and I went to meet with the artist when he was first talking to us about what he wanted with this project. Things have changed since that first stage and I think someone else was supposed to edit, but then after COVID hit and school went online, the project got sidetracked and nobody worked on it for many months. When I came back to school we had class projects in one of our film classes and Dr. Thayer asked me if this was something I wanted to take on. I said 'absolutely' because I watched as they filmed the interviews and seeing the process was something that was really interesting to me already. I was very happy to be the one to actually put it together.
Q: How did the theme of the exhibition influence your process for this project?
A: I think the American Dream definitely played a big role in editing. If they had been interviewed about something else, I don't think I would have been as careful as I was with crafting the responses because I tried very hard to keep it balanced between both opinions on the American Dream, whether it is generally a good or bad thing. I didn't want to just show one side. I thought it was really important to show both, especially because it was such a diverse group of people and to show that just because you or your family came from another country doesn't necessarily mean you have a good or bad feeling about the American Dream. There were a lot of very strong opinions from some of the people. It was interesting to see their point of view. They are very thought through answers, but I think the American Dream influenced my editing by making me think more so than if it had been a different subject.
Q: What does the American dream mean to you?
A: To me, I think it's hard to discern today's American Dream from what it once was. Not in, necessarily what it is, because I think now for everyone the final goal of the American Dream is different, but I think how you get there for many people is the same thing. I think it's general ideas of success and some amount of wealth to keep you and others happy. And I think now it is largely about personal goals and beliefs, but I still do believe that it is, largely to gain some amount of material success, like material wealth.
Q: What other projects are you currently working on?
A: Currently, I'm in the editing stages of my thesis film, which in Douglas Anderson Cinematic Arts it's our junior-year film. We spend the first nine weeks of the school year writing it in our screenwriting class and then we move on to filming it. I filmed mine in mid-November and then we go into the editing process. I will be finishing it up in these next couple of months and so far it's turning out pretty good. Filming it was definitely a challenge just because of COVID. I actually had several public locations for mine; I had a bowling alley, the thrift store, and a restaurant. So, it was a challenge to get everything to work out the way that I wanted it to, but it actually ended up going fairly well and hopefully the edit will be just what I was hoping for.
Q: What is your favorite memory at Douglas Anderson?
A: Well, around November 2019, midway through my Sophomore year, there was so much happening. I remember the whole department was a buzz with everything that was happening. We had our 72 Hour Film Festival and there was Art Schools Network, which I was lucky enough to be on the team that went and helped with that Downtown. There was a film we made last year called 'Mandarino', which I actually produced, and it was a major film. That was filming around that time, I just remember how thrilling it all was to be part of so many things and I was really looking forward to the rest of my high school career. Now, things are quite different in the world, but I just remember that was a really a good time, I think, for the department because there was just so many opportunities for the students and there was a lot of engagement.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: Well, I'm currently looking into colleges and thinking about how I will incorporate film into my future because it's definitely not something that I want to let go of by any means. And I am trying to figure out where I see myself. And I have a lot of interests, so it's difficult narrowing down a college or where I want to go, but I think that film will definitely play a role in helping me decide that.
A special thanks to the Douglas Anderson Foundation for their support of this collaborative arts education project and partnership.