Acclaimed honorees, including Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter, President of Will Packer Productions James F. Lopez, and Comedian Hasan Minhaj, appeared to float across the red carpet adjacent to the proud and breathtakingly humble student filmmaker nominees at the Reel Works Benefit Gala this past Tuesday evening.
Reel Works, which was founded in 2001 by couple Stephanie and John Williams, aims to serve over 800 at-risk youths by helping them jump-start their careers in media and filmmaking. The program is the only one of its kind that matches teens one on one with industry professional filmmakers. The student works have been embraced by millions of worldwide viewers, and provides the students with a platform for self-expression and an opportunity to share their inspiring stories.
Student F. John Outcalt Award for Outstanding Filmmaking winner Faith Mora first heard about Reel Works through a friend and was encouraged to apply. During her interview process, Mora recalled growing extremely emotional for fear of being open about her sexuality, but found catharsis through her documentary, My Coming Out Story.
“I just want people to take away the idea that it’s okay to be who you are and accept who you are because you’ll always have a support system even if you don’t,” said the young filmmaker. “When I was first struggling with my sexuality, I watched a lot of YouTube videos, and that kind of did help me and push me to come out to my friends and my family, so with my documentary, I want to be able to give that same feeling.”
Mora fondly spoke to the creative process with her mentor Prisca Edwards, and the inclusion of a reenactment of Faith first coming out to her twin sister.
“I came out to my twin sister during it, and I wanted to showcase that, so other people who are like me in the closet, and are kind of scared to talk about their sexuality to see it and be inspired to be like ‘maybe I should come out and be proud of who I am.’ My mentor, Christa Edwards, me and her worked really well together. We always threw ideas back and forth together because with a documentary, I could do whatever I want as long as I stayed true to the story,” added Mora.
Another Reel Works Gala student and one of the evening’s nominees, Wei Ye Ng, recalled his life-changing experience in the program and creating his documentary, Outside The Storm, which focused on the natural disaster that engulfed Puerto Rico.
“My mentor, Ryan Smith, he actually helped me stay on track with my script because during the script phase, I had so many revisions and changes that it wasn’t originally my script anymore. My mentor was able to come and help me stay on track; I’m so grateful to my mentor,” said Ye Ng. “After the program, I really wanted to continue with filmmaking. So now I’m in college trying to get more connections and trying to improve my skills in film. [With my documentary], I’m hoping for people to be more acknowledging of Puerto Rico and aware that now Puerto Rico is in such a terrible state. So my film is trying to pass the message along and help Puerto Rico as much as I can and as much as people can.”
Reel Works aims to continue an effected change within the media industry, and encourages its young students to be at the forefront of this change by sharing their stories and aiming high for the generations that follow them.
“We’re in a beautiful position, because what we’re seeing now is a shift in the industry,” said co-founder of Reel Works Stephanie Williams. “We’re seeing more stories of different populations, and now, our kids get to be a part of that. And there’s an audience for it. They want beautiful, raw stories that are different.”
As the Gala celebrating the need for all voices to be heard kicked off, honoree Ruth E. Carter shared her passion and stride for continued change in the entertainment industry. She acknowledged how blessed she felt to be in a room with the future generation, that will soon be pioneering this shift within the industry. Comedian and honoree Hasan Minhaj, most notably known as a previous-correspondent on The Daily Show and host of Patriot Act on Netflix, threw in his comedic flair by saying, “In 10 years when you’re all successful, please hire me.”