“Movie Kid” to Aspiring Filmmaker

Portrait of Marianna Mattes
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

“I’ve been a ‘movie kid’ forever. I even think of my life as punctuated by what movie or television show was out during that year,” says recent graduate Marianna Mattes. She earned a BA in cultural studies and comparative literature (CSCL) with a minor in cinema and media culture in 2018, and she is currently being mentored by award-winning independent documentary filmmaker Melody Gilbert. Mattes is driven by her dream of becoming a filmmaker and credits the College of Liberal Arts with preparing her for her career.

Lightning Bolt to the Heart

Mattes believes that her liberal arts degree gives her an edge over those who studied film production at a technical college—even though many see that as the traditional path to a career in film. “I am so glad that I went to the University of Minnesota and did my reading and writing, as opposed to just learning how to use cameras… While I took production classes for my film minor, I got a lot more from the intensive literature courses where I was creating a lot and producing essays,” says Mattes. In the film industry, voice matters, and knowing what you’re saying and how to say it is even more important. She adds that “getting a liberal arts degree made me a more competent person—as opposed to being competent in a skill.”

Mattes’ passion for film was affirmed in the very first class she took in CSCL. The topic was on oppositional cinemas, and Mattes recalls how the instructor, Andrea Gyenge, explained the concept: “It’s not a mirror with which you reflect reality, but rather a hammer with which to smash it.” That idea of resonated with her. “Reality is just so wild, and I love to see films that denaturalize the world around me and put them into a context that I can understand,” she explains.

She describes the class as “a lightning bolt to the heart. All my social and political consciousness, all my academic curiosities, and my life as an aspiring filmmaker suddenly lined up... It reminded me that what I wanted to do was important. I always felt like ‘well the world is burning and I just want to make art,' but I didn’t know how to tackle it directly.” That class affirmed that working with film gave her a way to make a meaningful contribution to the world, rather than “just looking at the chaos,” she says. “It gave me a destiny charge to what I want to do.”

Behind the Scenes

Mattes’ long-term goal is to write and direct for film and television, and she’s gaining valuable experience through her mentorship. Mattes helps Gilbert organize materials for an upcoming film, and Gilbert guides Mattes on the first short film she’s worked on since graduation. “I'm most passionate about narrative fiction,” she explains, “and working under the mentorship of a documentary filmmaker is teaching me valuable research skills that I might not otherwise get if I stayed solely in the fiction lane.”

The mentorship offers other perks, too. Mattes has had the opportunity to attend conferences and filmmaker conventions, where she gets to meet other local artists. Learning from another woman in a male-dominated profession is important to Mattes, who is “so grateful to be connected to Melody and to be connected to this network of women who just want to see other women succeed.”

The Next Act

Starting out as a film enthusiast to now working alongside a respected filmmaker, Mattes is well on her way to pursuing her dreams—and looks forward to what's next, particularly production work. “Production people, I do want to get hired!” she announces. “I’m looking, I’m interested, I’m competent."

Not only has Mattes' liberal arts degree prepared her well for the working world, but it gave her a well of inspiration that continues to nourish her creative practice: “I still thumb through the course packet for Oppositional Cinemas when I lose the structural backbone of the art I'm making," she says.

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLA.

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