Filmmakers are told to ‘discover their own voice’ – Arkansas Online | Episode Movies

Last month, the Brent Renaud Foundation hosted their first of many events at Arkansas PBS Studios in Conway. Teenagers, parents and young filmmakers joined award-winning documentary filmmaker Craig Renaud (“Off to War”, “Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later “), photojournalist Juan Arredondo and filmmakers Jamal Hodge (“Primal Instinct”) and Amman Abbasi (“Dayveon”).

Attendees were first led through the winding, maze-style corridors that are the PBS offices until we were led to the main studio, the same studio that is home to “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” and “Rise and Shine.” As we walked in we were greeted by the entire Renaud family: Brent’s brother Craig, his mother and sister. Everyone humbly handed out refreshments and goodie bags and chatted with each individual until the show started.

After everyone was seated and the event began livestreaming, the four filmmakers took the stage and immediately opened the floor for questions, surprising the audience. The first questions came from high school students who wanted to know how they could become filmmakers or if they should even get into filmmaking. All four artists basically had the same answer: If you have a story to tell, if you want to tell the stories of others, then yes, then become a filmmaker. The how required a more nuanced answer as there is no one way to become an artist; In fact, all four of these artists had drastically different career paths.

None of them attended film school, and all insisted that they did not need any formal training to become filmmakers. All you need is some gear and a few like-minded friends to work as your crew, and you’ve got the beginnings of a film career. Brent and Craig Renaud both have college degrees in English and anthropology, respectively. They first got into filmmaking when they met Cinema Verite documentary maker Jon Alpert at the Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV) in New York. The brothers did an internship at DCTV, where they learned and honed their craft as documentary filmmakers. And over the past two decades, they’ve both been honored with the Peabody Awards, the Emmys, IDA, the Overseas Press Club, the duPont Columbia Awards, and the Edward R. Murrow Awards for reporting on a wide variety of global humanitarian issues, ranging from the wars in the Iraq, honored and Afghanistan to the drug and refugee crisis across the Mexican border.

Juan Arredondo advises young filmmakers that you are never too old to start your journey into art. Arredondo had already graduated and worked in the pharmaceutical field before he had the opportunity to pursue his passion for photojournalism. He would use his vacation time to chronicle human rights abuses and conflicts in Colombia, Venezuela and Central America. In the midst of his reporting, he got into dangerous situations and was sometimes beaten by foreign law enforcement agencies. He even found himself alongside Brent in Ukraine when they were attacked. (Brent was killed in Ukraine in March).

Hodge and Abbasi were mentored by Brent and Craig relatively early in their careers. Hodge met the Renauds in New York, where he claimed they were his first white friends, and changed his perspective on society. His advice to these teenagers was that film is a community art and that they “need to grow with other artists as you discover your own voice.” But he also suggested that people should learn the business side of the art world, that if you want to raise money for a project, you should reach out to communities outside your own. Abbasi, on the other hand, was a high school student when he met the Renauds. They were shooting their documentary about Little Rock Central High School, and Abbasi went to the brothers’ house every day and “buzzed” them with all sorts of film questions until they took him under their wing as a young filmmaker.

The filmmakers spent the rest of the event sharing their own personal stories and answering questions from the high school students to give them confidence that becoming a filmmaker is possible, and even accepted questions from parents met the crowd and assured them that their child can make a living as an artist, no matter how rowdy they get. All they have to do is support and encourage their child’s artistic ambitions.

After the event, I sat down with Craig to ask about the Foundation and its mentors, but our conversation took an unexpected turn. He is a very gentle man, but comes across as endearing and passionate in his choice of words. He told me he wanted the foundation to have a partial focus on mental health. To be honest, initially I didn’t really see the connection between mental health and the mentoring of teenage filmmakers. But then he told me about the fights he and Arredondo have had since the Ukraine incident. Not only that, but Craig asked me about my mental health, and as I started to talk I realized that as a filmmaker I’ve had a pretty rough time over the last few years with my own films and my job and just the general stress. And as I spoke, I looked at Craig and realized that he was listening…really listening. I was choked with the sobering thought that as an artist, as a filmmaker, I’ve put my own mental health on hold for far too long. And it was nice to just have someone to talk to, even for the briefest moment.

The Brent Renaud Foundation is planning more town hall style events and will soon be launching its website But in the meantime, you can watch this two-hour conversation on Arkansas PBS’ YouTube page.

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