How does a film student take a homework assignment and turn it into a professional documentary?
Matt Cipollone, SOC/MFA ’18, did just that while a student in AU’s School of Communication Film and Electronic Media program.
Cipollone came to AU because, as he said, “I was looking for a media program that allows me to focus on social issues. My goal is to create compelling documentary media for nonprofits that work on the issues I care about. With the help of my professors, I’ve been able to start that trajectory while I’m a student and not wait until after graduation.”
Inspired by a homework assignment in associate professor Maggie Stogner’s class, Cipollone decided to tell a story about Baltimore, his home city. He focused his attention on the Next One Up Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of young men in Baltimore City by supporting and advancing their academic, athletic, and social development.
One of Next One Up's SAT prep classes.
Over the course of summer 2016, Cipollone used the five-minute homework assignment as inspiration for a fuller documentary, traveling between DC and Baltimore to film with Next One Up students. The organization provides students with mentoring, academic support, and athletic training. Each summer, Next One Up takes their students to a college in New York for a one-week athletic camp. The students see what life after high school could look like—and see a world very different from inner city Baltimore.
That same summer, Cipollone served as a Center for Media and Social Impact fellow, partnering with community members to create digital stories about issues affecting their communities in the Community Voice Project. There, he came to understand the power of a letter as the driving force and structure for narrative projects. After hearing one Next One Up student talk about Baltimore like a friend or family member, Cipollone suggested that the student write a letter to Baltimore and the focus of the film, Dear Baltimore, was born.
The student, John, reading his letter to Baltimore during filming.
When Cipollone returned to campus this past fall, he dove into finishing the documentary – calling on his AU professors for their help in tying all the pieces together. The finished project, Dear Baltimore, weaves a student’s letter to his home city with the story of how students’ lives are impacted by the work of the nonprofit.
Cipollone premiered Dear Baltimore on October 27 at the historic Senator Theater in Baltimore, Maryland during an event for the Next One Up Foundation. (The trailer for Dear Baltimore can be viewed here.)
Just one week before that premiere, Cipollone was a featured speaker at AU’s annual President’s Circle Dinner which highlights the role of philanthropy in the university’s success. This year’s program included stories of the incredible transformation that AU has undergone during President Neil Kerwin’s leadership.
Before an audience of AU supporters, Cipollone spoke about his experience at AU and how philanthropy has made his success possible. He spoke of seeing his own work in the Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater, “during my first year we screened one of our assignments in the beautiful Forman Theater for class. It was the first time I saw work of mine in such an amazing setting, and it had a major impact on me. I hadn’t expected that opportunity as a student.”
Following the success of Dear Baltimore, Cipollone is looking ahead to the future and finishing his MFA at AU. He hopes to continue sharing stories of nonprofits’ work, “In 2017, my goal is to build upon what I learned making this documentary and look outward to identify new organizations I can work with.”