On October 13th and 14th, SC&I alumni Alan Barr JMS’06 and Zack Morrison JMS’14 showcased their recent work, “Accidental Expat” and “Canusa Street,” respectfully, at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York City, one of the “top ten film festivals in North America.”
As proud New Jersey natives and Rutgers alumni, this showcase was a “homecoming” for Barr and Morrison.
“[It] totally felt like a full circle moment for me to be able to bring the movie back to New York and screen it there because we screened at the South Texas Film Festival and premiered at the Arizona International Film Festival, which are more traditional spots for this kind of topic… And just to be able to showcase it to what I consider my home audience was something very special,” Barr said.
Morrison said, “When I was a student at Rutgers, I started…playing [at] film festivals in New York City, and it was kind of my way into the film festival world in the first place. So I think it's really great to have an opportunity to come back and screen my work again in New York City. I lived in the city for five years, [and] growing up in New Jersey, New York was everything."
Barr’s film, “Accidental Expat,” filmed in Mexico City, features “a deported DREAMer, who has to start his life over again in Mexico City,” as Barr said. His inspiration for this project came from posts in a Facebook group called “Foreigners in Mexico City” when he was living there. After Barr saw a message from a DREAMer who was deported from Texas to Mexico looking for suggestions on starting his life over in CDMX, he realized the impact his and other DREAMer stories could bring out to others in a feature film and started to interview different deportees to learn about their stories and hardships.
Inspired by experiences Morrison had while he worked at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, plus an article he read about a small town cut in half by U.S. and Canadian “drunken surveyors,” during the pandemic, Morrison produced his 30-minute television sitcom pilot “Canusa Street” about U.S. Border Patrol. This project, as Morrison mentioned, was a challenge going in because he did not know what to expect while filming in northern Minnesota, as he was moving in a fast pace to raise funds for the project. On November 6 2023, “Canusa Street” was showcased on the Big Apple Film Festival, and won the “Best Episodic Series.”
During the film festival, Barr and Morrison were connected by SC&I faculty member Steven Miller, who had greatly impacted them during their undergraduate years at Rutgers.
“Professor Miller [is] just so supportive of the alums, even if you're not doing journalism specifically. He's been a great resource to me, and I know he has done screenwriting himself. So we've had some discussions about filmmaking in general and he was very supportive,” Barr said.
Morrison said, “Steve has been one of the biggest supporters, cheerleaders, and motivators, and anytime I'm back in New Brunswick, I try to go to his office hours, if he's on campus. He's been one of the most kind and generous people in my life, especially in my professional endeavors."
Before they became professional filmmakers and during their time at Rutgers, Barr and Morrison were involved in different student organizations related to media production. Morrison was a resident at the former RU-TV Living Learning Community, which turned into a paid job for him. He also worked for the Media and Marketing Team at the Rutgers Division of Student Affairs, producing videos for various student organizations. Barr was a broadcaster at the Rutgers radio station WRSU. 88.7 FM, where he announced Rutgers sporting events, which helped him land his first job out of college.
Reflecting on their undergrad experiences at SC&I, Barr and Morrison both emphasized the importance of making everything they did into actions and continuously creating. As for advice for future filmmakers, especially for Rutgers students, “Journalism is an excellent breeding ground for future filmmakers,” Barr said. They encourage students who would want to follow in their footsteps to start small and to grasp every opportunity around them that Rutgers has to offer.
"Every student filmmaker at one point or another makes a movie ‘no one wants to see,’" Morrison said. “And that's ok! Because it's just one of the things that you just have to make and get out of the way to make the next thing and then the next thing and then maybe the 10th thing down the road is going to be the one that kicks off. You really don't know, but it's just it's a matter of making a lot of things all the time because that's how you find your voice as an artist. If it's bad, it's bad, but who cares – just throw it out."
Images: Courtesy of Alan Barr and Zack Morrison