For several years the Colorado State University Alumni Association (CSUAA) has hosted regional, in-person Alumni Night Out learning events that feature intriguing topics and places. In 2020, ACT Human Rights Film Festival and CSUAA planned a film-focused Alumni Night Out event during the fifth edition of ACT in the Lory Student Center Theater. The event was set feature an exclusive screening of Hungry To Learn, followed by a post-film Q&A conversation between KUNC’s Colorado Edition co-host Erin O’Toole and the film’s Emmy-winning producer Rose Arce.
“Hungry to Learn was an ideal film to screen for CSU alumni and introduce them to the festival,” says Beth Seymour, ACT managing director. The film, directed by Geeta Gandbhir and produced by Soledad O’Brien, reveals the faces of today’s college students – nearly half of whom don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Subjects in the film are financially strapped by tuition and inequitable systems that left them to struggle with hunger and homelessness.
Just weeks before ACT’s opening night, the pandemic rendered the film festival, Alumni Night Out, and all other CSU events cancelled.
But, Rams are fierce. Staff got busy re-thinking how to turn an in-person experience into a meaningful opportunity for safe and socially-distanced connection. ACT transformed into an entirely virtual festival and CSUAA replaced nights out with virtual nights “In.” While both missed connecting with their audiences in-person, both programs quickly pivoted to offering online events.
Midway through ACT’s rescheduled fifth festival, held October 1-10, CSUAA hosted an Alumni Night In event that featured a live virtual conversation between O’Toole and Arce, following a synchronous screening of Hungry to Learn. CSU’s Rams Against Hunger and Mobile Food Pantry created a video to answer questions about CSU’s efforts to combat hunger on campus.
The success of ACT’s first virtual festival encouraged Seymour and the ACT team to schedule the 2021 ACT festival, which typically occurs in spring, less than six months later. A second Alumni Night In event was likewise conceived.
Alumni Night In with Anthony Grimes
“There’s nothing like learning about a CSU alumnus making provocative documentary films that meet all of ACT’s criteria for film selection,” says Seymour, reflecting on the choice to program “Mr. Somebody” for the 2021 Alumni Night In.
The 14-minute short film was produced by Anthony Grimes, activist, speaker, filmmaker, and 2007 alumnus from CSU’s Department of Communication Studies. The short, which premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, is about a former Crips gang member who is searching for redemption after 14 years behind bars.
“Mr. Somebody” came to the attention of Seymour through Grimes’s involvement in a forthcoming communication studies alumni panel.
“Anthony is driven to create and to speak truth to power,” says Communication Studies Alumni and Communication Coordinator Carol Busch, who learned in January 2021 about Grimes’s work from Department of Communication Studies Chair Greg Dickinson.
Grimes, who grew up in a community where “one out of every ten people” he knew was in a gang, was brought into the film as an executive producer.
“In some ways we were at the mercy of the neighborhood,” Grimes told Alumni Night In moderator Tanara Landoor during their post-screening conversation. Tandoor is with the CSU Alumni Association. “You know if you’re welcome and if you’re not.”
Grimes and the film’s director, Brian Wertheim, built trust between Bam, the film’s main protagonist, and other members of the Watts community with the goal of creating awareness and opening conversations.
“They trusted what our intent behind the film was,” Grimes says. “We weren’t there to get rich. We told them straight up than any profit we make off the film will go straight back to the community.”
Throughout their conversation, Landor and Grimes connected about the film’s themes, artistic choices, as well as Grimes’s time at CSU and the film’s relevance to Colorado State University communities.
“I found this film so especially important for the CSU community to see because while this may not be everyone’s background or experience, we have students who come from backgrounds like this that are just trying to be somebody, are trying to break that generational curse,” Landor said. “And when they land on the CSU campus, we need to do everything we can as faculty, staff, alumni, to help these students feel included and supported so that they can succeed in life.”
“Mr. Somebody” is available through Vimeo. Landor and Grimes’s conversation can be streamed in its entirety from this link.