Ever want to grill your boss interview style? I sat down with Founder of Mosaic World Film Festival, Jerry LaBuy, and asked him everything a new intern wants to know about developing and maintaining a film festival (and more!) Are you ready to hear his take on it?
Jerry: I started out at a public 4 year school in IL thinking I wanted to work in biology; possibly zoology or vet science. Then I started taking media, writing, and photography elective classes. I also visited a film set for a major film that was happening in Woodstock, IL. That visit and my elective classes were enough for me to realize I wanted to work in that field. I wasn’t at a school with a program for that though. So I went to Rock Valley College, a community college near my hometown, to first get my A.A. Then I transferred to Columbia College in Chicago where I earned my Bachelor’s degree. College was so helpful and some of my best friends in this industry today are the same ones I made my first films with across the street from Columbia in Grant Park 20 something years ago.
M: How did you first learn you were a filmmaker?
Jerry: As a kid I made VHS films with my friends. Mostly us playing in our backyards or out in the woods near my home. We also would make action films with our action figures, several of them featured some pyrotechnics via fireworks. I actually set my yard on fire as a kid doing that! Once I got to Columbia in my teens I really started making films and it took off from there.
M: Who is the coolest person you have ever met in the media industry and why?
Jerry: There have been several, but the coolest is my friend Liz Allen Rosenbaum who is a film and TV director. When I first got to LA she was finishing grad school at USC and let me help her work on her thesis film “Eyeball Eddie.” I was just working freelance PA jobs at the time and appreciated her helping this kid “right off the bus.” We had a ton of fun working on that and she became a lifelong friend. We cast Michael Rosenbaum and Martin Starr in that and meeting them was great. Martin booked “Freaks and Geeks” when we were making that film. We also had a meeting with M. Emmet Walsh at the Hamburger Hamlet across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theatre to ask him to play the coach in the film. I am a huge fan of the film “Blade Runner” so that was a real treat for me. He said yes and was in the film as well. About a month after that I started working with her I got a job as a writer’s assistant on a TV show at the MGM building and then a few months after that I was the assistant for a Producer with a deal on the Sony lot, who also taught at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Things for me professionally moved really fast after that, but it all started with her seeing something in me and helping me up. I try and do the same when I see something special in a younger person trying to get into this business.
M: Tell me about your Foundation and Film Festival. Where did you get your idea to found them? How’s life been while developing them and watching them succeed?
Jerry: I had moved back to the MidWest and was making shorts in my spare time while I worked a day job making TV spots in Chicago. I was getting into quite a few fests with my films and just loved going to them. The screenings were just so damn fun. One day a student run fest in my hometown started, and a student of mine named Bing Liu asked if I could get involved as a judge. I was working out-of-state the first year, but was able to do it the second year. After that year the two high school students that had founded it were moving on to college and asked if I wanted to take it over to run it however I saw fit. I loved the idea and agreed. My first thing was to open it as a full fest and not just a student fest. We named it the Mosaic World Film Fest as we wanted to bring in films from all over the world to our hometown of Rockford, IL. It has just grown from there. the Mosaic Film Foundation was put in place to manage the fest year-round.
M: How has your life shaped your career path?
Jerry: I was smart enough to take a chance on a career in production when I was younger and lucky enough to see that gamble succeed. Quite a few people said it would be unstable and a mistake, but I had to do it. I loved the work and the people I worked with. I’d find myself saying in my head, “So I get to be in a room with a bunch of other film geeks and get paid to work with them? Sign me up.”
M: Which film stood out most at last years’ Mosaic World Film Festival, 2019 and why?
Jerry: Last year had some outstanding work, including our Spotlight film “American Mirror” featuring Susan Sarandon, but I think the animation program stands out the most. We have had a huge increase in animation work over the last 4 years or so and those screenings have become some of our most attended and loved. 2 years ago we screened the eventual winner for best animation at the Student Academy Awards and last year we screened a future Student Academy Awards nominee.
M: Any plans to expand MWFF or Mosaic Film Foundation?
Jerry: Right now we are a very full three day fest each Fall and that works well for us. We are 100% self-sustaining financially and run entirely by volunteers. You’d hate to grow beyond your funding or staffing availability and then jeopardize the whole event. We have a strong group of fans that come back every year, as well as many filmmakers that submit new work year after year. Some of those MWFF filmmaker alumni have become members of our programming committee too, volunteering their time to help pick the films each year.
M: Most people do not know you are a huge NASA fan. Discuss.
Jerry: HUGE. When I was a kid I loved anything space, especially my classic space LEGO sets from the early-mid 1980s. I had a poster of the first Space Shuttle mission on my wall and tons of books on space and space exploration. The coolest thing was when I became friends with Jim McDivitt, an astronaut that flew Gemini and Apollo missions for NASA. He was the commander of the first US spacewalk mission and took the iconic photos of Ed White floating in space. He was also the first to command and fly the Lunar Module in outer space. I met him in Chicago as his daughter and my sister were on the same gymnastic team. (Another teammate of theirs was Phoebe Mills, future Olympic medalist at the 1988 Olympic games.) I was probably 8 or so when Jim saw me playing with my LEGOs in the family area at the gym and asked what I was doing. I told him I was building a spaceship and he said he knew a little bit about that too. So for years we’d build stuff together and he’d tell me some great NASA stories while my sister and his daughter trained. I will never forget that!
M: Who is the most influential role model in your everyday life and professional life?
Jerry: For my everyday life, it is my parents. Parts of each of them guide me everyday. My Mom is the heart and the artist, and has always been my biggest supporter. My Dad is the calm and practical one (being practical I still struggle with, even when I know it is the smart thing to do) but his humility is what guides me most. He just does what is right and doesn’t expect anything from it. He just strives to do the right thing. So do I. As a professional I’m not as sure. I really try and do my own thing and just hope it speaks to someone. Not everyone, as I don’t think a great film can really speak to everyone, just that it gets to someone that maybe really needed it. I know there are films that did that for me, I hope I can do that for someone else.
M: Which industry professionals helped shape your view on filmmaking?
Jerry: I think my favorite filmmaker of all time is Andrei Tarkovsky, with Solaris and Stalker being my favorites. His famous quote of “film is a mosaic of time” is the inspiration for our fest and the fest’s name. I’ve always been drawn to films with strong and significant visual stylizing, that really fill the screen with something new to see. The list of filmmakers like that would include Ridley Scott, Akira Kurosawa, Andrzej Wajda, Peter Weir, Steve McQueen, Agnès Varda, Guillermo Del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Wes Anderson, Terrence Malick, Wong Kar-Wei and many, many others.
M: COVID. It’s a 2020 thing. How do you forecast its impact on the film industry, both pre and post independent production, and do you think we’ll be attending MWFF 2021 at a drive-in-theater? (P.S. we should make MWFF masks.)
Jerry: Well, COVID hasn’t been great to say the least. Filmmaking is generally a very collaborative effort, from production and all of the on-set crew, to exhibition with a large audience if we look at venues like theatres. COVID prevents a lot of that from happening. We are hoping our fest in September will be in our home at the Nordlof Theatre in Rockford, IL, but we have to go with what the theatre management agrees to and what is safest for our attendees and staff volunteers. We do have an online option in place if need be. We would love to have a drive-in, and it was actually discussed as an option a couple of years ago in 2018 with one of our “Minding the Gap” screenings. It would certainly be interesting.
Jerry: Our motto at MWFF is “Make a Film, Change the World.” We really believe this. As Roger Ebert said “The movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” I believe that. Films can spark tremendous social change, inspire trends, and shed light to issues or stories we wouldn’t normally see. Literally changing the larger world. However, I also believe that films can change the world of a person on a personal level too. Be it a distraction from the lows of living or something you see on screen that you realize you should try to improve your own life. Sometimes a movie just speaks to you and inspires you on a singular, personal level. I know many have done that for me.