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Film student produces independent short to showcase at prestigious film festival

MORINJune 24, 2021

There came a point in Chela Morin’s life when she knew she had to decide between playing it safe in a field where she’d always have steady employment or chasing her true passion no matter how risky it might be.

The Community College of Rhode Island helped make that decision an easy one. An aspiring Dental Hygiene student with a 4.0 GPA, the 32-year-old Morin ultimately eschewed healthcare to pursue Film and Media, thanks in large part to CCRI now offering that concentration as part of its Communication associate degree program.

Morin, a Providence native who is also a SAG-AFTRA actress, writer, and filmmaker with several credits on her resume, has received hands-on guidance through CCRI’s new Film/Media concentration, which offers practical training in the foundational skills of video, audio and media production, critical studies, writing, and rhetoric.

As part of her project for professor Norm Grant’s COMM 1000 (Foundations of Video and Audio Production) course, she recently wrote, directed, filmed, and starred in Repentance, an independent short about a trained assassin looking to leave the guild and transition to a normal life. The movie, which runs 17 minutes, has been selected by several film festivals, including the Action On Film (AOF) International MegaFest, held annually in Las Vegas since 2005.

Even with the advent of streaming services that have changed the motion-picture landscape, film festivals remain integral in providing exposure and networking opportunities for independent filmmakers looking to expand their reach. Repentance will officially premiere at the AOF on July 29 at 7:30 pm.

“Aside from the chance to see my film on the ‘big screen,’ there will be so many other people there who will have their films screened,” Morin said. “They also host seminars where you can meet and network, after parties, red carpet award shows – it’s the place to be if you’re serious about this industry.”

What was originally supposed to be a three- or four-minute film for a college project took on a life of its own; Morin and her fiancé, Justin Tolliver, who also starred in the film, soon began scouting filming locations and ultimately recruited other actors to participate in the shooting, including a fight coordinator to handle action scenes, and a special effects technician to help tie up the loose ends.

This is the second independent short Morin has produced, including 2019’s The Ice, which she also wrote, directed, and starred in. The lessons learned in the classroom helped her clear a few unexpected hurdles during the production process while putting the finishing touches on Repentance.

“CCRI has been a great experience,” Morin said. “I would definitely say Professor Grant is among the best of the best. He is critical in the most helpful ways. Just when you think you’ve got something down, he points out a better way to do it.”

Morin first enrolled in 2015 to take her Gen Eds in anticipation of pursuing a career in healthcare and breezed through her studies with a 4.0 GPA. Having been bitten by the acting bug at a young age – she recalls writing her first script as a child and having her friends act out the roles – Morin earned her first big break that same year, starring in an independent short titled Echo: Children of the Eternal.

She always envisioned herself both in front of and behind the camera: directing, acting, and writing. Upon learning the college was offering a Film/Media concentration as part of its Communication program, Tolliver encouraged Morin to chase her true passion, so she made what she calls “the hardest, yet easiest, decision on Earth” and left dental hygiene behind to focus all of her energy on acting and writing.

“Once I knew CCRI offered an associate degree in that concentration, I was all in,” Morin said. “I felt that if I had something like dental hygiene as this safety net, I would always put that first unless I just dove head first into what I really wanted to do.

“You’re letting go of everything that is practical – all hands on deck. It’s a lot of faith and commitment. There’s a sense of excitement, too. This is what I’m drawn to. This is where I want to be.”

Now living in Cumberland, Morin – who admits to drawing inspiration from film directors Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas – joined the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) union shortly after launching her acting career in 2015. She has since appeared in nine additional films with nine production credits under her belt, including a brief acting cameo in the soon-to-be-released Ryan Reynolds film Free Guy.  

Showcasing Repentance at the AOF festival next month in front of an audience of fellow writers, actors, directors, and influencers in the entertainment industry will allow Morin to “rub elbows” with potential future collaborators. As she continues to work on new projects, including a potential sitcom pilot, Morin remains focused on completing her associate degree at CCRI, where she has learned to conceptualize, shoot, and edit her own footage, making her an even more valuable commodity in an increasingly-competitive industry.

“I’m going to take what I’ve learned and try to make some more films,” she said. “There’s no limit to what I can learn through this program at CCRI. I’m going for it.

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