NHCC Alumni Spotlight – Matt Cici ‘08
When NHCC alum and filmmaker Matt Cici reflects on the origins of his career, he credits a moment in his eighth grade English class at Osseo Junior High School.
“We were reading the Diary of Anne Frank,” said Matt. “I started to put more effort into the characters, and then I recognized the effect I was having on people. They were laughing and seemed very engaged.”
Matt pinpoints that moment when he began to recognize the power he had with an audience.
“I loved the idea of tossing them into a different world. I had a good feeling in my gut and I was so in the moment.”
Today, Matt continues to toss people into a different world by using his ability to connect with an audience. His feature film Lambent Fuse is a character-driven drama that exposes the real-life elements of mental illness.
“I feel that mental illness gets overlooked. I’ve watched a lot of films where that portray people as crazy or their symptoms are exaggerated. Mass media likes to make it dramatic, but we are actually causing harm to those who suffer from mental illness.”
Matt refers to one such mischaracterization in the film A Beautiful Mind, starring Academy Award winner Russell Crowe, that depicts a man who suffers from schizophrenia as a violent person.
“Sure this film provoked interesting discussion to show schizophrenia in this light, but it is an inaccurate portrayal of the condition, of reality, of truth. An audience watches a film for entertainment, but film has also become one of the most powerful ways to send a message.”
Matt’s focus on mental illness began during his second semester at NHCC. He was presented with an extra credit assignment in his psychology class for which he was to explore the realities of schizophrenia. Instead of taking the traditional route of typing a paper or creating a poster, Matt decided to write, produce, shoot, and edit a short film during spring break.
“When I was finished, the instructor told me that it was one of the truest representations of schizophrenia she had ever seen in film.”
This moment solidified Matt’s choice to pursue film. He had previously intended to study international business at NHCC after he fell in love with Germany during a family vacation in high school. The decision to switch wasn't easy, but Matt knew he was making the right choice.
“The decision wasn’t super satisfying to my family. They knew it was a big risk and they were worried. I knew that I would work hard enough to figure it out. If that meant I had to work paycheck-to-paycheck, then that’s fine, but at least I’d be doing what I loved.”
Matt blossomed during his two years at NHCC. He became very involved with Phi Theta Kappa, a prestigious honors society, and took on the role of president in his final two semesters. During his tenure, Matt helped organize the first recycling program at NHCC and also started a scholarship to help provide textbooks to students who could not afford them.
On top of all this, Matt worked several part-time jobs and tutored foreign students. He admits to being sleep deprived in order to juggle all of these obligations, but remained driven because he believes in helping others.
“You make time for the things you care about. I knew I was making an impact, and I wanted to keep doing it.”
After NHCC, Matt continued his education at Hamline University as a double major in film and communications studies. Upon graduation, Matt received a grant to continue working on Lambent Fuse. The film is currently in post-production and Matt has already begun working on his next film that will focus on insomnia.
In fact, Matt’s sister Jessica was going through residency to become a psychiatrist at the time Matt was making the film, and the two would have long talks about mental illness.
“I don’t have a personal connection with mental illness, just a desire to do right by those that suffer. If I wasn’t working in film, I would likely be working in the mental health field. I am just happy that I get to do both.”
In his artist statement, Matt talks about the responsibility of film to send purposeful and veracious messages, and that movies need to do more research into the truths of life.
“I’d love to continue to share impactful stories through film and to challenge our society to do more and do better. That’s a big dream indeed, but I am excited about the journey.”