Interview with the 2018 winners!

The AIA Film Challenge 2018 had 15 finalists and more than 40,000 votes. Meet the filmmakers who won the top two prizes, the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award, and learn more about the inspiration behind their winning films!

2018 Grand Prize Winner Cheryl Hess has filmed all over the world including Cuba, where she directed and shot her award-winning short film La Promesa: The Vow, and India, where she shot her latest work, Marriage Cops, which was supported by the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund.

2018 People’s Choice Winner MarQ Morrison is credited with producing, directing, and shooting several award-winning documentary short films and his award-winning feature film, Into the Air: A Kiteboarding Experience, currently available on Netflix. He also creates micro-documentaries for businesses and nonprofits.

Tell us about your background as a filmmaker.

Cheryl Hess: I am a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in Philadelphia. My first love is shooting observational and verite films. To me nothing compares to the challenge of telling a story on the fly, utilizing my skills as an observer and listener to make a scene come to life.

MarQ Morrison: I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in motion picture film technology and a minor in architecture from the University of Central Florida. After graduating, I moved to Chicago, where I got into photography as a photo assistant, and then moved back to Orlando to pursue filmmaking. I eventually made it out to Los Angeles for six years but have now lived and worked in Maui for the past nine years.

Can you give us a brief synopsis of the film?

CH: The Spring Garden School in North Philadelphia had been sitting vacant and abandoned for nearly 30 years before the Philadelphia Housing Authority teamed with the nonprofit Help USA to convert the property into affordable housing for low-income senior citizens and homeless veterans. Past/Presence shows how the preservation and adaptive reuse of a historic building is meaningful to both the new residents and those who knew the building in its original iteration as a school.

MM: Ka Hale: A Revival documents architect and kumu (a Hawaiian title meaning teacher) Francis Palani Sinenci as he leads the revival of ancient Hawaiian Hale building in an effort to save indigenous cultural practices.

What does winning an AIA Film Challenge 2018 award and having your film screened at Chicago Ideas mean to you?

CH: I am very honored to have been chosen as this year’s Grand Prize winner and to highlight an adaptive reuse project that not only restored a great old building to its former glory, but also provided affordable housing for both veterans and the elderly.

MM: Winning the People’s Choice Award and a screening at Chicago Ideas was a breath of fresh air. I now feel like people want to see and learn more about the Hawaiian culture and indigenous architecture. I am also very happy for kumu Francis to be acknowledged by his peers in the architecture community. Shining a light on the indigenous art of Hawaiian Hale building and also Francis’ work. I’m so happy that he and the film were received so well.

How has participating in the AIA Film Challenge influenced your idea of architecture’s positive community impact and the power of film in sharing that story?

CH: In the case of the Spring Garden School, the building really meant a lot to the neighborhood. Even though it had been a blighted structure, people did not want to see it torn down. One of the people whom I interviewed for the film not only went to the school, but also worked at the school as a maintenance person until it closed.  He hadn’t been back inside since. You could see he was genuinely moved to visit it again and that it brought back a lot of memories for him. When he comments that “the structure will always be here,” it reads as a comment on our own mortality. Very few people get to say, “I designed that building.” But maybe we become part of history in our own fashion by participating in the life of that building whether it be as a student, a graffiti artist, or a new resident.

Now it’s your turn!

Inspiring stories like these are the heart and soul of the AIA Film Challenge. Share yours by August 12 for a chance to win up to $10,000 plus hotel and travel for two to see your film screened at Chicago Ideas!