John Jay Video Producer Wins HBO Film Award

John Jay Video Producer Wins HBO Film Award

John Jay Video Producer Wins HBO Film Award

You might not notice Sebastian Rea at John Jay events, but that’s probably because he’s behind a camera videotaping you, your friends, and your colleagues. “As a video producer here at John Jay, my job is to tell stories of student success through a more narrative or documentary lens, highlighting the students and faculty who are working in the field,” says Rea. He’s filmed everything at John Jay, from students helping the people of Puerto Rico, to graduating seniors celebrating at commencement. But when he’s not busy creating videos for John Jay, he’s writing, directing, and producing his own films. His most recent film, Ruta Viva, just won Best Short Film at the HBO New York Latino Film Festival.

Behind the scenes on the set of Ruta Viva
Behind the scenes on the set of Ruta Viva 

“The film is a dark comedy. It talks about politics and how presidents divide families.” —Sebastian Rea

Laying the Foundation 
Rea fell in love with films when he was just three or four years old, watching Batman Returns. “My whole life after that I would tell everyone that I wanted to be a director,” says Rea. He admired the work of directors such as Tim Burton, and made it his life mission to break into the industry. At just 16 years old, Rea created his first film and was one of 20 students chosen to be a part of the Latino Smithsonian Center’s Artist Group. “I spent the whole week in D.C. meeting a bunch of people in film and entertainment that were people of color,” says Rea. “They were Latino like me and I could relate to them on a more personal level.” He went on to work at Silver Cup Studios, “carrying cables and lights on the set of Sex and the City and The Sopranos,” and then going to SUNY Purchase where he received a bachelor’s in Film and Political Science.

Ruta Viva Poster
Ruta Viva Poster

“What happens in the film happened to me in real life. I was born in Ecuador, raised in New York City, and spent my summers in Ecuador.” —Sebastian Rea

Telling His Story
By creating films like Ruta Viva, Rea feels that he’s giving the Latinx community a new voice. “What happens in the film happened to me in real life. I was born in Ecuador, raised in New York City, and spent my summers in Ecuador,” says Rea. His film captures a family—some coming back home to Ecuador from New York City, and some still residing in Ecuador—discussing both American and Ecuadorian politics. “The film is a dark comedy. It talks about politics and how presidents divide families,” says Rea, who admits to always feeling “in flux” when he’s in either country. “When I go back to Ecuador—no matter that I was born there, and I speak fluent Spanish—everybody calls me a gringo. When I’m here, I’m not white enough to really be in the spaces and be fully accepted because I’m not white.” At its core, the film captures what it means to be an immigrant, and how families come together, regardless of their differences, to overcome obstacles and support each other.

Rea teaching children in Haiti about filmmaking
Rea teaching children in Haiti about filmmaking

“I think our whole purpose on this planet is to find out what our meaning is. What is our goal? What can we really do to affect change?” —Sebastian Rea

Follow Your Dreams 
For students interested in following in his footsteps, Rea has a few pieces of advice: Don’t let anyone stop you, and network like your livelihood depends on it—because it does. “I think our whole purpose on this planet is to find out what our meaning is. What is our goal? What can we really do to affect change?” says Rea. “I understand that we have to work, and sometimes work isn’t aligned with your passion, but you have to make the time.” To help others realize their dreams of becoming film makers, Rea runs a film festival in New York City called 30 Under 30. “I started it six years ago and it came from the lack of space for young filmmakers to have our work critiqued, shared, and connected with others,” says Rea. He’s also taken his talents to underserved populations with The Brewer Foundation. This past May, Rea, along with a team of doctors, athletes, and social media artists, visited children in Haiti. “They loved the camera. So now we’re talking about making a section of this trip focused on teaching them filmmaking,” he says. And, in keeping with his goal of being a cinematic voice for today’s Latinx community, Rea is currently working on a new short film about the separation of children at the border. “It’s going to be a comedy, a magical realistic comedy,” he says. “You realize that these kids are not criminals. They’re not smugglers. They’re kids. I’m going to fuse Hispanic culture with magic in the film. Hopefully it will be good.”

Listen to the entire interview with John Jay Video Producer Sebastian Rea

Click here to watch the Ruta Viva trailer