Academy Award-winning writer/director Barry Jenkins reflects on his time at FSU

Oscar-winning alum Barry Jenkins (’03) returned to campus in April to a hero’s welcome when he screened his Best Picture winner at the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, a sold-out event.

After the film, visitors lined the aisles of the theater to ask Jenkins about the making of Moonlight and his experience as a filmmaker. The Q&A, moderated by former Film School dean Frank Patterson, went overtime as Jenkins’ laid-back yet focused personality kept the crowd engaged.

The day before, the Film School hosted a more intimate and private affair with Jenkins and classmates Joi McMillon (’03) and Nat Sanders (’02), the two Oscar-nominated editors of the film. Sanders, McMillon, and Jenkins sat with Dean Reb Braddock to talk more specifically about their career paths, finding work after graduation, and how Moonlight came to be. The trio spoke of how they each moved into different areas of the film and television industry but continued to pull together for personal projects. Jenkins and Sanders worked together on Medicine for Melancholy, Jenkins’ first feature. When planning Moonlight, Jenkins remarked that it only made sense to work with the people he trusted the most – his FSU Film family. Eight alumni worked on Moonlight, including Adele Romanski (‘04), Andrew Hevia (‘06), James Laxton (‘03), Faren Humes (‘11), and Shaughnessy Hare (‘01). Five of the eight alumni were individually nominated for Oscars, and the film ultimately won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.

During his time with the students, Jenkins stressed that the most valuable aspect of their experience here at FSU would be the connections they made with fellow students, faculty, and alumni. As IndieWire put it in an article titled “5 Things Every Filmmaker Must Consider When Choosing a Film School,”

Would Jenkins have made Moonlight if his Florida State University crew didn’t kick his butt and say, “Write the damn thing?” Would Jenkins have been able to translate his incredible vision for Moonlight if he hadn’t been talking about it with collaborators he has shared a filmic language with for over a decade and who are also top professionals capable of helping turn his vision in a $1.5 million film?

Recent grad Katherine Oostman (’17), echoed this idea in a blog post, saying, “One of the best attributes FSU’s film school possesses is its sense of community. Where other programs hinge on competition…we learn to believe in and cheer for one another, adopting each others’ stories as our own and through that process, we make lifetime alliances.”

Oostman and her fellow students had watched the Oscars in February with a sense of awe that settled into a feeling of responsibility. “Attending FSU does not guarantee we will be Oscar winners, but it does mean that we’ve come to a place that prioritizes telling stories that matter on a global scale and telling them well. It means we have a lineage to not only uphold, but further. It means, because of the gift of Moonlight’s success, when we speak, our voices might be heard.”