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05/11/2023 07:52 AM

Matt Johnson: A Passion for Film

Old Saybrook High School graduate Matt Johnson will screen his documentary Just a Piece of Freedom at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Matt Johnson

To celebrate the diverse heritage and talents of Old Saybrook students, an international artist came to town and painted a mural. Matt Johnson, a graduate of Old Saybrook High School, filmed a documentary about the event.

In June 2022, international mural artist Rafael Blanco worked alongside students to create a mural representing the town’s diversity alongside the Rivermart in Old Saybrook. Matt, a senior at the time at Old Saybrook High School, captured the process in a short documentary film he has titled Just a Piece of Freedom – Old Saybrook Mural Project.

“This was our first mural. It’s something you don’t see every day. You might see it in a city, but it was just a cool thing to bring the idea to a small rural community,” Matt says. “We wanted to give a voice to those in town who might not have the strongest voice.”

Matt first got an idea for the documentary while working with the committee planning the mural. To be in the mural, students had to apply by writing about their passions and why they wanted to be included. Hearing why some classmates wanted to be in the mural inspired Matt, who had made two other documentaries previously.

“Seeing all the stories they had, Sarah Menga, one of the organizers, suggested it would be a good idea for a documentary,” Matt says. “In the mural, you just see their faces; you don’t know who they are really, which the documentary shows,” Matt adds.

The seven-minute short documentary was first published on YouTube in July 2022. In addition, a community screening was planned as part of an event at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center. The event was originally scheduled for May 6 but had to be rescheduled at the last minute. Those interested can check for a new date.

Matt will participate in a panel discussion at the event along with other people involved in the mural’s creation, including Blanco.

“Even though the documentary is already out, this is more of a community event with people able to attend and ask questions,” Matt explains. For those that haven’t seen the documentary yet, it is available on Matt’s YouTube channel, which can be found by searching for Matt Johnson Media.

Matt says it took about a month to film make the documentary, and for him, the best part was the community engagement.

“My favorite part was the community involvement. I knew some of the older kids in the documentary, but it was a really amazing experience hearing these stories in the film.”

Just because he enjoyed it, that’s not to say making the documentary wasn’t challenging at times for Matt.

“It was hard putting it all together and finding a cohesive story. That was the hardest part,” says Matt.

To say the documentary was well received is an understatement. Matt is the proud recipient of the Bonnie B. Carney Award of Excellence for Educational Communication in the Special Projects category.

“I was really excited,” Matt says of his win.

Matt grew up in Old Saybrook and is currently finishing up his freshman year at UConn, where he’s fittingly studying video and film production.

“I definitely want to go professional and work in commercial videos and documentaries,” says Matt.

He admits, “Since high school, film and photo have pretty much taken over my life,” but he still can be found playing video games or hanging out with friends in his spare time.

Asked what he likes about Old Saybrook, Matt points to the people in town.

“The thing I love most about Old Saybrook is the having all the connections with people. Those connections and bonds with the whole community is so awesome,” Matt says.

He adds that he hopes to continue making documentaries in the future.

“Documentaries are my number one passion project for sure,” he says. Currently, Matt has no plans for his next project, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking.

“I’m waiting for a new story that interests me to come along,” Matt says.