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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Robinson Film Center Names New Executive Director


Keeping the cameras rolling in Shreveport

Robinson Film Center – a downtown Shreveport staple – welcomes Wendell Riley as its new executive director this month.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Riley made his way to Shreveport-Bossier at the start of what came to be the community’s robust film industry. In 2012, Riley joined Moonbot Studios’ team by way of Cohabitat Shreveport and began working to recruit talented 20-somethings to Shreveport rather than Los Angeles, New York or other international cities.

As an artist with an educational background in marketing and business from schools in the Northeast, Riley worked his way up to production manager at Moonbot and, later, as producer. Describing the team as “very successful creatively,” Moonbot’s projects that Riley either production-managed or produced won multiple accolades, including one Oscar® shortlist, four Emmy Awards, six Webby Awards, 14 Cannes Lions and 17 Clio Awards. The team did a pilot for Amazon Studios and created in-game cinematics for Disney Infinity 2.0, which featured Marvel characters such as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Spider-Man” and “The Avengers.”

Riley began working at Rational Middle Media with Gregory Kallenberg, an awardwinning producer, director and the founder of the Film Prize Foundation, in 2017. Rational Middle produces short documentaries on energy and environment, reaching net zero and immigration; Kallenberg sought out Riley to work as the team’s production manager for its series on immigration. While working with Rational Middle, Riley traveled the country, filming in Mexico, on Capitol Hill, at Rice University in Houston, and numerous locations in Shreveport-Bossier.

“My time in Shreveport has been closely linked to the film and animation industries, and one of the places I immediately fell in love with when I came to Shreveport was Robinson Film Center,” Riley said. “It was a lot of fun – phenomenal, really – coming to a town where the film industry felt really accessible.”

“Having had the honor of working with Wendell on the building of Prize Fest and our Rational Middle documentary series, I can honestly say that he’s a kindred spirit who is all about rolling up his sleeves, grabbing a hammer and some nails, and building a better place for all of us,” said Kallenberg. “Robinson Film Center is the perfect place for him, his incredible skills and his boundless energy. I look forward to watching him continue the work of making the Robinson an indie film Mecca, and I can’t wait to raise a shot glass and toast his imminent success!”

Riley believes the advent of the Prize Foundation’s Film Prize in 2012 changed the creative landscape of Shreveport.

“The Film Prize developed a new generation of filmmakers – some of whom didn’t go to film school,” he said. “These are now men and women working on feature film and TV productions – not just here, but also worldwide. To me, the Film Prize is the enduring legacy of the film industry in Shreveport.”

Riley joined LSU Shreveport as the director of media and external relations in June 2018, saying he leaned heavily on his creative experiences in filmmaking and business background from his time working in Roanoke, Va., post-grad.

“It felt like a perfect fit,” he said. “I’m someone who also values education and understands the power of education as a tool for social change and improving the fabric of a community.”

During his time at LSU Shreveport and in his new role at Robinson Film Center, Riley is working with LSU Shreveport’s provost, Helen Taylor, on bringing film classes to LSU Shreveport and creating a film concentration for fine arts students. He also taught a film appreciation series at Robinson Film Center earlier this year under the guidance of its interim executive director and filmmaker Rich Hansil. Riley submitted the series, which focused on genre films by Black filmmakers and featuring Black talent, as a potential fullsemester course listed in LSU Shreveport’s Spring 2023 catalog.

Riley explained the work Taylor and he are doing goes hand-in-hand with what other organizations are doing in the community. These are organizations such as the Prize Foundation with its education division, Southern University of Shreveport, and Robinson Film Center’s programming, which includes Hansil’s Film Making 101 and a partnership with Centenary College of Louisiana for Centenary Film Society’s Film Series.

“All of these groups, plus the city of Shreveport, are looking at ways to develop talent here in town,” Riley said. “We want consistent filmmaking in our area, and part of that is educating an army of what the industry refers to as ‘below-the-line talent.’”

Riley explained below-the-line talent as the “heart and soul of the industry,” adding that it’s essentially everyone other than a film’s writer, director, producer(s), casting director and actor(s). Think camera operators, grips and electricians – even caterers. Having onhand talent in Shreveport-Bossier to support multiple feature-length films produced in the area at one time is a primary goal. The goal is shared by the city of Shreveport’s Office of Economic Development, which is building a coalition among the many creative groups to foster a social and economic impact.

“Even though we are looking at ways to teach film, what we are not trying to do is compete with each other; we are trying to create complementary instructional services,” Riley said. “Working together only benefits everyone because it means we can have more of a social impact.”

With his background in higher education, Riley said he sees both the coalition and his role as executive director at Robinson Film Center as an opportunity to help make a difference in students’ lives before they enroll in college, specifically minorities and the underserved population. A large part of Robinson Film Center’s mission is film education. Riley sees that pillar as a way to both help those in the industry and give people of all ages an opportunity to see the film industry as a viable option for a career.

“Our work together changes the conversation dynamic when a kid says to his mom or dad, ‘I want to work in film,’” Riley added. “If there’s no awareness of the film industry’s impact here in town, that’s a much different conversation; it’s a tougher hill to climb. That’s part of the necessity of a place like Robinson Film Center; anyone can have some connection to the legacy of film in this area.”

Riley is confident his role as executive director will help cultivate filmmaking in Shreveport-Bossier.

“I believe in the arts as a way to give people an outlet to express themselves,” he said. “It gives us common ground to communicate. Common ground is something we seem to struggle with right now in the world, and it feels like the right time for me to take this step and try to use filmmaking as a vehicle to educate K-12 and adults in Shreveport-Bossier.”

Riley doesn’t plan to fix what’s not broken; he wants to enhance one’s experience of Robinson Film Center.

“What I want is from the minute someone purchases a ticket, they feel like they are being taken care of. I want them to have a cohesive experience that ends with them walking out of the theater – whether by themselves, with their friends or with their loved ones – and feeling like they have had a film-going experience that was different. Or, they engaged with film in a way that was different than any time before.”


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