Filmmaker Astin Sullivan, 24, is proof that passions lead to interesting places.
In 2012, Sullivan, an Atlanta native, graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., with a bachelor's degree in film and media art, and an impressive portfolio. She worked on several projects in college, including visuals for her original poems and two films she produced about hip-hop: "Drop Bars" and "Vocabulary of the Mysteries." When Emagine Studios of Hollywood, a Beijing-based movie company, offered her a position on a movie.
"It's called 'Empires of the Deep.' They've been working on it for five years now, and it still hasn't come out," Sullivan says. "It's notorious for being the most expensive movie that no one will ever see." To date, the fantasy epic about a boy who falls in love with a mermaid has reportedly cost more than $130 million.
Producer and real-estate tycoon Jon Jiang hired American consultants to fix the big-budget flop, which consistently suffered shifts in cast and crew. The experience was a brusque introduction to the movie industry for Sullivan, who was hired to polish new drafts of the script after it had been translated.
While working on the movie was tiring, Sullivan's 10-month trip was educational. She would video-chat with her cousin, Myesha Wallace, who taught at Callaway High School in Jackson at the time. The 14-hour time difference meant that while Sullivan was getting ready for bed, Wallace was starting class, which allowed Sullivan to talk to students and teach them about cultures outside of Mississippi.
"I was showing them Hong Kong money, showing them Chinese money, and I was showing them it was nighttime. ... It's really helpful to see that. A lot of kids don't see that you can go out into the world and bring it back."
When Sullivan moved to Mississippi in the summer of 2013, these interactions motivated her and Wallace to found Inspire Jackson, a program that teaches high-school students to find their "art weapon of choice."
"I really want to see more positive programming and positive events for kids to get into. I know not everybody cares about football," Sullivan says.
Inspire Jackson features a community arts program and an apprenticeship program. The former includes a community garden and participatory art projects, and the latter, now in its third month, pairs students with Midtown artists and business owners such as Justin Ransburg, Phillip Rollins of Offbeat and Roderick Red of Red Squared Productions.
"Kids need to see that they can start their own business at 24," Sullivan says.
Inspire Jackson is constructive for the children involved, but it also motivates Sullivan to work harder in her art. Currently, she is submitting work to literary magazines and writing for Southern Escape about local music to create a portfolio for graduate school.