His parents are disappointed, but understand. California State University, Northridge cinema and television arts student Benny Wolde-Yohannes will be missing his college graduation next week. Instead, he’ll be at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
Cinema and television arts student Benny Wolde-Yohannes on the set of “Pareto Principle.”
The 23-year-old Pasadena resident was invited by festival organizers to screen his senior film project, “Pareto Principle,” as part of their short film exhibition. The invitation presents a rare opportunity for the aspiring filmmaker to make important entertainment industry connections and screen his film before an international audience.
“It still feels kind of surreal,” Wolde-Yohannes said as he prepared for his trip to France. “While I am the one who is going, the invitation is really a testament to the hard work that everyone put into the film.”
Cal State Northridge cinema and television arts professor Nate Thomas said he was not surprised Wolde-Yohannes received the invitation and is the recipient of Sawhney Creative Excellence Award. He noted that Wolde-Yohannes’ work was already generating Hollywood buzz after “Pareto Principle” was shown earlier this month at CSUN’s Senior Film Showcase. “Pareto Principle,” which Wolde-Yohannes wrote and directed, is the tale of two young men who find a duffel bag full of money.
“As soon as our screening was over, there were industry people waiting to talk to him,” Thomas said. “Benny is a very talented young man who took everything he learned here at CSUN, whether it was in his general education classes or his film classes, and presented it in that film.
“Despite his youth, Benny created an amazing piece of work that demonstrates a level of awareness, focus and connection with society that you often don’t see even in filmmakers much older than him,” Thomas said.
Wolde-Yohannes’s work on “Pareto Principle” has already earned him $10,000 to help him as he begins his professional career. Wolde-Yohannes is the first recipient of the Ravi K. and Amalia Sawhney Creative Excellence Award, given each year to recognize outstanding creative achievement by a graduating senior in CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication.
Wolde-Yohannes called the grant “seed money” that will help him launch his career as a filmmaker.
“This is life-changing money, a belief that I can make it,” Wolde-Yohannes said. “I am so blessed. I don’t have enough words to say how grateful I am for this.”
Amalia Sawhney said she was “deeply impressed with the quality of Benny’s video submission, and the strength of his career plan gave me confidence this award will be put to great use.”
Ravi Sawhney, a Cal State Northridge alumnus, agreed. Sawhney, founder and CEO of RKS, a strategic design consultancy, and his wife created the award to recognize the important role the arts play in society and encourage young people who are pursuing careers in the creative arts.
“Benny’s talents, collaborative spirit, insight and storytelling ability were all evident in a film that touched us emotionally and spiritually, while reflecting on the aspirations and realities of life for so many in Los Angeles and elsewhere,” he said. “We are very pleased to contribute towards his continuance of making a difference, while also bringing to light the quality of the graduates that emerge from the Mike Curb College at CSUN.”
Robert Bucker, dean of the Mike Curb College, said “We are grateful that Ravi and Amalia shared our vision to create an award to reward artistic excellence and professional promise.”
Thomas said the students and faculty in CSUN’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts were proud of all that Wolde-Yohannes has accomplished so far and are looking forward to seeing his name in “lights” some day.
“He is one of those students who has an innate air about him,” Thomas said. “He is going to go far.”
Wolde-Yohannes said it’s hard to fathom what will happen to him after Cannes, though he is certain of one thing.
“There is no question: filmmaking is what I want to do,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there whose lives, experiences seem to be overlooked. Their stories are never told. I want to tell their stories.”
In the meantime, he’s assured his mother that just because he isn’t walking in next week’s commencement ceremonies does not mean he is not graduating.
“I am the first one of her children to get a college degree, and I end up not taking part in the graduation ceremony. She was kind of upset,” he said. “My dad understood though, and convinced her that an invitation from Cannes was a rare opportunity that I could not pass up.”
Cal State Northridge’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication is inspired by the shared belief that art is communication, that communication is art and that art and communication are essential pillars for building and maintaining community. Many of its programs, including those in art, music, theater, cinema and television arts and journalism, have an international reputation for graduating skilled professionals who go on and make names for themselves in their respected fields.