KINGSTON, R.I. Feb. 17, 2015 – A University of Rhode Island dean and film professor who has worked alongside director Robert Downey Sr. and in films with Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins and Julia Roberts will get a chance to shine himself when he’s honored by a local film festival.
Thomas Zorabedian, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will receive the Producer’s Circle award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival during a red-carpet gala Sunday, Feb. 22 at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence.
“I was humbled and honored to be given this award,” says Zorabedian, of Wakefield. “It should be a fun night.”
A lifelong student of film, Zorabedian is being recognized for his support of the film festival, his work for the film and media program in URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media and his mentoring of student filmmakers.
“Through Tom’s amazing work,” says George T. Marshall, executive director of the festival, “he has helped empower and cultivate the next generation of independent filmmakers.”
Zorabedian fell in love with the movies when he was a kid growing up in Providence. His father took him to palatial theaters like Loew’s and Majestic, providing critiques that a little boy could understand. “He showed me the subtext, the meaning beyond the plot and dialogue,” says Zorabedian.
After watching David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” the epic tale of a British soldier’s tumultuous experience in the Arabian Peninsula during World War l, he was hooked. He became a self-taught student of film as an undergraduate at URI, reading film magazines and watching as many movies as he could, including foreign films.
It was the golden age of filmmaking, he says, with groundbreaking directors like Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. “It was an exciting time,” he says. “It was a cultural event when one of their films was released.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree in English and psychology and his master’s degree, also at URI, in counseling, but his passion for film never wavered. He eventually earned his doctorate in film from Boston University, where he studied with the late British film historian and scholar, Roger Manvell, first director of the British Film Academy.
“The best films investigate the human experience, so my undergraduate degrees were useful – and still are today,” he says. “English is storytelling. And, of course, psychology, how people interact and behave, is an important aspect of film.”
Zorabedian has worn many hats during his 25 years at URI. In addition to his duties at the Harrington school and College of Arts and Sciences, he teaches film courses in the URI Honors Program, including Rebel Images in Films, Images of Masculinity in Films and Introduction to Film.
He was co-coordinator of the URI Honors Colloquium on “The Moving Image” in 1997, and he created and coordinated the URI student film competition from 1998 until 2012.
Zorabedian also worked as associate dean for development for the College of Arts and Sciences, helping to raise more than $23 million for the college, including 175 new endowments and funds.
Before coming to URI, he was assistant professor of communications and theater at Rhode Island College, where he taught film and television history, theory, production courses and writing. He also taught at Salve Regina University and Boston University.
His expertise extends beyond academia.
In 1999, he directed the first master class for the film festival with Downey, in which students produced a scene from an original screenplay by the actor. “He’s terrific,” says Zorabedian. “He’s outrageous. He’s fascinating. He has great stories to tell about hanging out with celebrities from Mohammed Ali to Warren Beatty, not to mention his famous son.”
Zorabedian also worked as a film critic for several publications and as an independent film and video producer, including directing a documentary on the Armenian genocide. He was a producer and writer of a cable TV series, Club Genius.
And he has acted as an extra in more than a dozen films, including Mystic Pizza starring Roberts, Amistad starring Hopkins, Outside Providence and the latest Woody Allen film, shot last summer in Newport and Providence. “It was a thrill to be on the set and see Allen work. I played the father of a girl at a college – no speaking part though.” For the record, Zorabedian was a carpenter in Mystic Pizza and a U.S. Senator in Amistad.
He says he and his wife, Nancy, go to the movies as often as they can. He is not a fan of the small-screen experience that comes with a DVD.
“I always look to be taken to some other place, to be swept away,” he says. “I love the experience of being in the dark with hundreds of other people experiencing images on a big screen. It’s magic.”
For more information about the Feb. 22 event or to buy tickets, visit The Red Carpet Experience or call 401-861-4445. Other film supporters will also be honored during the fest, held on the night of the 87th annual Academy Awards. The ceremony will be broadcast live on a TV at the event.
Pictured above: Thomas Zorabedian, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a film professor at the University of Rhode Island. Photo by Joe Giblin.