KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 23, 2018 – A University of Rhode Island sophomore with a love for filmmaking and a desire to one day be a director is the first recipient of the Winifred E. Brownell Scholarship awarded by Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Alyssa Botelho, a double major in film/media and entrepreneurial business management, was awarded the $2,000 scholarship at the festival’s awards ceremony on Aug. 12 in the Metcalf Auditorium of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence. The scholarship, designated for a URI student, honors Brownell, dean emerita of the College of Arts & Sciences, for her many years championing arts and humanities at URI and her support of the film festival.
“It means a lot to me,” said Botelho, of Fairhaven, Mass. “Not only is it a great financial help, it’s a huge honor because Winnie Brownell is a great role model. When I read all the things she’s done, that’s the kind of person I want to be – a person who motivates people.”
When Botelho learned of the scholarship this summer in an email from Adam Roth, director of the Harrington School for Communication and Media, she didn’t know if she’d have time to apply. She was busy as a videographer for the Town of Fairhaven and also working with a local media company on a documentary about the unsolved murders of about nine women in the late 1980s in the New Bedford area.
But she decided to apply and reached out to Roth, Ann Salzarulo, coordinator at the Harrington School who oversaw Botelho’s work as a brand ambassador, and her high school media teacher, Drew Furtado, for recommendation letters. Yet, it may have been Botelho’s own words in the application that swayed the judges.
“Alyssa Botelho is an excellent choice for this inaugural award,” said Brownell. “She has an outstanding academic record in the URI Harrington School of Communication and Media, growing professional experience in film, an extensive record of service, and the most impressive essay of all applicants.”
Botelho, a Centennial Scholar, compiled a 4.0 grade-point average her freshman year while juggling work, school and other commitments. Besides being a Harrington School brand ambassador, she works about 15 hours a week filming town events and public meetings in Fairhaven for public access TV and runs her own wedding videography company, Unforgettable Productions.
At the same time, she commutes to Kingston for classes from her hometown, a two and half-hour round trip. At least one day a week last semester, she was up at 5 a.m. for the drive to the campus and didn’t return home until about 11 p.m. And then there was homework. By her father’s estimate, she was spending about 60 hours a week on school and work.
“I haven’t pulled any all-nighters yet,” she said. “But I go to the gym every single day and there is definitely no room for any fooling around. Sometimes I work through lunch or watch Netflix during lunch to keep up.”
Botelho’s interest in filmmaking started her freshman year at Fairhaven High School in the school’s media program. In her first media class, students were asked to match video from an animated movie with audio from a feature film. She chose the popular animated film “Toy Story” and mixed it with music from the trailer for “Lord of the Rings.”
The dramatic music juxtaposed with Woody and Buzz gave her trailer a comic effect. It was a silly project, she said, but instead of leaving school around 2 p.m. as normal, she was regularly there late working on the project. “When it was screened at school, I just loved seeing people’s reactions,” she said. “I thought, this is really cool.”
By her senior year, media classes dominated her schedule. As she learned an appreciation for the art of filmmaking, she was grounded in the practicality of the business side.
“You need to be well-rounded in this,” said Botelho, who qualifies as a junior this year because of the advanced-placement courses she took in high school. “I realized that my sophomore year when I entered a short film in a competition. I was into the art of shooting it and writing it, but when I entered it, I realized there’s also a business side, and the business side gets people to see it.”
In high school, Botelho won three first-place awards from the Massachusetts Organization of Video Educators for short film, commercial and music video, along with honorable mentions from New England Student Emmy Awards.
The summer before her senior year, she started Unforgettable Productions after filling in for a friend to shoot a wedding. Botelho said she’d only been to about two weddings in her life, but she made sure she was prepared. Working with an assistant, she interviewed the couple to see what they wanted, boned up on big moments in weddings, dressed appropriately, and tried not to talk like a high schooler.
“I was freaking the whole time,” she said. “It’s like the biggest day of the couple’s life, and I’m just a high school kid.”
But for a wedding video, it went viral. Posted on Facebook and the video website Vimeo, it got about 800 views.
When it came time for college, Botelho wanted a school on the East Coast, one that was affordable and one where she could pursue her filmmaking and business ambitions. At URI, she talked with Roth and Justin Wyatt, now associate director of the Harrington School. Her first question: Do you have a film program and are you serious about it. The answer: Yes.
“I felt this is where I wanted to be for sure,” she said. “It’s a really friendly atmosphere, and the Harrington School, you can take other courses and not be restricted.”
Botelho’s goal is to eventually make it as a director in feature films or television. As a high school freshman, she preferred to work alone to protect her ideas, but she learned that getting more people involved, hearing their ideas, was more satisfying.
“You really need to be a strong leader who knows where the project should go,” she said. “I like looking to other people and seeing what their talents are and putting it all together. I think that’s all about being a director – helping other people reach their goals and dreams would be the coolest thing.”