Thirty years ago, Michael Ien Cohen walked into the Cinema Arts Center and was greeted by directors and co-founders of the establishment, Vic Skolnick and Charlotte Sky.
Cohen had always wanted to be a film maker. Cohen was ecstatic to meet the directors and co-founders. The owners gladly gave him a tour of the cinema and introduced them to what Cohen later found out was their son, Dylan. At the end of the tour, they told Cohen “we can’t promise we’re going to show your film here, but we can promise that we will watch it. If it’s any good then, maybe, we will show it!”
To Cohen that was as good as a guarantee.
He went home very excited. Unfortunately, due to fears of uncertainty, first a week went by, then a month, then a year, then a decade, then three and the film didn’t get made. Then, after Cohen recovered from a major depression at 50 years old, he vowed never again to let fear guide his hand in life, and began production on his film, Humanity Stoked.
About six months ago Cohen took his documentary, which by then had won seven film festivals, to the CAC. There he reconnected with Dylan, who he then found out was the son of Skolnick and Sky and asked him to watch his film. Dylan loved the film and wanted it shown at the theater. Later on, Cohen found out that Dylan’s mom watched it, loved it as well, and thought it should be played at the cinema as well.
A few weeks later, Dylan and Cohen were chatting and Dylans mom arrives at the CAC. Cohen introduced himself and said, “thank you for keeping your promise.” With a smirk and a wink, Charolette Sky replied, “thank you for keeping yours.”
Humanity Stoked is a film about “the love of humanity, and the challenges we all face, especially fear.” The film brings pro skaters, scientists, artists, musicians, activists, and educators together with their love for skating. According to Cohen, who wrote and directed the film, the overall message for people to take away from this film is that “so much more often than not we are capable of so much more, especially in terms of goodness, when we give ourselves the chance and stop judging and limiting ourselves”.
This message has a special place in his heart because of the overwhelming fear he felt during the first 50 years of his life that prevented him from fulfilling his passion and lifelong goals of becoming a film maker and a humanitarian.
The film’s overall theme surrounds fear. All the issues discussed within the film, whether it be issues of equality, xenophobia, homophobia, gender inequality or race, are either caused directly by fear, or at the very least, exacerbated by fear. By gathering icons in different aspects of life Cohen hoped to inspire people to think a little bit more deeply and openly not only about the issues discussed in the film but about oneself. “My hope with this film is to help move the needle forward, get conversation started about these issues and hopefully get people to think a little bit more openly and deeply about them. These are vital steps to promoting positive change” says Cohen.
This film is not an ordinary documentary because it was completely volunteer based and self-funded.
Cohen didn’t have the money to pay for videographers or musicians to produce this film. According to Cohen, “I would have to go on a shoot, and I would need two more camera operators and I would put an ad on Craigslist and give an overview of what I was doing. I’d follow the summary by saying if you feel like this project is a beautiful project, and you want to be attached to it and help make it come true then reach out to me.”
In the film Cohen interviewed many contemporary icons, including pro skaters, scientists, artists, musicians, activists, and educators.
However, Cohen started this film with absolutely no connections. He had to think of new and creative ways to reach and convince celebrities to be a part of his documentary. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and science communicator, is an example of the work needed to bring in a celebrity.
Cohen had made a longboard with a picture of Tyson and some of his famous quotes and tried to reach him to persuade him to participate. After a while, Cohen gave up due to the lack of response from Tyson. Then, a few years later as Cohen and his then director of photography/editor, Ian B. Gibson, were editing the environmental issue segment of the film, the segment Tyson would have been on, he received a message that Tyson was showing his skateboard on a Tik Tok live. Cohen blasted out an email to everyone connected to Tyson and was finally able to set up an interview with him. Through hard work, perseverance and creativity Cohen was also able to get icons like Tony Hawk, Vanessa Torres, and Nyjah Huston to appear in his film.
Proceeds from the film will go to Cohen’s charity, WhatStopsYou.org to help provide guidance and encouragement for children and adults who need it most, especially in underprivileged areas. Humanity Stoked will be shown Saturday at 7 pm at the Cinema Arts Centre.
Riddhi Das is an intern for HuntingtonNow.com