Robin Saban is the Founder and President of the International Student Film Festival Hollywood. His career as a writer and director led him through various projects in Montereal Canada and Hollywood. In 2006 he created the Cross Cultural Film Festival Los Angeles as an avenue to celebrate people’s differences through film. Robin Saban has inspired the project “Vienna goes L.A.”, an integration-focused project giving high school students the chance to bring their own personal stories to the screen.
So Robin, it seems like you were pretty much established in Hollywood, on your way to the hall of fame of the American dream. Why would somebody like you suddenly start such a non-profit project in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter of L.A., living off of grants and donations?
In today’s world we need more people joining into the team of those making a difference in people’s lives. If we all become self-centered, what can we leave for the next generation as an inheritance? Young people need more role models so that they can pass on the torch to the next one.
For me, life is all about how you want to be remembered once you’re not around anymore. It is a choice between being disconnected from reality or facing reality and helping people in need. And I have chosen to join the team of people making a difference in other people’s lives. I believe I can do good things here in Vienna with likeminded people.
You say that young people need role models. What kind of role models do young people today need?
The young people I’m talking about had role models which they had never met before but that were trying to be part of their life, understand their differences and show them how to share and embrace each other with respect and dignity. Third parties can sometimes be more objective: that is, these role models are not their parents or their teachers from school so it helps them show today’s youth different ways of life that they can experience and offer them new perspectives. That’s why our project “Vienna Goes L.A.” is a very unique project. It gives young people the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions by using storytelling and filmmaking techniques.
You started with the film project in L.A. and then decided to come to Austria. What made you leave L.A. – and what made you pick Vienna?
I haven’t left Los Angeles permanently. Sometimes I am there and sometimes here. I have my film festival and I do go to Los Angeles for the festival.
My first visit to Vienna was in 1983. I love this country. I have an Austrian friend and I’ve known her for over 25 years. I also have a family member who is a resident here, so I am not a stranger in this city. I feel I am at home, although Vienna has changed very much since then: when I get into the metro or the bus I hear many languages other than German. Something is changing very fast and dramatically and I have heard from many people that there is a big problem about foreigners trying to integrate into the Austrian society. It came to my mind that it was a similar story to that of the Los Angeles Byzantine-Latino Quarter. I decided to share my idea about what I did in L.A. with the filmmaking community here in Vienna and they embraced it right away and started to work on this project. I love what I see and I know it will grow and it will be very successful.
In your opinion, how can a project like Vienna goes L.A. contribute to the integration efforts in Austria?
It is very simple: our program will give students the tools that they will use the rest of their life. The program is designed to teach them how to work as a team, not to be prejudiced, to benefit from each other’s differences (our differences are our richness not our weakness), to gain self esteem, to believe in oneself, and to know that you can do something and finish what you’ve started. With the glamorous and colorful world of entertainment it will charm many young people to be part of this project.
My experience is that kids forget their differences immediately and go to work as a team without even noticing that they have already overcome what was different about them. Every one works for the film and they have a lot of fun with it. The magic of storytelling and filmmaking takes control of them and they discover the creative personality within them. For many of them this is a first-time experience in their life.
What piece of advice would you give the young people of today and how would you summarize your vision in a nutshell?
Do not take life granted, put no limit to learning, turn your differences into your advantage, be open minded, don’t work hard but work smart. By believing in yourself, everything is possible.