John Sweeney Experience Award gives students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities

Riley Reid never imagined he would screen his own film at the Cannes Film Festival.

Reid, an advertising senior in the MJ-school, spent two weeks in Cannes last summer, with his friend and one of his co-producers Stuart Schrader. Festival de Cannes — formerly known as the International Film Festival — is held annually in Cannes, France. The festival is the largest film event in the world and aims to raise the profile of the film industry internationally.

“It was surreal,” Reid says. “Being in Cannes opened my eyes in so many ways – It gave me a new sense of ambition.”

The group screened their short film, Of Princes, which won the UNC MovieFest in fall 2015. The campus MovieFest provides professional video equipment to teams, who have a week to produce a high quality film. After their success at MovieFest, Reid’s team was encouraged to submit their short film to Cannes Film Festival, where they were accepted.

Reid’s trip to Cannes was supplemented by the John Sweeney Experience Award, an annual award that provides up to $2,000 to two inventive MJ-school students. 

The Sweeney Award welcomes applicants from all MJ-school concentrations. Interested students submit a resume, proposal and rough outline of their budget. The recipients are chosen by John Sweeney himself, a distinguished professor in sports communication and the head of the advertising specialization in the MJ-school. 

Jason Kilar '93 established the fund in Sweeney’s name to foster innovation and educational enrichment. Kilar is the former CEO and founder of Hulu and the founder of Vessel. He currently serves on the board of directors for DreamWorks Animation.

The growth of new, or digital, media is a hot topic in the MJ-school. It prompted the MJ-school’s recent rebranding and is incorporated into all MJ-school specializations. As such, proposals that focus on digital media stick out. What’s even more eye-catching, though, are personal and passionate proposals.

“We’re looking for something that’s personal and useful – something with extraordinary meaning,” says Sweeney.

Projects that receive funding are diverse in nature. The other 2016 winner, senior Josh Alexander, spent the summer at Atomic Empire, in Durham, North Carolina, where he helped with brand and social media management. Past winners have gone to special workshops; traveled the U.S. south to the locations of Tennessee Williams plays; and more.

Reid’s two weeks in Cannes were spent watching and critiquing films, networking at the Marché du Film and soaking in the local culture.

Reid describes the festival as an epicenter for networking and learning. He says that being around so many people in the film industry helped him learn how to network more efficiently, a skill the MJ-school focuses on teaching its students.

Reid is thankful for the experiences offered by the MJ-school and for John Sweeney, whom Reid considers a mentor. 

“The school gives so many opportunities. There’s an incredible support system,” he says. “They want you to succeed.”

Sweeney echoes Reid’s sentiments when he talks about the award and its impact on students.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Sweeney. “I’m very thankful and it’s made a real difference.”

Reid hopes to move to New York City when he graduates this May. He is passionate about telling stories and wants to use his filmmaking skills in the advertising industry.

Watch Of Princes here.