Filmmaker and entrepreneur with a mission to educate

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Elliot Kotek and his Nation of Artists combine innovative educational ideas to deliver award-winning content and campaigns.

At the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, “For Tomorrow – the Documentary” was launched to celebrate the grassroots innovators around the world who are tackling sustainability issues at the local level. The project, a collaboration between the United Nations Development Program and Hyundai Motor Company, captures solutions created by the people closest to the problems they tackle.

In its first few weeks, the documentary has been viewed 350,000 times on YouTube and millions of views have been added for shorter videos featuring the film’s heroes from Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Azerbaijan and Peru. Enhanced with narration by Daisy Ridley (Rey from the Star Wars franchise) and with TIME Magazine’s Kid of the Year Gitanjali Rao, the partnership with Korean automaker Hyundai K-Pop spawned megastars BTS.

Elliot Kotek, founder of Nation of Artists, a production company that focuses on documentaries, docu-series and branded content, was a producer on the film. Kotek also worked as a strategist on the original platform, fortomorrow.org, which gathered the ideas from which the documentary was composed.

The audience generated by BTS’s involvement was incredibly vocal. That Jamila Mammadli, an Azerbaijani advocate for people with disabilities, was invited to speak at a K-Pop cafe in Baku is testament to the power of influencers to open up a film to younger, engaged groups for discussion.

Another subject of the film – Emmanuel Alie Mansaray of Sierra Leone in West Africa – collected electronic waste from local landfills, taught herself technique and built a solar-powered vehicle. His presence at Lincoln Center in New York for the film’s premiere was his very first flight, and “For Tomorrow” introduced him to other engineers working on the problem of sustainable transportation.

Another takeaway from the premiere was an offer from an audience member to connect Trinh Thi Hong, who converts organic waste into a range of soaps and detergents in Vietnam, with “Seed,” a program created by Stanford University alumni, in which they mentor. start-ups in Africa and South Asia to “increase their impact”.

It was Kotek’s Nation of Artists that, along with Montreal-based creative agency Sid Lee, also produced previous videos highlighting the innovators of “For Tomorrow.” They first recruited crews in Wales, Argentina, Nigeria and Nepal to showcase the innovation showcased on the platform. They then added teams in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guatemala, Peru, Vietnam, India and the United States.

“It was important to engage local crews and enable them to film the stories that take place in their communities,” Kotek says, “and that approach was a perfect fit with the message of the documentary itself – that people who are close to the solutions stand, the people can act to solve them.”

On previous projects for Qualcomm, New Balance, the Fair Labor Association and other clients, Kotek usually gathered his team and traveled to capture the stories, rather than working with a local crew. As an Australian, traveling long distances to other countries and cultures was part of his upbringing. In addition to starting Nation of Artists in 2009, Kotek has spent 15 years as a journalist, including a decade traveling the world while writing for The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times Distinction magazine, Confidential in Los Angeles and Gotham.

In those roles, and as a former editor-in-chief of Beyond Cinema, Celebs.com and Moving images Magazine, Kotek interviewed approximately 1,000 of the world’s leading creative and culture-defining minds, ranging from Chris Rock to Elon Musk.

“Interviewing productive people was addictive,” Kotek says. “What was most attractive about them was the passion they had for their pursuits. Making them open about things that really matter to them — a mentor, family member, cause or issue — really exposed the reasoning behind so many of their decisions.” When he was not publishing, he wrote screenplays and collaborated on documentaries.

In the beginning, Nation of Artists was an umbrella for a group of creative and community-building projects: interviewing artists in their studios about where they found inspiration; curate exhibitions for Noise Pop Music Festival in San Francisco and others; and creating Kotek’s own physical and digital art.

His solo show “RIPolaroid” showcased Polaroid images produced from the last batches of Polaroid 600 film ever made, and combined them with iPhone photography to spark a discussion on concepts such as instant gratification, pattern bias, and the ever-faster ease of image replication. The artworks were shown in galleries in Australia and the US and found their way into various publications.

The projects also helped Kotek develop creative ways to compose documentaries. An early project that Kotek co-produced with Irish filmmaker Frank Kelly was the first user-generated feature film and used Twitter to sign up contributors on five continents. Another film project, for Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, used photography and poetry to highlight the significance of Mandela’s legacy.

As documentary storytelling began to become a valuable tool for streamers and brands to engage more directly with audiences, the projects Kotek and his team produced took on more meaning and found larger collaborations.

Kotek’s projects have a common thread: they teach the importance of empathy. “It’s ideas AND empathy that together have an equal impact,” says Kotek, “Great ideas can have no impact if they’re misguided and lack the required elements for the particular community they’re delivered to; and the most empathetic people can’t achieve much impact if they just listen and complain.” Between the sincerity of the stakeholders and the strength of their ideas, this theme emerges clearly in “For Tomorrow”.

In another recent project, Kotek used the voices of young people to raise awareness for FIRST, a New Hampshire nonprofit founded by prolific inventor Dean Kamen, which hosts sports events centered around engineering, robotics and community engagement to promote STEM and STEAM. -promote education.

The team behind this campaign spoke to psychologists, parents, supervisors, students and others to educate themselves about the issues young people face – issues of belonging, a growth mindset, culture and racial inequality. Kotek delivered a campaign called ‘More Than’, which talks about the ability of STEM to build the competences of young people and also build their confidence and self-esteem.

Being involved in this project felt like an important choice for Kotek. He grew up an educator to a mother and father who was both scientific and creative. Before pursuing his passion for writing and journalism, Kotek was on his way to the sciences, and that training owes him the ability to understand and interpret complexities and bring them simpler and more emotional into the stories he tells.

With degrees in law and studies from the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute and UCLA, Kotek believes that education, whether formal or informal, is a fundamental path to a successful communicator. So when he sat across from the kids in the #IAmMoreThan videos, there was no suppression of the feelings on set as they shared their truths – of bullying and fear, of belonging and love, of knowing who was with them and who made it possible for them to thrive.

Were there tears on set? Secure. “Fortunately,” admits Kotek, “the cameras were only pointed in one direction.”