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Hamline alum explores cult in “The Center”

Filmmaker, actor and Hamline alumnus Matt Cici stars in Minnesota-made independent film “The Center.”

Matt Cici, Megan Hensley and Shawn Boyd at the world premiere of “The Center.”

Matt Cici, Megan Hensley and Shawn Boyd at the world premiere of “The Center.”

Justin Christensen, Reporter

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Ryan is looking for answers. He is fresh out of college, working a dead-end job and has dreams that are far from being realized. Ryan’s search for meaning leads him to a self-help organization known as The Center. There, it seems as if he has finally found the answers he has been looking for. However, Ryan soon discovers there is a dark underside to the organization.

And so goes the premise of “The Center,” a Minnesota-made independent film that has been playing at film festivals worldwide. Directed by Charlie Griak, “The Center” made its Minnesota debut at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, where it was featured in the 34th annual Best of Fest lineup.

Ryan is played by Hamline alumnus Matt Cici (‘10), who has been nominated for Best Lead Actor 2015 at the St. Tropez International Film Festival in France.

Cici’s journey from Hamline to being nominated for a Best Actor Award at an international film festival was long, but he kept pushing forward.

“If you have a project that you believe in, eventually something will come. Don’t expect it and don’t wait for it to happen, you kind of have to make it happen,” Cici said.

Cici helped make his goals happen by taking film classes at North Hennepin Community College and then transferring to Hamline in the fall of 2008. At Hamline, he took advantage of the Flexible Curriculum Program to develop a major specific to his interests, Film Studies. He graduated in 2010 with this degree, as well as a degree in Communications Studies.

Cici felt that Hamline helped him create a program of study that would be beneficial to his future in media and film.

“Hamline allowed me the opportunity to do a lot of research and independent study which was nice,” Cici said.

After leaving Hamline, Cici immediately shot and premiered his feature film and directorial debut, “Lambent Fuse.” From there, he got involved with film crews and other jobs that revolved around the film industry. It wasn’t until he wrapped a film in South Dakota as Assistant Director that he got involved with “The Center.” He auditioned for the part of Ryan and his work with the film began quickly after that.

“I ended up getting the part and about a month later we shot the film,” he said.

“The Center,” driven forward by Cici’s character Ryan, then had its world premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California. There, the film was selected for an encore screening by the audience and jury on the festival’s final day.

The film not only received acclaim worldwide and nationally, but locally as well.

Craig Rice, professor at McNally Smith College of Music and Minnesota-Made Programmer for the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, looks at films that are submitted to MSPIFF with a very critical eye.

“Standards of Minnesota films have to have the standards of a film from any other country,” Rice said.

He believed that “The Center” was one of those films.

“This film was probably the outstanding film from Minnesota. Definitely something I wanted to make sure was in the festival,” Rice said.

As well as the film as a whole, many people were really impressed by Cici’s acting. Kristen Dolge (‘17), an audience member for the Best of Fest showing on April 29 and a student at North Hennepin Community College, really sympathized with the character that Cici played.

“Matt was a great actor because he really showed Ryan’s vulnerability well,” Dolge said.

Ryan’s vulnerability was important for “The Center,” because it portrayed how easily a person looking for answers can find themselves sucked into dark organizations. The timing of the film’s release interestingly coincided with the HBO exposition of Scientology, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” which aired on March 29.

The fact that the film was shot in various Twin Cities locations and featured a local cast and crew raised the excitement for many audience members in attendance during MSPIFF’s second showing of the film on Friday night, April 24. Loud shouts and applause filled the theater after the credits rolled, including several people yelling Cici’s name.

Cici, like many others, recognizes that the journey in the film industry can be a difficult road, but hard work does pay off.

“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish whatever task you want. You just have to work hard,” Cici said.

More information about what Matt Cici is working on can be found at www.mattcici.com and more information about “The Center” is located at www.thecentermovie.com

A still from the film “The Center."

A still from the film “The Center.”

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The student news site of Hamline University.
Hamline alum explores cult in “The Center”