News Column

Driven, visionary artists -- already

May 23, 2013


The sibling rivalry between Ben and Richard Medina isn't your typical one.

Ben, who's Richard's senior by two years and two grades, doesn't hesitate to correct his brother's statement about the evolution of postmodernism.

Not to be outdone, Richard coyly strokes a glass plaque that signifies the first-place award his animated short film received this month at the CineYouth film festival in Chicago.

The young filmmakers' next exchange will center around who crafted the more visionary collage of ideas and inspiration hanging above the twin beds in their shared bedroom.

Despite their rivalry, the teens' success in their own niches -- Ben is the director and Richard the graphic artist -- allows for some collaboration rather than constant competition.

"I'm really proud of Richard, but there's boiling hatred there, too," Ben, 16, jokes. "We both operate in the visual arts, but luckily in very different areas."

Ben, a sophomore who like his eighth-grade brother gets home- schooled through a mix of tutoring, online courses and in-person group classes, is a filmmaker whose love of both learning and teaching is evident in just about every sentence he speaks.

He's currently editing a short film he wrote and directed called "Domino," which takes more time for him to describe than it will to watch the final cut.

Ben shot the film last month during a marine biology research trip to the Dominican Republic that the Medinas took with other families of home-schooled children enrolled in Advanced Placement biology.

After earning scuba diving certificates they conducted scientific surveys of coral reef. In total, they completed about 15 dives and collected data that will be entered into an international database.

While in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's capital, Ben used his minimal free time -- studying for the AP bio test was also on the agenda -- to shoot the film with a friend he met at the renowned Interlochen Motion Picture Arts Camp in Michigan.

"I'm working to create a network of artists with similar sensibilities, trying to make something work across time and space," Ben said. "It's like building an international cabal. Everyone is constantly regurgitating everything, so I'm trying to break down barriers that haven't been broken before in the way I put ideas together, and collaboration is central to that."

His short films, including his 2013 submission dubbed "Symphony," have been accepted into CineYouth, an annual film festival presented by Cinema/Chicago and the Chicago International Film Festival. It features budding filmmakers from around the world.

In 2011, Ben auditioned through the Facets multimedia arts organization in Chicago to be selected for a panel of youth judges at a children's film festival in Hyderabad, India.

That prompted an invitation from Shishuvan School in Mumbai to teach filmmaking workshops last summer to students whose curriculum usually focuses on science, math and engineering. He taught at least three two-hour classes each day. "That was fantastic because I really love teaching film and it forced me to verbalize what really matters to me about filmmaking," said Ben, who's also planning to teach a workshop this summer for underprivileged kids at the Palatine Opportunity Center.

Richard has a film under his belt as well, and an award-winning one at that.

His 47-second piece, "Fist," won Best Animation in CineYouth's junior division. Richard said the short experimental film was "inspired by Dada, constructivism, Russian propaganda, and explores themes of power and protest."

He did the animation in just two hours, and the sound effects in another eight or so.

Columbia College adjunct professor Lee Ferdinand is their film teacher and meets with the advanced duo a couple of times a month at a Starbucks. They discuss the history of cinema, aesthetics and film theory, and cultivate development of their projects.

"They're at the level of upperclassmen at one of the top fine arts schools in the country," Ferdinand said. "Ben is the brain. He's such an intellectual and he's after something that he doesn't quite understand yet. Richard is a visionary, and I don't use that word lightly. I think he'll explode under the right guidance."

"Fist" was the first real attempt at making an animated short for Richard, whose foremost passion is graphic design.

He designed the posters for this year's Chicago Critics Film Festival in April and next month will attend the HOW Design Live graphic design conference in San Francisco to network and build his portfolio. He posts much of his work on the blog;

For the past few months, Richard has been mentored by Doug Jennings, a graphic artist and instructor at Kaleidoscope School of Art in Barrington. They work on page layout and design for publications, design principles, typography and even the business acumen Richard will need to work with future clients.

"He has a very advanced concept of what makes a good graphic design work," Jennings said. "He's just grasping and running with it. He's like a sponge."

Richard is about to launch his own biannual humanities and art journal called "Hu. Art" consisting of submissions from artists he knows. He's also collaborating on an animation project about a human trying to catch a rat that's actually a computer mouse.

Both Ben and Richard exude a love of learning that's evidenced by the art, literature and numerous other artifacts in their house.

Eclectic doesn't begin to describe Ben's many bookcases, lined with anything from Batman comics and books about Japanese B-movies to nonfiction texts on rockets and graffiti. Even their dining room lighting fixture holds two (fake) ravens, a nod to Ben's earlier affinity for Edgar Allan Poe.

Their parents, Maria Galo and Richard Medina Sr., have always tried to support their sons' interests, no matter how "out there" they may be.

"We've always encouraged them to pursue their passions to the nth degree," Galo said. "And we try to find new ways to explore them. That just makes life richer."

* Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and thenominee to

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