Welcome to HECUA’s Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we’re delighted to feature Kara Hakanson. Kara is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, and completed the Making Media, Making Change program in 2017.
Kara started her freshman year at the University of Minnesota determined to become a travel writer. “I thought, I like to write, take pictures, and travel – I should be a journalism major!” The more she learned about the program and her future career, however, the more she realized that it wouldn’t offer her the flexibility and creative control she craved. She soldiered on through the program, entering the Journalism School and checking off course requirements until her sophomore year, when she hit a wall. Sophomore year was stressful on a personal level, with the passing of her beloved grandmother, and her course load wasn’t helping. The breaking point was a class called “News Reporting and Writing.” The AP Style manual became her bedside companion as she plowed through assignments dedicated to perfecting a certain (highly specific, regimented) type of journalistic writing.
Looking back on that spring semester, Kara says, “That was the moment where I started thinking, what am I doing with my life? Why am I in school? Why journalism, why college?” She debated the relative merits of completing her degree or dropping out to pursue non-academic interests, and in the end decided to sign a leave of absence from the University of Minnesota that summer.
Kara wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do, but knew that she needed a change. “After I took the leave of absence, I knew I had made the right decision to take a break, but I did feel lost, trying to figure out what I wanted. Acting was something that I’d always enjoyed, it was always there in the back of my mind as something that made me truly happy. I grew up doing theater acting, and then in high school I got hooked on film.” She decided that a career in acting might offer the flexibility and artistic freedom she’d been missing in school. That fall she interned at the Twin Cities Film Festival, and as she worked with the crew and immersed herself in the world of cinema, she began to consider a move to Los Angeles.
She went on an exploratory mission with her sister to visit friends and check out the city. “As soon as I got there,” she says, “I fell in love.” She began to plan for a more permanent move immediately after they returned to the Midwest, and in the spring of 2014 made her dream a reality. She couch-hopped for months, living out of a suitcase, combining staying with friends and renting rooms on AirBnB. She began to feel more settled halfway through the year, after enrolling in an acting class and making friends that offered space in their apartments.
Kara moved to L.A. as a 21-year-old, and celebrated her 22nd birthday in North Hollywood. All told, she was a Californian for about a year and a half. About her time in L.A., she says, “I learned so much about filmmaking and acting.” Enrolled in acting classes, surrounded by creative, driven friends, she began to write and direct her own films. She filmed one of these projects – the narrative short “Sophie and Grace” – over two days with help from members of her acting class and people she had met working on sets. (The first screening that accepted her work? The Feminist Video Quarterly, a Minnesota film series curated by two artists Kara met in the MMMC classroom.)
“It was my first project, and it was definitely not perfect, but I got a taste of what that can feel like. It’s cool to be able to look at it now and see how my work has evolved. I can also see what my style is – comedic, narrative, fiction.”
After a year the city had started to wear on Kara, and she began to consider a move back home.
“I moved back to the Cities in 2015,” she says, “because I was tired of being broke. I was tired of the smog. I wanted to see greenery, breathe clean air, and get out of its toxic film industry.” She was thrilled to learn that she could re-enroll at the University of Minnesota by completing a simple form. By October of that year, she’d moved back to Minnesota, and by the following spring, she was a newly minted Studies in Cinema and Media Culture major at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
Completing her degree took a year with summer courses. During that time, Kara connected with the local film community, acting in a piece directed by Cadence Nelson titled “Solar Flare” and completing another of her own projects, the short film “fifteen.” During the summer of her last year at school, Kara met Making Media, Making Change Program Co-Director, Erin Walsh, and a lightbulb went off. “With the experience I’d had in L.A.,” she tells us, “I was so ready to be out of the classroom. I wanted to be making things.”
Making Media, Making Change, with its focus on production and a classroom in a local community media center, offered just that opportunity. All of the students in the class create three short films in just fifteen weeks, a challenge that Kara said pushed her out of her perfectionist paralysis. “The program helped me relax, learn to not sweat the small stuff and just dive in. Everyone in the class was learning and growing together.” It was during Making Media, Making Change that Kara made “daily mantra,” an intimate look at body image, self-perception, and self-love. That film, which Kara initially hesitated to show to her classmates because it felt so personal, has now been shown at film festivals in the U.S., London, and Montreal. She credits the supportive Making Media, Making Change environment with creating a space that helped her push her artistic boundaries.
Kara with her Making Media, Making Change classmates.
What’s next for Kara? Currently, she is working on two new short films, made in partnership with two other female media creators. They film in July and with hopefully a majority, if not all, female crew. Of those projects, Kara says, “I want to be able to just dive in and make something, kind of like how I learned in HECUA. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, but it’ll be something I can be proud of and know I’ve done my best. Right now my focus is building my portfolio.”
When asked what advice she has to share with HECUA students, she says, “Let yourself have the experience! When I first started, I was working three jobs, doing the class and internship, and filming a short documentary. That was obviously way too much! If you can make it happen, try as hard as you can to pare back and get the absolute most out of this experience. I took a lot from HECUA, and I know I could have taken even more if I hadn’t been trying to do everything!”