By Nick Hawks
Officially, Anna Powaski wants to be a filmmaker. After all, that’s why she came to Cleveland State University. On paper, it comes across as pretty straightforward.
At the age of 16, she and a few friends crowdfunded $1,000 using Kickstarter to make their own film, loosely inspired by Mark David Chapman’s obsession with John Lennon.
She set out to come to Cleveland State, inspired by the plans for a brand new $7.5 million film school, and jumped at the chance to be one of only 16 students to try out the first sequence of FMA classes, before construction on the new film school had even begun. A junior, she has never once changed her major, which is film in the writer/producer track.
In early January of this year, she shot footage for her Production 3 project, a documentary aimed at addressing the homeless problem in Cleveland.
“Originally, my project was about anti-homeless architecture,” she said. “It came to be more broadly about homeless issues in the city of Cleveland and what it means to facilitate and house people.”
She named off a few examples of what could be considered anti-homeless architecture, including benches in Public Square with bars designed as handrails, so you can’t lay down on them.
Again, pretty straightforward. A filmmaker who wants to use their platform to highlight societal issues, it’s not so uncommon. Still, it’s 45 minutes into our interview, and there’s a feeling that Powaski is holding something back. She’s different, that much is evident.
Dressed in a long-sleeved, glossy shirt covered with colorful flowers and bell bottom jeans, with dyed, dark brown hair to match her brown eyes, she looks like an extra plucked from “That ‘70s Show,” and placed in 2020.
She spends more time highlighting the problems with homelessness than promoting herself, even though this is a Student Spotlight, where self-promotion is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
“The problem with the railroads and highways is that they’re put in locations designed to force people to have cars,” Powaski said, unprompted.
Maybe the right questions haven’t been asked, or maybe she’s just too passionate about her project or the homeless problem in general to drop her guard, but there’s more to her, buried under layers of selfless activism, and we’re running out of time.
Then, finally, a beam of light. After saying moving to Hollywood to pursue film is not at all in the cards for her, Powaski bashfully admitted a dream of hers.
“What I really want to do is go into the mountains and be a traveling puppeteer,” she said. “I would get a giant backpack, and I would take my little puppets around and go to towns and play shows. People would toss me coins, and I would use them to buy a cup of coffee.”
It’s hard to gauge whether she’s joking or not, but saying this gets her to open up. Unlike some of her peers, she sees more to life than pursuing “making it” in film. Her experience of shooting footage of a city council meeting, where the issue of shutting down homeless shelters in Cleveland was discussed, has confirmed for her that she wants to pursue a career as a producer or a writer for a news network, or an educational program like PBS.
In fact, she passionately discussed an idea her and her boyfriend had, where journalism students and film students would collaborate to form a club and cover newsworthy events not just at Cleveland State, but in all of Cleveland. She ponders, frustratingly, why this isn’t something the university offers on their own. She has tried taking the initiative to get it off and running on her, but has not yet had much traction.
“People were interested, but we needed a lot of planning,” she said. “What exactly are we going to do? There just wasn’t enough interest on getting it off the ground level.”
Still, she isn’t giving up and hopes to give it another shot this semester.
Something else that comes up, almost by accident, is her love of writing poetry. In fact, she has her own website where she posts poems, 11 on there to date, topics ranging from dying to having an anxiety attack in class.
These things aren’t to say Powaski doesn’t care about film, because she does. She grew up without cable and watched shows on PBS, such as Arthur and Sesame Street, which she feels helped shape her. She knows the value these programs have on young minds.
It’s just that she wants a simple life, far away from big cities and bright lights. Her colleagues at the film school sometimes look at her like she’s crazy for not having loftier dreams, with Hollywood car chases and CGI action scenes.
But it doesn’t matter to her what anybody else thinks. She laments at puppeteering not being a viable career, but more of an idea of what could be.
“I wish I could have a simple life,” she said. “I don’t think it’s in the books. But this is my secondary option, and I love it.”