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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Sergio Barbasso of Vegas Movie Awards Is Helping To Change Our World

“Choose only people aligned with your values” — If I had thought about my own values rather than going on trust, I would have spared myself professional, romantic, or friendship relationships that were absolutely toxic to my growth.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sergio Barbasso.

Sergio Barbasso is a multi-award-winning director, film producer, animator, social entrepreneur, and book author completely devoted to the mission of bringing fulfillment and success to artists’ careers and lives.

Mr. Barbasso is the Founder and Festival Director of Vegas Movie Awards™, a unique Film Festival in the TOP 5 Best Reviewed festivals on FilmFreeway that has so far awarded Academy Award®, Golden Globes®, and BAFTA®-winning directors and actors, such as Olivia Colman, Marisa Tomei, William Baldwin, Gerard Depardieu, Tom Hanks, Helena Bonham-Carter, Will Ferrell, Ron Perlman, Vinnie Jones, and Malcolm McDowell, to name a few.

Sergio Barbasso is committed to helping content creators all around the world find their true purpose in life and pursue it through his Film Festival and through groundbreaking books that educate both aspiring filmmakers and seasoned artists.

What made the difference between being just another film festival and being the Vegas Movie Awards™ is that while all the other organizers during the pandemic were worrying about the fate of their festival, VMA was listening to the needs of filmmakers and making them feel part of one Family in which to grow their talent.

Too many entrepreneurs still don’t realize how many benefits to themselves and society can come from stopping chasing money and instead pursuing a larger, more ethical purpose that can truly change the world for the better and also make their work immortal.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

It is a pleasure for me. About 25 years ago I began my career in graphic design, making hundreds of CD and DVD covers for international artists, but I’ve always had an obsession with achieving the impossible, and slowly I began to feel the need to create more and more complex work. I started with a self-published 40-page comic book, but I wanted to see my characters move; then I learned how to create storyboards and animations, and made two animated episodes for YouTube. But I felt I still wanted more. So for nine endless months, I cut off all connection with the outside world and made a full 20-minute animation, from idea to promotion. With that cartoon, I won 15 international awards, traveled to attend film festivals around the world, and got the interest of an American company that wanted me here in the United States to take my creations to a whole new level.

Meanwhile, observing the film festivals’ systematic lack of respect and care for us filmmakers, I decided to create an innovative Film Festival that would really listen to and help those who are able to contribute to indie cinema through their hard work. And so the Vegas Movie Awards™ was born, able in just four years and during a global pandemic to become among the most sought-after Festivals worldwide thanks to the risky choice to create something never before seen in the indie film industry. Only by following my heart and sticking to my calling of helping artists no matter what.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I would say without a doubt when I decided to create 20 minutes of high-level animation all by myself learning on the run every step of the very long pipeline: screenwriting, preliminary drawings, storyboard, voice-over, sound design, rigging, animation, and post-production. Plus, I created posters, pitch decks, and trailers, and promoted the series around the world. All in just nine insane months.

In retrospect, I would have loved to have also created a mini-documentary about that wild experience, which would surely have been able to inspire all those aspiring filmmakers who give up creating masterpieces because they don’t have the budget or for fear of failure and not being understood.

That extreme experience certainly did not help me to be happy because to finish the project I had to sacrifice key relationships, friendships, family, free time, everything; and in my books, I explain how not to make the same mistake.

But I can absolutely say that recording the sounds of doors slamming, floors creaking, or dubbing the characters each with a different voice are among the most fun things in the world that I hope each of you can experience at least once in your life.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The most interesting people I have interacted with so far do not have names that fill the front pages of magazines. They are ‘ordinary’ people who do their best to help people in need, such as the founders or volunteers of the local and national associations with which I collaborate both with the festival and on a personal level. I always try to surround myself with authentic people who can teach me to be a better person through their example, avoiding all those who have become ‘experts’ by reading some blog on the internet, or who exploit people’s weaknesses to sell premium courses on things they have never experienced firsthand.

My main need is for growth, and only by practicing humility and empathy on a daily basis, I can attract people who can really help me make a difference in an increasingly cynical and individualistic world.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

From an entrepreneurial and artistic standpoint, I have always been fascinated by the extraordinary story of Walt Disney.

In me, I see his own stubbornness in dreaming something impossible and doing everything to achieve it, or sacrificing everything for an idea. Walt always saw things that others were unable to see and for, that reason, could only criticize; his works were rejected countless times, he was even told that he lacked imagination…Disney dealt with a sense of failure for much of his life, yet he continued to persist in his vision and rise again each time until he became the entrepreneur we all know today.

Reading one of his most famous quotes was tremendously inspiring to me: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” It was a statement that made me realize, at a time of severe depression in my life, that there is no easy path for people determined to change the world like me. One just has to decide if one’s life purpose is more beautiful than living an average life lived in total passivity, and appreciate more one’s courage in striving fiercely on a daily basis to get as close to that purpose as possible.

I can say from my own experience that many times you wonder if it is worth it given the enormous sacrifices you make or the insurmountable difficulties you encounter, but when you then receive even one email from an artist thanking you because you saved his or her life, and you know that this person will be able to inspire the world with his or her art, all doubt immediately fades away.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

With the Vegas Movie Awards™, we’re now applying to become a nonprofit and expand so we can speed up our mission of helping the filmmaking community; we and our partners are advocating every day since our inception for social awareness, diversity, and inclusion, honoring women and ethnic minorities and their unparalleled contribution to the indie cinema.

Over the past 4 years, my organization and I have done a lot to establish Las Vegas not just as the capital of live entertainment, but as a new important hub for filmmaking. I’m committed to creating a large, strong community of filmmakers here in Las Vegas, made up of more and more people who come to live here from California or the East Coast but don’t find the opportunities they had in Hollywood or New York.

I’m collaborating with universities and colleges in Nevada to create ad-hoc programs for their film schools where I can provide my knowledge and experience and try to inspire the new generation of filmmakers to work on themselves before they work on seeking approval from the outside.

In addition to the books and guides distributed to the Vegas Movie Awards™ winners, I am writing an upcoming trilogy of books called ‘Save The Filmmaker, Save The World’ devoted to the total well-being of filmmakers as a prerequisite for their work and personal fulfillment.

Also, I’ve decided to devote my time only to meaningful projects that can bring awareness to people and really change the world, so in addition to my work as Festival Director, I’m also co-producer of animated series for both an important US foundation helping children in need and for a global summit on happiness, co-producer of a documentary on the recent war in Ukraine, as well as co-creator of an upcoming festival entirely dedicated to homeless and people who are struggling, to restore their dignity and help their mental recovery through unleashing their artistic side.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

More than an “Aha Moment” I would say that after taking my rock animated series SuperHillCool™ around the world, it was a strong sense of inner anger and frustration that made me decide to take action. I was still living in Italy, and I was participating in just over 70 film festivals worldwide. I saw so little respect for filmmakers from the film festivals, especially the more esteemed ones, and I realized from talking to dozens of other writers and directors who considered that ‘normal,’ that something had to be done. I met a lot of talented artists in Hollywood who were depressed and disheartened just because their projects were being systematically rejected by film festivals and had lost all self-confidence, and I decided that this new mission deserved all my time and energy. The Vegas Movie Awards™ was born shortly thereafter, and from there on, I devoted my every breath to listening to the filmmakers’ needs and creating an impeccable organization that would be a ‘home’ in which their difficult choices and talent could find acceptance and understanding.

Without, of course, ever going to the detriment of meritocracy, and making sure that we contribute with our guides and tips to their professional growth by helping them to have a greater focus and intentionality in their actions and a greater understanding of marketing to attract the attention of decision-makers.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Unlike other film festivals, our relationship with our alumni is more intimate and deeper. We have noticed that by making our values and mission clear from the start, filmmakers feel freer to share with us their feelings before, during, and after our competitions. However, this means entering territories where there is no longer deference but having to deal with real issues especially related to the mental health of the artists.

One of our participants not long ago wrote to us that he had seriously considered suicide because he felt like a failure; even before this artist revealed his intentions to us, however, our customer service had already provided him with empathy, kindness, and respect that we give to all of our participants as human beings, regardless of whether they are later selected or not. This approach from our Team restored such self-confidence and a sense of personal worthiness to this filmmaker that he thanked us by sharing that our support on a moral level made him want to create and work on his dreams again; he came back to feel considered, welcomed, and supported in his growth, and felt that his work and his whole life were worthwhile again in his eyes.

This is just one of many stories of people impacted by our cause; we are happy to continually be able to make connections among our most determined filmmakers and to see that their wins from the Vegas Movie Awards™ have opened more doors for them at other reputable festivals and provided much more attention and opportunities from the independent film industry.

We received so many heartfelt testimonials over the years that we had to create a 270-page book called ‘VMA Family Book,’ never before done by any film festival, that we used to encourage even more of our filmmakers during the pandemic not to give up, and to remember what they were able to achieve with their talent.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

There would be a lot more than three things to do for this struggling industry, actually. Artists should realize that being individualistic and self-centered will never lead them to healthy success, because only through mutual support and collaboration can each individual artist become great, each in their own area, each with their own unique style. Consumers have a great power, which is to bet on the great artists of tomorrow by preferring screenings and premieres of brave filmmakers to Spiderman chapter 24.

The government of any country, if it really cares about its own economy and wants to drastically reduce its spending, should invest in artist development and art in general as an important method of calming or eradicating social problems such as stress, depression, PTSD, egoism, or prevarication.

All people who want to contribute with us to make indie cinema a better place can bring their enthusiasm and ideas by writing to info@vegasmovieawards.com

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

- “Choose only people aligned with your values” — If I had thought about my own values rather than going on trust, I would have spared myself professional, romantic, or friendship relationships that were absolutely toxic to my growth.

- “Think about what you want before you actually do it” — Figuring out my real needs first, instead of starting to create impossible projects, would have helped me tremendously in not using up all my energy and losing sight along the way of other things important to my happiness.

- “Stay curious” — My desire to always be the dumbest guy in the room in any situation has allowed me to assimilate different concepts from different fields and put them together. Many times in the last few years, though, it has been difficult to unhinge one’s beliefs and totally reconsider what all our lives I had seen done one way.

- “Listen to yourself” — No one else better than me can know what I want from my own life; the mistake most of us make, however, is delegating our own happiness to others, expecting others to understand us when even we cannot understand ourselves.

- “Enjoy the present moment more” — For stubbornly determined people like me, we like to stay on the driver’s side and go at great speed, but sometimes we miss out on breathtaking vistas and the beauty of the world inherent in the little things. Trying to get closer to my life purpose is as essential as staying on the passenger’s side and carving out moments of total relaxation by reading a good book or listening to the sounds of nature…and I really don’t understand how I have managed in years past to live without any breaks.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell them several things, as I am doing in my books and during my volunteer guest speaking. First, to remember that we all have only one life to live and that all the time we waste doing things we hate will never be given back to us. This sounds easily understood on a theoretical level, but in practice, it is only understandable if we think about people close to us who could have helped the world with their ideas but are now gone, and realize that no one in the world will ever benefit from those ideas.

Then, to observe how the truly happy people in life are certainly not those with the most likes or followers or those celebrities who are rich in so many material possessions but very poor in having people beside them with similar values who can appreciate them for who they really are, and not for their money.

Also, to remember that the limitations given by the society we live in such as the color of our skin, our gender, or our sexual preferences should not be an impediment to our personal happiness. We are all human beings living on a grain of sand in the Universe; let’s start giving before we receive and help our communities and people more in need than ourselves, and everything we consider an obstacle will magically disappear.

Never lose the will to be better than you are now, and to inspire others by your example.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

I never thought of a particular person, but I invite anyone who is reading this article and wants to carry on battles with us on behalf of filmmakers and the arts to contact me at the email above.

A celebrity who already has a great echo in this field can certainly be of great help, but we usually work with both Oscar®-winning filmmakers and nonprofits, and ordinary enthusiasts.

If you are journalists, creators of blogs and video content, entrepreneurs, or filmmakers who want to spread the word and save this industry please contact my Team. If like us you want to actively contribute and be remembered as courageous bearers of positive change in the world, we will do great things together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are several, actually, but I think the most intense one for me was “If you want something, go get it. Period.”

This wonderful line from the movie ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ stuck with me so much that I felt I had to change my habits and my country, and stop procrastinating. Unfortunately, Italy, the cradle of art in the world, was not interested in helping artists and could not give me the support to turn my ambitious ideas into reality, so I began to travel around the United States and be more in close contact with an environment where, if I want something and dare greatly to get it, I knew that success was only a matter of time.

How can our readers follow you online?

Filmmakers worldwide can submit their films, scripts, and music videos at www.filmfreeway.com/vegasmovieawards

On our website www.vegasmovieawards.com we periodically publish a list of our top winners, their interviews, and testimonials on how attending the VMAs has contributed to their career growth and their desire to create more and more. By signing up for our free newsletter on the site you can receive tips, freebies, and information about all our increasingly valuable initiatives on behalf of filmmakers.

In addition, many interesting things are posted frequently on our social pages:

Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/vegasmovieawards

Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/vegasmovieawards

LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/company/vegasmovieawards

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bring my experience to your readers and possibly to inspire them to stop considering ‘impossible’ things that could be achieved with self-awareness, burning desire, faith, and lots of determination.

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Yitzi Weiner

Yitzi Weiner

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator