When Eduardo Mendoza ’24 tells people his favorite childhood movies include “Chicken Little” and “The Mummy Returns”—and that he was never really interested in cinema until four short years ago—they are understandably shocked. That doesn’t sound like the person who worked on a film in Prague last fall and is spending this semester writing a full-length screenplay.
“People assume it’s something I’ve been into for a while. Someone told me I was born into it, and I was really flattered, but it’s a recent thing,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza comes from a theater and creative writing background. It was not until the pandemic that, out of boredom, he started watching and learning about films during his senior year of high school.
“There were a couple of movies I watched, and I thought, ‘This makes sense to me somehow in a way that other things didn’t. I can understand all of these moving parts,’” Mendoza said. “It took a long time to become committed to it…. It was a big risk. Finally, I realized it was something I loved doing. It’s not just something that I enjoy watching, but it’s something that actually excites me to do.”
After appreciating the irony of having grown up in Southern California, moving to Maine and then deciding to make movies, Mendoza began learning the visual aspects of cinema. He took photography classes at Bowdoin and learned how to use editing software by completing a summer fellowship focused entirely on editing exercises.
Since the College does not offer a cinema studies major, Mendoza created his own narrative studies major. He is currently the only student at the College who has declared a self-designed major.
“I wanted to emphasize creativity…. I want to spend time watching movies, but there’s also all these other things I’m interested in just about how we tell stories,” Mendoza said. “The narrative studies major was a way to keep on exploring new avenues and finding the threads and connections.”
Now, Mendoza is all in. Last fall, he edited and assistant directed a film, “Vera,” during his semester abroad in Prague. The film tells the story of a young girl and her family after they come to the United States. He worked on several other projects while abroad and is currently writing a feature-length screenplay that reimagines the man who caused a San Diego flood in 1915.
“I’m reimagining [the story] as a science-fiction Western, like a post-apocalyptic thing. A lot of people I talk to feel cynical about what the world will look like in 100 years,” Mendoza said. “The idea was to imagine what so much cynicism does to people in a world that is ruined.”
Next semester, Mendoza will write, direct and edit a short film on campus. It will be about someone who loses a $200 million lottery ticket.
Mendoza said he finds continuous inspiration in how cinema evokes emotion and new ideas.
“Different things excite me. Sometimes it’s the story. I think sometimes you just respond to beauty, emotion or ideas,” Mendoza said. “[Movies] just seem like they happened to me, even though I made the conscious choice to go to the movie theater. It seems like they just happened to me, and now I have to deal with all this new emotion or excitement or tragedy. They do something to me that makes me feel different, that makes me have to interact with the world differently.”
He finds creativity in everything, from watching leaves blow on the quad to listening to friends’ conversations.
“Creativity comes from people. You begin to observe the world more carefully,” Mendoza said. “After spending so much time trying to figure out how we tell stories to people and what people gravitate towards, I believe people are empathetic…. People are interested in others, and I think that makes us better—to be interested and curious.”
Categorizing Mendoza’s work within a single genre is difficult, but he tends to focus on common themes. He believes that stories center around people’s ability to empathize with and be curious about one another.
“I’m interested in miracles, like coincidence and fate and how those two things clash. I think that’s really exciting,” he said. “What people want to believe in fascinates me. Sometimes people want to believe in faith and destiny, and sometimes it’s a question whether or not it’s possible to turn coincidence into fate.”
Mendoza said it’s important that his work somehow contributes to the greater good, and he places a high value on how stories help people navigate the human experience.
“I was thinking, well, how does that really help people?” Mendoza said. “It took a while to come to terms with the fact that these things really helped me, and they also helped other people…. Films mean something, and they help people get through hard stuff.”
Later this month, Mendoza will assistant direct a short film in Oakland, Calif. After graduation, Mendoza plans to move to Los Angeles and work on film projects there. He is excited to embrace a hectic schedule, meet new people and problem solve on set.
“What I love about a career in film is that it is constantly changing. You finish a film and story that you really love, and you ideally move to the next thing you are passionate about. The train keeps on moving,” Mendoza said. “I’m really looking forward to discovering more stories that I haven’t heard yet.”