student next to stage lights

Not the last we’ll hear of this Gates Millennium Scholar 'Last Words' film thesis by Keegan Mullin '16 among Chapman films to screen at Newport Beach Film Festival

Chapman University student Keegan Mullin ’16 was a senior in high school when he heard about this big-deal scholarship that would pay for his college education. Unfortunately, he learned of it three days before the cutoff date, and the application required essay responses to a dozen questions. Fortunately, he plowed in anyway, even forgoing sleep to meet the deadline.

See ‘The Last Words’ on April 23

The Last Words is one of several Chapman University student films selected for the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Collegiate Showcase, which will have its own screenings at Sage Hill School, 20402 Newport Coast Dr., Newport Coast.

The Chapman films will screen at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 23. For details and ticket information, visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website.

The work paid off. Mullin won that award – just a little something called the Gates Millennium Scholarship. The program was established in 1999 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help minority students with high financial need pay for college.

Now Mullin is an award-winning student filmmaker whose senior thesis is among several Chapman student films screening this month at the prestigious Newport Beach Film Festival. It’s just the latest in a string of successes for Mullin, whose short film
The Last Words
won him the 2015 Directors Guild of America Latino Student Filmmaker Award. Margaret Anderson’s
Casey and the Death Pool
won the Guild’s top award for female student filmmakers.

Last Words
was also a semifinalist for the Student Academy Awards and has been popular on the festival circuit from Austin to Seattle.

With his thesis complete, Mullin’s finishing coursework for his minor in psychology and looking forward to this fall, when he’ll enter Chapman’s school psychology program in the
College of Educational Studies

Oh, and there’s this – he’s president of the
Chapman Swing Dance Club

“What I didn’t see coming was a passion for dance. That came out of nowhere,” Mullin says with a laugh as he reflects on his time at Chapman’.

But the love of storytelling and film he brought with him to Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, where he studied directing. At a high school summer film workshop he found the courage to make a short documentary chronicling his effort that summer to find and connect with his father for the first time in five years. Following his parent’s traumatic divorce, Mullin’s father became estranged from the family.

student next to light

Gates Millennium Scholar Keegan Mullin ’16

“By the end, I had this piece that showed that I had failed. I didn’t get a hold of him. But I have this five-minute piece that speaks volumes to me,” he says.

It was a turning point, too. Mullin says he realized then how therapeutic artistic expression could be. That experience also helped influence his choice for graduate school, where his goals are twofold — learn how to help others and inform his storytelling with a deeper understanding of human behavior, including his own.

“While not everything I do is that personal, I’ve still been able to incorporate my own thoughts and feelings into narratives. You’ll find a bit of every director and writer in any story that they do,” he says. “
Last Words
may not be about me, but you’ll definitely find bits and pieces about me in there.”

Last Words
was inspired by his cousin, who is deaf and communicates solely through sign language. As his cousin’s mother lay in a coma in her last hours of life, doctors advised the family that she could still hear their voices and that they should say their goodbyes.

“I was just in tears in the car thinking about what he must have been going through because he doesn’t speak,” Mullin says. He wrote the film with his cousin’s permission and input, though he emphasizes that this story is fictional and ends somewhat differently from his cousin’s experience.

The film has been well-received by the deaf community and was featured at the Seattle Deaf Film Festival. But Mullin hopes it speaks to all people.

“At the end of the day, it’s just about a boy struggling to connect, struggling to communicate,” he says.


Dawn Bonker

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