For Justin Perkinson ’01, filmmaking is one thing, but filmmaking connected to social impact is quite another. He’s able to combine his passions for traveling and exploring new cultures with the technology and tools that go into creating documentaries.

Perkinson’s work in point of view filmmaking is well-established in the video game world, yet still relatively new within the movie realm. He originally thought of becoming a doctor, and a writing course at Davidson brought to light different aspirations. He discovered his true self as an artist and storyteller.

“Before I’m a filmmaker, I’m an explorer,” said Perkinson, a Terry Scholar. “Davidson really helped me recognize and embrace this. It nurtured my curiosity and opened my mind to a new direction, new ways of thinking.”

After graduating from Davidson, Perkinson spent a year in Argentina on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship before working in New York City as a management strategy consultant. It was through that role that he was exposed to a nonprofit organization founded by Lowell Bryan ’68. Perkinson was driven to raise awareness about the nonprofit’s efforts to address the global healthcare crisis and volunteered to travel to their flagship operations in Tanzania and create a new film about it.

Inspired to pursue this work in graduate school, Perkinson’s MFA Cinematography thesis at UCLA was an all first-person point of view short film, Random Stop, that premiered at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in 2014, was a BAFTA finalist and a Vimeo Staff Pick, was featured in American Cinematographer Magazine, and also earned Perkinson one of six finalist positions for the top graduate student cinematographer award from the American Society of Cinematographers. Staff at the History Channel saw the piece online and commissioned Perkinson and the core Random Stop team to make a pilot for them once Perkinson returned from his Fulbright in China.

Since that time, he has filmed in China, East Africa and Alaska, shot an international travel series for PBS, used virtual reality to tell stories, helped direct and shoot for VICE World of Sports and more. And for Perkinson, adding the “something more” to a piece is what makes the work so special.

“When working with VICE, we weren’t just telling sports stories,” he said. “It’s about the culture and environment surrounding those stories, like the alcoholism and childhood suicide on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and how basketball is helping to revive a culture.”

Perkinson’s many endeavors have taken him back to Tanzania, where it all began, in a way, and he said it was reinforcement that he made the right choice, pursuing filmmaking and social impact.

Last year, Perkinson wrote and directed Under the Net, the UN Foundation’s first-ever virtual reality documentary, about the global malaria crisis and the positive impact of mosquito bed nets.

“I knew about malaria, and I knew it was bad, but I had no idea how bad,” he said. “A child dies every two minutes from malaria – a time when they should be sleeping and dreaming. We found a lovely family who could guide us through the experience of being in a refugee camp and getting sick from malaria and how effective the mosquito beds are. It’s the most fulfilling work I’ve done.”

Perkinson was able to present this documentary on World Malaria Day to UN Foundation champions from states and countries around the world who are passionate about malaria awareness and mosquito nets as a viable solution to stopping the spread of the disease.

“I want to continue aligning my storytelling and technical skillset with social impact,” he said. “Nothing I’ve done is the first time it’s been done, but I’m always trying to tell a story in a unique way that will resonate with people. Maybe it’s putting people in a refugee camp – that’s much more powerful in virtual reality. The heart of a story is not the camera; it’s an 11-year-old girl and her family.”

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