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Lights, Camera, Actionable Advice

Filmmaker and alumnus Tari Wariebi shares wisdom on navigating Syracuse University and launching a creative career.
Tari Wariebi talking in a class.

In a spacious classroom in the Hall of Languages at Syracuse University, students in communication and rhetorical studies (CRS) have gathered to watch We Were Meant To, the film that won the grand jury prize at Sundance Film Festival in 2023 and grand prizes at the Indy Shorts and HollyShorts film festivals.

Sitting among them is the filmmaker, Tari Wariebi ’10, a graduate of CRS and the writing and rhetoric program. Wariebi has joined this College of Visual and Performing Arts class on critical media and pop culture, taught by CRS postdoctoral fellow Chaz Antoine Barracks, to discuss the film and creative process.

Drawing from his own experiences, Wariebi shared five recommendations for how students can get the most from their Syracuse experience and thrive in a career in the arts.

Be Open Minded

When I came to Syracuse, I already knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. That never changed, but I think the most important thing I found here was a community that made me comfortable enough to ask for help and to listen to suggestions.

Professors Kendall Phillips and Amardo Rodriguez, in CRS, were a huge part of that support. I’d get emails from them saying, ‘Stop by my office—let’s talk about your project.’ Or, ‘Hey, this filmmaker is coming to visit. I want to make sure you get connected.’ They were so invested in helping me get where I wanted to go—I got as much guidance from them as I could. I didn’t always understand the full significance of what they were sharing with me at the time but looking back, I see those were super defining moments.

At Syracuse I got to have this really intimate, supported experience within this big University.

Tari Wariebi ’10

Learn From Every Experience

A headshot of Tari Wariebi.

Wariebi’s film, We Were Meant To, is a coming-of-age story that takes place in a world where Black men fly. It recently won a major prize at Sundance Film Festival, among others.

One year, Spike Lee and John Singleton both visited Syracuse. I got to meet them, and they both said a version of, ‘You don’t need to study film in order to become a filmmaker.’ So, I thought, ‘OK then—let me get the education I need.’

I took information technology classes to learn about new media, in CRS I studied interpersonal communication, and in writing courses I learned about composition. I added a minor in photography to study lighting and framing. I was getting all the components of a film education—it was the perfect mix.

And I sought out hands-on experience in the campus community, too. I started writing sketch comedy for CitrusTV and ended up becoming entertainment director. And I produced an environmental show for Orange TV. These experiences helped me solidify what I wanted to do in the future.

It was through Syracuse that I was able to get my first camera—the same one I used to direct some music videos and other content after I graduated. Technically, I even created my first feature film while I was a student here—it was something I petitioned to do as part of my research for the McNair Scholarship Program.

So, when I graduated, I left with tools, a degree and support—and a lot of experience from learning on the job.

Be Intentional and Show Up

College is the safest space to fail. You can mess up and figure it out—you will learn from every time you took enough of a risk at something to fail.

I really believe your only job while you’re here is to be intentional and hardworking. Push the limits to find out how hard you can work! And stay in conversation with yourself. If you decide for three weeks that your major is marine biology, be incredibly intentional so that after those three weeks, if you decide it’s not, you know why. Then you take something valuable when move to the next thing. This is the safest space to do that.

And show up! It’ll pay dividends. I’ve learned that, to get to where you want to go, you have to show up and be incredibly present in where you are.

Discover What Motivates You

Every elective I took at Syracuse helped clarify something important for me. In one class, we did an assignment on organizational theory—it helped me realize how collaboration is integral and important at every level. And an elective about discourse in society led to my fascination with human behavior, which eventually grew into my love for character development and working with actors.

During my time at Syracuse, I was learning the places in which I thrive and things that speak to me. Because as an artist, you’ve got to believe in something—what you believe in is what gives you inspiration.

People in a classroom.

Students in a class on critical media and pop culture taught by Professor Chaz Antoine Barracks (back) gained insights into Wariebi’s creative process and his experiences as a Syracuse student and beyond.

Invest in Community

At Syracuse I got to have this really intimate, supported experience within this big University. I saw the value of the programs I was in, and they saw the value in me. I came in with this idea, this ambition, and my professors just kept saying yes, let’s figure it out, let’s make it happen. It’s about finding the right fit—believe in that. Find the people who make you feel safe to try things, to learn, and to seek your purpose.

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