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Meet Mari Cleven

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mari Cleven.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mari. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I’ve always known I was called to do something with a camera. My interest in visual media started as a kid as early as elementary school, where I was creating film projects. I started my own photography business when I was twelve, making photo cards and selling them in local shops in Washington State. I struggled with numerous health issues growing-up that impacted my daily life, and it’s something I still struggle with. For me, crafting images behind a lens gives me some semblance of control. It allows me to capture my unique way of viewing the world and takes me outside myself. I can reframe the way I see and interact with my surroundings, channeling my focus into crafting a shot and let everyday worries fall away.

I pursued film and photography throughout school and into college, where I eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Electronic Media and Film and a minor in Photography from NAU. I was actively involved in media throughout high school, but it was in college that I solidified my passion and dedication to non-fiction and documentary storytelling. Filmmaking continues to open me up to new experiences, cultures, systems of knowledge, and ways of interacting in the world. My first short documentary for the class was a profile on a man I got to know through a local homeless shelter. We forged a strong relationship, and he opened up to me about traumas in his past that he had never shared with anybody else. I spent over a month getting to know and befriend this man, and it left me with an entirely new outlook on the type of work I wanted to do moving forward. Instead of only pondering how to make a pretty picture, I felt the sense of obligation that comes from being gifted the opportunity to tell someone else’s story. Being able to share his experiences and finding ways to visually communicate that story inspired me to pursue film full-time. I continued exploring topics near to my heart throughout school and beyond. I use my love for the outdoors, travel, and human connection to focus on environmental, cultural, and social themes that take me all over the state, country, and internationally.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There’s nothing easy about filmmaking. People can have this romanticized idea of what it means to be a filmmaker, but the reality is it’s long hard production days, a substantial amount of time in front of a computer trying to piece together an edit, and most of your time is spent trying to hustle to find the next client or connection. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I flourish on being able to have experiences that help me feel more connected and integrated in the world. I’ve found film to be the best medium for me to impact change and be actively engaged in shaping how others connect to experiences around them. It takes a lot of time – and a substantial amount of effort – but I find the process and end product to be exceptionally rewarding.

Your business – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Over the last several years, I’ve dedicated my time to working with scientists and researchers addressing the grand challenges of our time. “Making science look cool, it’s what I do,” is often what I joke about, but in some regards it’s true. I see my job as taking these academically or scientifically daunting ideas and translating them into digestible and engaging stories any person could understand and relate to. I want to remind viewers of the human connection behind scientific undertakings – the deeper why that connects to their life. I work with Research, Discovery & Innovation at the University of Arizona to profile and share groundbreaking research expeditions and stories. I also freelance with scientists and environmentally and culturally minded institutions to tell stories around their work and the larger communities they serve. My goal is to be a part of this powerful shift in science and environmental communication by telling cinematic stories. At the end of the day we’re all connected to this beautiful home we call Earth, and my hope is to continue traveling and telling the stories of the people and places that influence who we will be in the future.

I’m proud of the ways I’ve been able to share stories, create conversations, and develop content that connects people. My work has won six Rocky Mountain Emmys and been featured on National Geographic. I hope to continue creating content and working with collaborators to develop projects that have an impact.

We always love to ask about the support network – have there been people, perhaps mentors or advisors, who have played a big role in your success?
There are so many people along my journey that have made an impact and helped get me to where I am today. My clients that refer me out to new collaborators, my teachers, professors, and mentors who gave me feedback and the space I needed to explore and grow, my family for giving me my first camera and believing I had the ability to forge my own path in life, the researchers I work with that are open to taking me along on their adventures, and my friends and co-workers who continue to support and inspire me to do more. I couldn’t do any of it without them!

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