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MEET OUR STUDENTS: Alex Watrous Lands an Internship Where Water & Fire Meet



“I think sitting around a fire at night creates a sense of community. It’s something human beings have been doing since the beginning of time,” said RIC film major Alex Watrous.

Last semester the junior had the good fortune of landing an internship at WaterFire Providence, one of the most popular public art spectacles in the state.

Created by RIC honorary degree recipient Barnaby Evans ’00, WaterFire Providence comes alive in the evening with over 80 bonfires lighting up the downtown rivers. The event has lured over 10 million visitors and was cited by the Providence Journal as “the most popular work of art created in the capital city’s 371-year history.” But turning basins into full blaze, adding torch-lit vessels and mesmerizing music and managing massive crowds along the bridges takes a full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers.

Last semester when WaterFire was looking for an intern to produce film and audio, Watrous’ advisor, Associate Professor Vincent Bohlinger, suggested he apply. Bohlinger told him that Tim Labonte would be running the internship. Labonte is associate media producer of WaterFire and a former student of Bohlinger’s who graduated from RIC in 2007 with a film studies degree.

“Tim actually interviewed a bunch of kids from different colleges and universities,” Watrous said. “But he wanted someone who had a lot of experience behind the camera.”

At only 20, Watrous has already shot over 80 short films. He has also been a freelance photographer for East Bay News and produced promotional films for a local nonprofit. His kinetic energy is not only physical but audible in the rapid-fire way he speaks.

“My older brother and I started making films in 2010, my senior year in high school. The first one was a post-apocalyptic action flick about kids who are left to fend for themselves after all the adults die from a disease. We shot part of it in a factory in Pawtucket and premiered it there. About 100 people came to see it. Even the Valley Breeze did a write-up on it. It was a cool first project.”

Since then, Watrous and his brother have made two short films a month. They also created a Rhode Island film festival so that other filmmakers could share their work. “We accepted kids who had been in the film business for a while as well as newbies,” he said. “On average, we premiered half-a-dozen to a dozen entries a month. We charged $2 for tickets, plus we sold candy. I bought additional cameras and lighting equipment from the ticket sales.”

By the time Watrous was hired by WaterFire Providence, he was more than prepared for the long hours of a cameraman. His job included setting up and filming events, learning audio engineering and mixing, filming and editing for WaterFire’s promotional needs and creatively capturing the mood of each event.

“Alex was an extremely hard worker,” said Labonte. “He was by my side at every weekend event from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. He was, and still is, one of the best workers I've seen come through WaterFire’s doors. I am very thankful to Professor Bohlinger for sending him.”

Labonte himself had done a student internship when he was at RIC. After graduation, he was hired by ABC6 to edit film on weekend mornings. Then he took on an independent film project – a documentary on Haiti – for which he won the Associated Press Award for “Best Documentary in New England” and was nominated for an Emmy® for “Societal Concerns.”

Watrous said he isn’t sure where his camera will take him after RIC. “I know I want to stay in Rhode Island. I know my strength is the technical side of filmmaking, and I like the idea of a film festival,” he said. “I admire the way Barnaby took an idea he liked and turned it into something big. Today, other states in the U.S., and even other countries, want their own WaterFire, but Barnaby has it trademarked so you have to work through him. I like the idea of connecting filmmakers with each other and providing a community service. Who knows? Starting a film festival on a large scale might be a nice gig.”