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A Commitment to Films That Make You Think

Mike Paseornek, a past producer at Lionsgate Films, brings his expertise to the UnLonely Film Festival, celebrating its seventh season

By Julie Pfitzinger

Throughout his long career, Mike Paseornek has experienced the power of film from many angles. As the past president of production for Lionsgate Films, he has heard countless filmmakers passionately pitch their visions, and after the green light is given, stood by while those creative ideas were brought to fruition, unspooling on movie theater screens to delight and entertain millions of moviegoers.

A group of people watching a movie in the park. Next Avenue, UnLonely Film Festival
The 2023 UnLonely Film Festival will feature 30 short films tackling topics rooted in the strength of the human experience, with the intention of particularly shining a light on isolation and loneliness, but ultimately, resilience.  |  Credit: Getty

Odds are very good that you were one of those moviegoers. The list of productions with which Paseornek has served as either executive producer or production executive include "The Hunger Games," "American Psycho," "La La Land," "Conan the Barbarian," "Divergent" and the latest John Wick film, "John Wick 4," to name just a few.

Another angle of filmmaking that Paseornek embraces is the feeling of being a filmgoer himself and of what it means to become lost in a compelling story. And the film doesn't necessarily have to be a blockbuster (and he's been involved with many) for him to enjoy the experience.

"Some of the greatest films are small stories that delve into characters."

"Some of the greatest films are small stories that delve into characters," he says. "The ones I really like are the ones that touch on an issue that I feel something about."

He recalls one film in particular that he was involved with at Lionsgate called "Wonder," which starred Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. Jason Tremblay played their young son, who had facial differences, and the film told the story of how he gained acceptance.

"If you went by the analytics, this film wasn't destined to make money," says Paseornek. "But it was all about the story – at the end, you are fully rooting for this kid."

The 2023 UnLonely Film Festival

With his love for film, and his expertise on filmmaking, Paseornek serves as a judge for the annual UnLonely Film Festival, presented by The Foundation for Art & Healing.

Now in its seventh season, the 2023 UnLonely Film Festival will premiere on Sunday, June 4 at 7 p.m. ET. This free virtual event will feature 30 short films tackling all manner of topics rooted in the strength of the human experience, with the intention of particularly shining a light on isolation and loneliness, but ultimately, resilience.

Headshot of a man. Next Avenue, UnLonely Film Festival
Mike Paseornek  |  Credit: The Foundation for Art & Healing/Project UnLonely

Three finalists will receive awards at the conclusion of the event, and five will receive honorable mentions. It's Paseornek who will announce the recipients during the live presentation.

After the premiere viewing on June 4, the films will all be available online for a year, with the hope that not only will people make space to watch all of this year's finalists, but perhaps encourage family, friends and neighbors to watch together and discuss which films resonated the most strongly with them and why.

Dr. Jeremy Nobel, the founder and president of The Foundation for Art & Healing (FAH) and a 2020 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging, first became acquainted with Paseornek, whom he calls a "remarkable and creative man," when Paseornek's daughter Steffanie was featured in a short 15-minute video called "Can Art Be Medicine?" which the FAH produced in 2013.

When Steffanie was 16, she had a heart transplant. Steffanie's involvement with the project, and the mission of FAH, drew Paseornek to become active with the UnLonely Film Festival.


"The process of creating really helped my daughter heal," he says. "She's a terrific writer and writing was a way for her to cope." Since that time, Steffanie has thrived, and her ultimate career path led to her becoming a social worker.

The Ripple Effect of Films

The core mission of the UnLonely Film Festival is to "raise awareness of the loneliness epidemic and offer solutions rooted in creative expression by showcasing the connecting power of film's storytelling."

In Paseornek's view, storytelling on film has a ripple effect and can be told — and have impact — in many ways.

"What I see filmmakers doing is putting a drop of blue in the water and from there, the original idea spreads into the story," he says. He also believes film is the ideal medium for catharsis and a place where difficult and challenging stories can be told.

"I typically watch more than 10 because I like watching movies so much. I can definitely do down a rabbit hole."

Pulling back the curtain a bit on the judging process for the UnLonely Film Festival, Paseornek says he doesn't "look for the slickest production" but is most intrigued by stories with emotional touchpoints.

Being a judge has exposed him to films he may not have otherwise seen, and he's grateful for that opportunity. As a judge, he's asked to watch 10 films by finalists, and from there, he and the other judges winnow that list down to determine the award winners.

"I typically watch more than 10 because I like watching movies so much," Paseornek says with a laugh. "I can definitely go down a rabbit hole."

For a film executive who's been down countless "rabbit holes" when it comes to films, the fact that he still derives joy from the process reinforces what he says about his career: "I was so lucky that I got to do what I got to do (at Lionsgate)."

Not fully retired, Paseornek says he's "focusing on a few projects" (including the development of a new TV series) and spends time in both Los Angeles and New York.

His ongoing work allows him to flex what he calls "my PhD in dealing with creative people." One of the benefits, he says, is that "it's made me an aggressive listener. Understanding someone's point of view is very important in this work."

The same can be said about the crux of the movie watching experience to some extent. "It's very subjective," Paseornek says. "And any film that makes you think is a darned good film."

Headshot of a woman with curly hair.
Julie Pfitzinger is the managing editor for Next Avenue and senior editor for lifestyle coverage. Her journalism career has included feature writing for the Star-Tribune, as well as several local parenting and lifestyle publications, all in the Twin Cities area. Julie also served as managing editor for nine local community lifestyle magazines. She joined Next Avenue in October 2017. Reach her by email at [email protected]. Read More
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