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Contest supports goal for local to make a movie

Morris resident Mitch Finzel won first place in the EveryLife Art Contest for “The Auburn Lady,” a digital art piece made using fractals. Finzel plans to use the prize money to help make his goal of making an autobiographical movie a reality this summer. He has launched a Kickstarter project to help raise money for the film. 1 / 2
Morris resident Mitch Finzel won first place in the EveryLife Art Contest for “The Auburn Lady,” a digital art piece made using fractals. Finzel plans to use the prize money to help make his goal of making an autobiographical movie a reality this summer. He has launched a Kickstarter project to help raise money for the film. 2 / 2

MORRIS – Mitch Finzel started experimenting making art with fractals – art through chaos math – during a digitally assisted art class at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

After one of his pieces won a contest this spring, Finzel plans to use his success in one media to jump-start a bigger project about his life and outlook on life while living with a rare genetic condition.  

Finzel was diagnosed with MPS VI, also known as Maroteaux-Lamy syndrome, when he was five years old. About one in 215,000 births are affected by MPS IV, while about 1 in 25,000 are affected by some form of MPS.

According to the National MPS Society, MPS VI is part of a group of genetic lysosomal storage diseases (LSD) that are caused when the body can’t produce specific enzymes that help recycle or break down different materials in cells.

When those materials aren’t recycled, they remain in nearly every cell in the body, causing progressive damage to the cells and the rest of the body, everything from the heart and bones to the respiratory system and central nervous system.

“The disorder does manifest itself in different intensities and so I know a lot of people who have a lot more difficulties than I do with it,” said Finzel.

When he was seven, Finzel participated in a six-month clinical trial in California for Naglazyme, a drug that helps replace the enzyme that his body doesn’t produce. Since the drug was approved by the FDA, Finzel has been able to get his weekly treatments at Stevens Community Medical Center.

Finzel started experimenting with digital art during his recovery from two hip replacement surgeries in late 2012 and early 2013. Inspired by a digitally assisted art class taught by Jess Larson at the University of Minnesota, Morris, Finzel started playing around with fractals and Adobe Photoshop to create his pieces.

“It’s art through chaos math – I don’t know the chaos math part of it, but there are softwares that allow you to create them and manipulate them without needing to know the math behind them,” said Finzel.

That spring he entered two of the pieces in the EveryLife Art Contest organized by the EveryLife Foundation. Although he didn’t win the contest then, he kept working on projects to enter another piece this spring in the adult digital art and photography category.

This year’s contest was held on Facebook, where participants could gather votes online in support of their project. A few days before the deadline, Finzel put out a call to friends and family for support and was “amazed by how many people got behind it.”

As the winning piece in his category, “The Auburn Lady,” is on display on the Rare Artist website,, and will be displayed in a show later this year.

“It’s really cool to me, to have art that might get seen by people in some gallery,” said Finzel.

Winning the contest also provided a financial and logistical stepping stone for an autobiographical film project Finzel is planning for this summer – a project where he will also need support from friends, family and the community.

The idea for an autobiographical performance piece started with former teacher Dave Johnson, who encouraged Finzel to tell his story, perhaps as a piece that could be performed as part of a theater festival.

During the recovery after surgery, Finzel spent more time writing parts of his story. After letting the draft sit through his first year of college at UMM, Finzel decided that “If I’m ever going to do this, I just need to do it. I just need to get it out.”

“From the time I was seven until now I’ve always felt that I had this story that I want to tell people, that I want to make more public than just the people that know me in Morris,” he continued. “I decided to take a different approach and make it into a film project.”

Although he hasn’t settled the script yet, Finzel said the film will be autobiographical in nature, and while it will include some pieces about the drug trial, most of it will be about his interactions with different people because of his condition.

“I really like to think about it as not really a story about me,” he explained. “I strongly believe that you reach equality through understanding. In my experiences with other people, the only difficulty I’ve ever had with my condition and other people has been when they just don’t know, they just don’t understand … it doesn’t control me but it does define who I am – not because of the physical stuff, but it is who I am. It has molded my mind in many different ways.”

Several close friends will be returning to Morris for the summer to help with the film, which meant Finzel has been able to focus on the financial logistics of the project.

In addition to the prize money from the EveryLife Art Contest, Finzel received a grant from the National MPS Society and plans to invest some of his savings into equipment and other supplies. However, he’s hoping to meet the rest of his financial goal using Kickstarter, an online funding platform for creative projects.

Using Kickstarter, creators set a funding goal and deadline for their project. If people like the project, they can pledge money to support it. If creators meet their goal, the project moves forward. If they don’t, potential backers aren’t charged for their pledge.

“In the end, I really want this to be as good as we can make it because I don’t want to look back on it in a couple years and think I wish I hadn’t done that – this project is a little too close to me to have that,” said Finzel.

Traditionally, creators who use Kickstarter offer backers rewards for their pledge level, and use the site to offer updates on how the project is going. For Finzel, the Kickstarter platform will help keep the community involved with the film as it’s being produced.

Finzel’s goal is to launch the Kickstarter, titled “Equality Through Understanding: Spreading the Message,” within the week. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, the funding will help with equipment and other costs. Finzel said his goal is to get the movie filmed during the summer and focus on post-production in the fall for a tentative release date in 2015.  

“I’ve never felt like I’ve ever given anything my true all and I’m excited because this is going to be my summer – this is going to happen,” said Finzel.

For more information about the project, email Finzel at