Nirvan Mullick

by David Kelly

Nirvan Mullick ( (Alice Lin))
Nirvan Mullick ( (Alice Lin))

Even before the incredible success of his short documentary Caine's Arcade, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick had a built-in radar for the occurrence of a "perfect moment." As a New College philosophy student, Mullick read quite a bit of Sartre and was fascinated by the concept of perfect moments.  He not only wondered about their existence, but also whether such moments could be crafted.

"I distinctly remember putting [Sartre's Nausea] down and thinking about 'perfect moments' and how I'd lose myself when I do a drawing, and all track of time," Mullick told The New Yorker's Andy Isaacson. "What if you could look into a stranger and know what it was that they wanted more than anything else in the world, and figure out a way to choreograph, and make that perfect moment happen for them in their life," he continued.

He got his chance on a sunny autumn day in east Los Angeles. Mullick was looking for spare parts to fix up and sell his '96 Toyota Corolla. Upon entering George Monroy's small auto parts shop, he was surprised to find an elaborate cardboard arcade by the front desk, built and operated by Monroy's 9-year-old son Caine. Mullick immediately recognized the inspired work of a creative mind, as well as the hard truth that almost no one was likely to see it.

Since getting his MFA in Experimental Animation from CalArts, Mullick had labored intensely on well-regarded yet low-budget conceptual projects such as The 1-Second Film; he was 37-years-old and still living paycheck to paycheck, with no health insurance and the pressure to get into more commercial work rising.

Nonetheless, he felt a strong desire to encourage this young kindred spirit. While he had no money to fund Caine's work, Mullick did have the know-how to publicize Caine's creations. "When I ran into Caine, I knew how to create a perfect moment for this boy. I knew what he wanted more than anything: customers."

Mullick quickly made an 11-minute documentary, Caine's Arcade, and premiered it at DIY Days. He then posted the film online with an option to contribute to a scholarship fund he formed to support Caine's education. Mullick hoped to eventually raise $25,000 for Caine's college fund. When it was all done, he sent a link for the project to the editors at Boing Boing. Mullick's film received over 3.5 million views on Vimeo and YouTube in just four days. Within a week, donors from around the world had contributed over $120,000 to Caine's college fund.

Hundreds of online articles about the video followed, leading to television stories about the cardboard arcade by Fox, NBC and CNN. Flashmobs crowded for a chance to visit the arcade. Soon afterwards Mullick and his producers received a matching dollar-for-dollar seed funding grant of $250,000 from the Goldhirsh Foundation to help start the Caine's Arcade Imagination Foundation, with a mission of supporting the education and creative work innovative kids. At present they have raised over $216,000, with their target goal clearly in sight.

And Caine has become a celebrity and inspiration to kids around the world. Teachers have been showing Caine's Arcade in classrooms around the world, inspiring D.I.Y. creations from students that range from cardboard bubble gum machines to a photocopier with a little person inside that draws whatever is laid on top of it.

In honor of Caine's achievements, Mullick's Imagination Foundation is now launching the first ever Global Cardboard Challenge, inviting the world to "to build anything awesome out of cardboard, recycled materials, and imagination." Mullick and his staff are currently busy encouraging young people and schools around the world to organize and build original works for the event. On October 6th, the young artists' friends, family, co-workers and community members will come out to play at local events celebrating the creativity and imagination of kids around the world. Participants will be encouraged to raise money for charity at these events, paying forward their passion and hard work.

In the meantime, Mullick can contemplate offers from Hollywood studios to make a live-action version of Caine's story and enjoy praise from indie film luminaries like Richard Linklater. But for the moment he and his staff at the Imagination Foundation are steeped in organizing their Cardboard Challenge. Fostering that level of creativity is a full-time job.

Page created on 9/28/2012 3:36:47 PM

Last edited 2/22/2021 6:39:57 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Caine's Arcade the film. - Click here to see Mullick's short film about Caine.
Caine's Arcade the website. - Click here to learn more about Caine and contribute to his scholarship fund.
The Imagination Foundation - Click here to participate in The Cardboard Challenge and learn more about the Imagination Foundation.


Isaacson, Andy. "THE PERFECT MOMENT GOES PERFECTLY VIRAL ." The New Yorker. April 24, 2012..