By Madeline Johnson
In Astoria’s historic Kaufman Studios, filmmakers from the African diaspora shared local stories that reverberated deep into universal themes and questions as part of New York Women in Film & Television’s Women Filmmakers: Immigrant Stories screening on May 31, 2018.
Featured in the fourth season of this NYWIFT series highlighting narrative and documentary films about the New York immigrant experience, these short films tackled issues ranging from the #MeToo movement, to President Trump’s travel ban, to the immigrant experience, to what it means to be American, among many more.
Take for instance director Iquo B. Essien’s Aissa’s Story – a proof of concept short film about an African housekeeper who was sexually assaulted by a powerful hotel guest.
“It’s a David and Goliath story,” Essien noted, “[her story] split a lot of communities.”
Nominated for the 2013 Student Academy Awards, Aissa’s Story is a multi-layered exploration, delving deep into the emotional terrain Aissa navigates and questions as she seeks to regain control of her life. In a world and industry reeling from the #MeToo movement, fumbling for a way forward after dark truths are laid bare, Aissa’s Story has a lot of wisdom to share.
Also showcased was America Heard: Refuge of Hope. Part of a series of short films produced from every U.S. district directly after the 2016 presidential election, this five minute film explores what it means to be a refugee living in Syracuse in Trump’s America.
What does Trump’s presidency mean for refugees who have already resettled in the U.S.? For the varied communities and people shaping America, how does this presidency change who we are and how we understand ourselves?
America Heard: Refuge of Hope was released the day after Trump’s travel ban was announced. At the screening, producer James Boo speculated aloud – how does the meaning of this film change as America changes?
“Feelings may change about what the film is here to do and what it means,” Boo wondered.
Finally, Addie & Addy, a collection of sketches of “two weirdo Nigerian-American roommates living their best life in Brooklyn, NY” explores finding your way, honoring your past, and understanding yourself. Through comedy that pokes fun at life’s absurdities, it gently explores what it means to be Nigerian, American, black, young and 20 years old, and all of the intersections in between. As producer and actor Wunmi Fowora noted that black women are often seen as “combative” in the media, Addie & Addy sought to explore how these characters can “get as many nuances.”
Additionally, director and actor Adenike Thomas specified that in order to bring their project to life, they sought creators who connected with the subject matter. “You get more subtleties,” Thomas highlighted.
Each film screened contained a strong and distinct point of view, not often readily found in mainstream media. But in the words of Essien, being a director means “holding true to your vision, even if no one will support you. I have that.”
NYWIFT’s Women Filmmakers: Immigrant Stories series continues through June. For more information about upcoming screenings, please check out NYWIFT’s events calendar.
Welcome to NYWIFT, Aisha Amin! Aisha is an NYC-based writer and director. As a director, her work expands across narrative, documentary, and experimental forms to tell authentic stories built from real experiences. Her past film projects have explored and highlighted overlooked communities particularly in New York City, including formerly incarcerated mothers and communities struggling with the presence of gentrification in their neighborhoods. Amongst her directing, Aisha is an emerging screenwriting and was selected to participate in Cine Qua Non’s 2022 Screenwriting Lab. She is a 2022 recipient of NYFA’s Tomorrowland Grant and a 2021 recipient of the NYFA Women's Fund grant. She was a recipient of the 2019-2020 Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center where she directed two short documentaries. She is also a recipient of The Shed's Open Call Fellowship where she expanded her film practice to installation art. Aisha spoke to us about her favorite styles of storytelling, the intersection of narrative and documentary, and her latest projects.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Lorena R. Valenica! Lorena R. Valencia is a Mexican writer-director based in New York. Her directorial debut and MFA thesis film, Cuanacaquilitl (Dandelion), received the 2022 National Board of Review Student Award and is an Official Selection in several international film festivals, including the Morelia International Film Festival, the Atlanta Film Festival, the New York Latino Film Festival, and the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Film Festival. Lorena is passionate about both narrative and documentary storytelling and is interested in addressing issues such as reproductive rights, identity, and belonging. Currently, she is directing Mi Ranchito, a documentary short film that explores resilience and love for the land, while she is developing her debut feature film, Mayahuel. Lorena spoke to us about inspiring empathy through storytelling, the overlap of narrative and documentary filmmaking, and her latest projects.READ MORE
Congratulations to NYWIFT Board Member Joyce Pierpoline, Executive Producer of Mediha, which just took home the U.S. Competition Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC! In this immensely collaborative film, a Yazidi teen once held captive by ISIS takes us into her world of grief, pain, and hope. We spoke to Pierpoline (prior to the exciting win) about her involvement in this important film.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Eileen Wolter! After working as a motion picture lit assistant at CAA, working on the Universal lot, and writing lots of coverage in LA, Eileen brings her creativity to us in New York! She holds a BA in Art History & Film from Vassar College, studied acting as The Atlantic Theater Company and The Actors Studio/The New School, and studied writing at UCLA, NYU, Sundance Collab, Stowe Story Labs, and NJ Play Lab. Eileen tells us about her fascinating family history, covering Fashion Week for Comedy Central in 1993, and attending SNL dress rehearsals.READ MORE