Goodbye, winter caps—hello, summer hats! It’s that glorious time of year where many of us can switch from content creators to content consumers. NYWIFT members Mellini Kantayya and Kathryn O’Kane have put together #SummerHours, a series of fun summer books, movies, and TV shows by or about women.
By Kathryn O’Kane
Ruby Dee (NYWIFT Muse honoree ’97) and her husband Ossie Davis were enduring actors, who fought for civil rights from Washington, DC to Hollywood. In 1965, Ms. Dee starred in King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew, becoming the first black woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT. Both Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis appeared in Spike Lee’s career-launching film Do The Right Thing. Throughout their careers, they often portrayed the lives of black Americans, both extraordinary and ordinary, on the stage and in film, seeking out films that explored racial inequality in America. They were married for nearly 60 years.
Their 1998 joint memoir In This Life Together begins with an anecdote about dining with President Clinton after being honored by at the Kennedy Center Honors. From there, they reflect on their journeys, weaving parallel stories of their upbringing (Ms. Dee in Harlem; Mr. Davis in rural Georgia), their groundbreaking careers, and their relationship to each other. Throughout their ups and downs, they both had profound respect for the other, even at times when they didn’t feel as close. Writes Mr. Davis of Ms. Dee, “I have no hungers that you do not feed.”
They detail their involvement in the civil rights movement, from their role as emcees at the March on Washington in 1963 and their friendship with Malcolm X, to advocating for more employment for black people in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera. Mr. Davis explained, “We would train black technicians on our own then pressure the unions to let them in. Knowing this would take a long time, we decided to produce black films on our own…starting Third World Cinema in 1971.”
Ms. Dee offers this prescient advice: “The largest piece of business for humankind is poverty. Spiritual as well as material. Racism yes and sexism too…struggle is all there is, and we are still committed.”
The audio book is read by both and is particularly poignant now that they are gone.
(Cover photo by Bridgette Matthews)
Welcome to NYWIFT, Toby Perl Freilich! Toby is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and writer, focusing on cultural reporting. Her work explores all sorts of perspectives, from senators to artists, spanning across the world. She co-produced and co-directed Moynihan, a film about the late New York senator, policy expert, and public intellectual. She also directed, produced, and wrote Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment, about one of the world's longest running and most successful experiments in radical, secular communal living. Right now, she is producing and directing I Make Maintenance Art: The Work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles about the pioneering ecofeminist and the first Artist in Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation. Read about Toby’s inspiring past and future projects here!READ MORE
Finding your tribe is one of life’s greatest pleasures—and losing it is one of the greatest sorrows. In NYWIFT Member Amy Nicholson’s beautifully observed film Happy Campers, working-class Americans gather every summer at a seaside trailer park in Chincoteague, Virginia, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a scrappy, no-frills vacationland, and each other’s company. When a developer buys the land and reimagines the property, the inhabitants of this shabby Shangri-La wistfully eke out the joys of one last summer together as a melancholic twilight hangs in the air. Happy Campers just made its world premiere at DOC NYC, where it received a Special Mention for the Grand Jury Prize. Amy spoke to us about her unique process making this film, biggest challenges and triumphs, and the commodification of some of life’s simplest pleasures.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Melisa Ramos! Melisa is a filmmaker and professor from Puerto Rico, bringing 14 years of post-production and motion graphics experience to New York. Her first production, Puerto Rican Voices, a docu-series about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Following Puerto Rican Voices, Melisa continued to share Puerto Rican and Latin American stories. In 2020, she directed and produced From Performers to Spectators, a doc-series showcasing New York City performers during lockdown. She is currently in production on Hoop Warrior, her first feature film. Read all about Melisa’s journey as an editor and artist here!READ MORE
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