On Saturday, June 15th, 2019, Special Projects Associate Easmanie Michel brought NYWIFT’s Women’s Media Workshop, a full-day training, collaboration, and production workshop to Staten Island for the very first time.
Supported and encouraged by the office of Councilmember Joseph Borelli, the mission of the workshop was to ignite and engage young and emerging filmmakers with the art of filmmaking – encouraging them to share their voices and stories via film, and training them on all the technical elements of creating a story for the screen from beginning to end.
Instructed by Filmmaker and Theatre Artist Abigail Zealey Bess (a current professor at NYU, and award-winning film director), the group of nine women, ranging in ages from 15 to 50, gathered at the HH Biddle House in Staten Island at 10am and worked collaboratively and tirelessly until one complete short film was developed and all the scenes were captured. The girls were released at 5pm, and now the film is being edited and prepared for a screening later this month.
To start the creative process, Bess asked the group to meditate on the ideas of family, childhood and anniversaries. Together the group participated in exercises and games to develop characters and stories for their film. The group learned the important elements of script development and ways to collaborate to find a common point of view. After lunch, the group then came together to finalize a shot list and begin shooting. With two cameras, the group assembled themselves into an on-set crew and shot all the scenes they developed together. Through this process, the women learned new and unique ways to frame scenes, use cameras and shots to propel their story forward.
The resulting film, Runaway, will be screened for the group, their friends and family, and the general public on Saturday, June 29th at 12pm.
Participant XiRen Wang shared more* about her experiences with the NYWIFT Media Workshop.
Q: What did you learn at the workshop that you didn’t know before?
A: “I’ve never been a part of an all-female crew and cast, so for me, this was a really enriching experience that showcased just how supportive we can all be to one another. Also, I learned to work with what we had – both in terms of locations, people, and all the resources immediately around us. I’ve always been a great improviser, but this really challenged us in many ways… I learned to maximize our work, within the limitations that we had, and learning to capture and lean on the strengths of each woman was a new and rewarding experience for me.”
Q: What do you plan to do with the knowledge you learned at the workshop moving forward?
A: “I learned that I much prefer being the one sculpting the story, bringing visuals to life, than the one on camera acting. As an Asian American, there are very few roles that exist for a face like mine, in story, even though things are changing for the better – there still aren’t enough roles that are really raw and multi-dimensional… but my experience in directing and writing has taught me the power of universal commonalities we all share, as women, as adults, as human beings.
Q: What was the most memorable part of your experience at the workshop?
A: “It was right after we did the “exquisite corpse” exercise, led by Abigail, and it was discovered that we wrote very much similar stories – everything was poetically painful, and the regrets and the themes and the wishes were really, the same. This made the storytelling that followed, much more unified, and strong, because it’s shaped by six women, who are really, all trying to tell the same story. I’ve never experienced a unison this strong before.”
Q: What was your favorite part of the workshop:
A: “There were two cameras, I believe meant to be designated for two teams. However, we all worked together as one team, and we were able to have a second machine to make our visuals more multi-dimensional. It wasn’t easy for us to capture everything we set out to film – and it would have been impossible if we only had one camera doing the work. So, to actually be on time, and on target, and having captured everything we planned to get, was nothing short of amazing. I’m under no illusion of what it would have cost for us to produce something like this (having also worked as a producer before), so I’m deeply, deeply, grateful for everyone who made this day possible.”
*These responses have been edited and abridged for space and clarity.
NYWIFT thanks Abigail Zealey Bess for her time and expertise, and a special thank you to the Council Member Joseph Borelli for his support and encouragement of this program. Special thank you to the HH Biddle House for the use of their beautiful space.
The final film Runaway will be posted on NYWIFT’s YouTube channel later this month.
NYWIFT Member Panayiota Pagoulatos shares memories from her trip to Cannes 2022 - her first time back on a plane since 2019! She met with WIFTI leaders from all over the world and shared this sage advice: "If you find yourself at an international market or film festival—whether it’s the first or the fiftieth time—look for your people. Whether a business partnership comes out of it or not, staying connected, sharing your experiences, and hopefully learning a thing or two, that’s the pulse that will help keep you going in this tough-as-nails industry."READ MORE
Cynthia Lowen’s latest documentary "Battleground" offers an eye-opening window into the anti-choice movement, featuring three women from varying walks of life who have dedicated themselves to rendering abortion illegal. Per the Tribeca website: “Told with restraint and balance, director Cynthia Lowen seeks to clarify rather than condemn, and presents a new point of entry for this challenging topic.” While the film itself clearly aligns with progressive pro-choice advocates (who also appear throughout) it offers a fascinating perspective on the sheer systemic power of the anti-abortion movement and the perilous future, felt painfully today, of Roe v. Wade. "Battleground" was Executive Produced by NYWIFT member Ruth Ann Harnisch and co-produced by member Steffie van Rhee, who sat down with us to discuss the premiere and how this film – from this particular perspective – came to fruition.READ MORE
Violet Du Feng’s "Hidden Letters" tells the story of Chinese women trying to balance their lives as independent women in modern China while confronting the traditional identity that defines but also oppresses them. Connected through their love for Nushu—a centuries-old secret text shared amongst women—each of them transforms through a pivotal period of their lives and takes a step closer to becoming the individuals they know they can be. Hot off her 2022 Tribeca Festival premiere, Director Violet Du Feng, an Emmy-award winning documentarian, spoke to us about Nushu, modern-day China, women’s equality, and her filmmaking process.READ MORE
Signe Baumane’s "My Love Affair With Marriage" is a brilliant animated film for a decidedly adult audience. It’s a semi-autobiographical musical exploration of love, sex, romance, and gender as viewed through the lens of neurochemistry – not your average animated love story! New York Women in Film & Television was proud to present Baumane with a NYWIFT Ravenal Foundation Feature Film Grant for the film, and even prouder to then see it premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Festival! We sat down with Signe to discuss her wildly inventive, intelligent, and very fun film.READ MORE