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.
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