By Katie Chambers
Welcome to NYWIFT, Samantha Alvarez, an independent documentary and narrative filmmaker born and raised in the Bronx with six years of camera operating and video editing experience. Alvarez started her career as a multidisciplinary teaching artist. She now works as a video freelancer and is a recent alum of both the Bronx Documentary Center Films Fellowship and NBCU Academy Fellowship. She is a current fellow in Third World Newsreel’s 2022 Production Workshop. She received a BFA in Film at The City College of New York with a minor in Journalism, and is continuing her studies there as a Film graduate student.
Alvarez was recently named the 2022 NYWIFT Outstanding Woman Content Creator at the Nova Frontier Film Festival for her short mixed media documentary, In the Body. The film had premiered at the Francesca Beale Theater at Film at Lincoln Center, where it won the Best Directing in Documentary award. The Society of Professional Journalists also recognized Samantha as a video journalist finalist for the 2022 Mark of Excellence Awards.
We sat down with her to discuss her latest film, her career, and her inspirations.
What inspired In the Body?
In the Body began after learning more about my mother’s childhood experiences. She mentioned she had been considering writing a book about it, and I asked if she ever considered making a film too. She said, “Yes.”
The film started as a thesis project in college, shifting creative directions for around a year and a half. It began with a plan to reenact the story with child actors, then evolved into a new idea of having my mother step in as an actor playing as herself, while also telling her own story.
During the evolution of the film, I questioned why I asked her if she wanted to make a film about it. Aside from being a filmmaker, I thought about my relationship with her and how it was approaching a breaking point. It was then that I realized it would be interesting if I were present in the film too, since I learned her story by asking her about her past. Doing this made it clear to myself that I was also finding ways to become closer to her.
Describe the use of the telephone in this film – the mother and daughter, trying to connect, do so by phone even though they are sitting at the same table.
At the beginning of the film, right before the title appears I say, “I miss my mother, even though I live with her.” I am looking to become emotionally close to my mom even though we are visibly close in a physical form. I thought of symbolisms that would represent the distance, yet also represent the desire of a connection. I often talk to her through a phone, so I found it very fitting to sit in an area where togetherness is imagined to be occurring, but visibly we are still far apart. The medium close-ups act as that imagined closeness, but once you see a wide shot of how distant we actually are at a table, it makes sense that there is still some work to do to get the relationship to a point we are hoping for it to be at.
You are an artist who works in a variety of mediums. Why did you choose a film to tell this particular story?
Film is a medium I am growing to love a lot, because I find that motion pictures are the way my mind processes my thoughts best. I also found that it was the most fitting way to visually express a story so detailed like a parent telling a story to a child and the child imagining every word play out. As she tells this painful story to me, it brings out a lot of feelings and reactions, so I wanted to capture that in that way through this medium.
What did inclusion in the Nova Frontier Film Festival mean to you?
Nova Frontier Film Festival’s collaboration with the Bronx Documentary Center called “Restorative Families” felt like the right space for me and my film to be a part of. The NFFF showcases works from filmmakers who are from and have work that focuses on the global African diaspora, the Middle East, and Latin America. It also represents emerging filmmakers.
As an emerging Latina filmmaker, it felt like I was seen in a way that gave me an opportunity to openly and confidently share parts of myself that were vulnerable yet important and strong to express to larger audiences. I feel most connected to spaces like the Nova Frontier Film Festival because of this recognition, because I don’t always feel seen in places that don’t have this specific focus on the inclusivity of underrepresented artists too.
Who are some other artists and filmmakers that inspire you?
I have connected with some amazing and influential filmmakers over the years who I continue to turn to for advice, constructive criticism and mentorship. To name a few, I deeply admire Deirdre Fishel, Sunita Prasad, Zachary Kerschberg, Jeff Reichert, and Kirsten Johnson. I am also inspired by other filmmakers I have met such as Bhawin Suchak, Darian Henry, Stefani Saintonge, Tal Lazar, and Kristian Mercado.
I make it a priority to watch films all of the time and to stay updated on artists, musicians, dancers by attending shows and searching online. I find inspiration through many different art mediums and many past and present artists. It would take a while to name them all, but their work speaks to my interests and creative process a lot because it represents stories and communities that are often overlooked or not heard of enough. I find all of these artists to be risk-takers, bold, honest, selfless and imaginative, which is the artist I see myself to be too.
What is next for you?
I am currently co-writing a musical film that I will also be directing, which is a first for me but has been a fun experience so far. It is based on both romantic and platonic relationships that build on trauma bonding.
I am also currently enrolled as a grad student in the City Film MFA program at the City College of New York and gaining experience as a production assistant, camera assistant and camera operator in the city. I have a lot more to learn and I am looking forward to all of the new connections I will make and continued fun and knowledge I will have and gain.
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