By Katie Chambers
Let’s welcome Sheherzad Raza Preisler to NYWIFT! She is a native New Yorker who attended undergrad at Columbia University, where she majored in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies and followed the pre-medical track. After an identity crisis, Sheherzad fell in love with all things filmmaking and is now an MFA candidate at Brooklyn College’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema. Much of Sheherzad’s work deals with growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America.
Sheherzad’s debut short, Zero, won an Award of Merit at Best Shorts Competition, and has been accepted into Flickfair and MicroMania (founded by NYWIFT member Lukia Costello) as well. She is currently in post-production for her next short, Saint Marks, which she co-wrote and co-directed. Her team will be submitting it to film festivals in the coming months.
She spoke to us about her unusual path from pre-med to science writing to filmmaking, how storytelling is innate to her culture, and her post-graduation plans.
You had a circuitous path to filmmaking – tell us about it!
I have long taken an interest in film, TV, and media in general; however, I have always also loved science and history. This is why, when I started college in 2011, I decided to pursue the pre-medical track and major in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies.
However, as my MCAT eventually loomed in the not-so-distant future, I had an identity crisis. My mentor at the time, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, told me that I should try my hand at science journalism. I gave it a go, and worked in the industry for a time, until I eventually landed a job at Ark Media, where I helped conduct research for their docuseries called The Gene: An Intimate History. My job at Ark helped me understand and cultivate my deep passion for all things filmmaking, and I soon found myself enrolled in Brooklyn College’s MFA program at Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema.
What are some topics that get you particularly excited? We know you love science journalism, and contributed to Vice among other publications…
I love history – especially oral history. Coming from a Pakistani background, my mother has entrenched me in our culture’s oral tradition of memorizing and reciting poetry in Urdu, Farsi, and Hindi from a very young age. The exchange of poetry in my greater community is something I’m deeply passionate about.
I also have a deep love and appreciation for science, and nature/animals in particular. I could never get sick of talking about different types of animals! I am also very interested in the ways in which my hometown of NYC has changed since the early aughts, as well as notions of “fitting in” and being part of a counterculture; these are topics that my work also attempts to grapple with.
Your work now predominantly deals with growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America. What do you hope audiences take away from your work?
My hope is to spread tolerance and love for all, largely through humor and satire.
Like so many people in our industry, you have worn many hats, from writer to director to researcher to museum associate and more. What is your dream job? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My dream job is to be co-running a production company with my best friends/collaborators, where we play various roles on each other’s projects. I hope to see myself deeply enmeshed in the TV/film industry via our forthcoming production company in 10 years!
How do you feel all of your past roles influence the work you do today?
I feel that the many different hats I’ve worn over the years have been an inextricable part of making me into not only the person but also the filmmaker that I am today, because my varying life experiences grant me a unique perspective on all sorts of subjects and issues.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve received is to know my own worth and fight to be acknowledged accordingly!
What inspired you to join NYWIFT? How do you hope to participate in the organization?
I wanted to join NYWIFT to meet other like-minded folks working in the industry. I hope to find mentors and collaborators alike through the organization!
And what is next for you?
I’m currently in post-production for my next short, Saint Marks, which I co-wrote and co-directed with my dear friend, Katrina Montgomery. I am also in pre-production for my second music video, which I’ll be co-directing and co-DPing, as well as two of my peers’ thesis films on which I will be playing various roles!
And after I receive my MFA from Brooklyn College in Spring 2023, I am planning to start the aforementioned production company with two of my closest friends/peers from my MFA program!
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
NYWIFT Member Elivia Shaw is a producer and co-editor of the fascinating new documentary How to Have an American Baby, which just make its New York Premiere at DOC NYC 2023. The film is a a nuanced, behind-the-scenes look into the booming shadow economy catering to pregnant Chinese tourists who travel to America to give birth in order to obtain U.S. citizenship for their babies. Told through a series of observational vignettes, and with extraordinary access to the maternity hotel industry and their clients, the film outlines the invisible contours of the underground birth tourism industry and its unexpected actors in the U.S. and China, while probing deeply into the lives of several protagonists caught up in the phenomenon. What results is an intimate and compassionate portrait of women’s reproductive journeys, family, traditions, and capitalist desires. Shaw spoke to us about her collaboration with director Leslie Tai and the unique joys and challenges of the project.READ MORE
NYWIFT Member Emily Sheskin’s return to DOC NYC 2023 is particularly meaningful. In 2017, she attended the festival with her short film Girl Boxer, about a 10-year-old champion female boxer and her adoring father. Six years later, Sheskin returns with a feature-length film following the same family, now facing an entirely new set of challenges. In Jesszilla, New Jersey’s own Jesselyn Silva, a three-time national boxing champion, is on her way to superstardom, dominating the junior ranks at the age of 15. With her every step of the way is her father, Pedro, a single parent who helps her navigate coaches, training schedules, and the angst of teenage life. When a devastating diagnosis threatens the father-daughter tandem, the pair turn to each other to fight their greatest opponent yet: cancer. Director and Executive Producer Emily Sheskin spoke to us about her unique journey following this family.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Ilja Willems heads to the 2023 DOC NYC Festival with not one but two exciting new short films. Friendly Fridges shows how the new heart of the community is popping up in every neighborhood—in the shape of refrigerators. And When the grass must go follows a landscaper from Nevada who is removing grass lawns under a first-of-a-kind state law that will save water during an ongoing drought. Willems spoke to us about how these two disparate films align with her creative sensibilities, the joy of screening in NYC, and more!READ MORE