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!
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