By Katie Chambers
Welcome to NYWIFT, Susan Chau! Chau is a New York-based director, production designer, and art director working in film and branded content. She received her MFA in film production at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Her film Josephine, developed while at NYU, has traveled the festival circuit and was supported by Panavision, which awarded the project The New Filmmaker Grant.
Most recently, Chau worked with Vox Media and Apartment Therapy. She also art directs for editorial print and digital. Her latest concept Contempt / Le Mempris, based on Jean Luc Godard’s stunning film on love and cinema was published in The Impression magazine’s annual film issue.
Susan Chau spoke to us about her inspirations, favorite projects, and her new digital zine for women who love film!
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a production designer/art director working mostly in branded content and narrative when possible.
What is your favorite project to date and why?
Josephine, a short I wrote and directed. I had a wonderful actress named Elise Luthman. The crew was great too. It was a co-production with AFI and NYU students. It was difficult shooting in the desert, but such a stunning landscape it was worth it.
One of your latest concepts, Contempt / Le Mepris, based on Jean-Luc Godard’s stunning film on love and cinema, was published in The Impression magazine’s annual film issue. His loss this year was devastating to the film community. In what ways has he influenced you as an artist?
That was devastating. Not to be sentimental, but I feel like Godard films opened and closed so many chapters in my life. Most of all as a young filmmaker beginning to discover new directors. Oftentimes when you first start out you’re trying to find your voice and in my case I was kind of rigid. I had to storyboard every shot, but after watching Godard, especially his early films, I thought – oh this is also a way to make films to tell a story.
Like in Breathless, there was this energy to it with all the running through the streets in Paris, jump cuts, playful dialogue and performances. Godard gave me permission to play to improvise to be more free with the camera. I love his later films more though when he sympathized with the female characters more. But it didn’t matter if it was Anna Karina or Bridget Bardot they would always listlessly say, “I don’t know…” “I don’t know Pierre…I don’t know Paul…” You could read it different ways, it could be patronizing, but I’d like to think that was his tender side.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your work?
Hmm…a love for cinema, beauty, and compelling female characters.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?
I always remember one of my professors Rob Schmidt telling us: the most important time for a director is his/her time alone at their desk in front of the computer and script before they arrive on set and get hit with a billion questions.
Worst advice – hard to say, but whatever advice comes your way you still have to check in with yourself and trust your own instinct.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT? How do you hope to participate in the organization?
I learned about NYWIFT through my friend Kiran Chitanvis and thought it would be great to be part of a community of women who are working on interesting projects. I always wanted to be part of a team that hosts screenings. It’d be fun to select some of the films, but I’d be happy to pitch in any way I can. I’ll carry sand bags so long as I can stand in the back and watch the film after!
And what is next for you?
Recently I founded Girls Cinema Club, which is a digital zine for girls and cinema lovers. It’s a space where we share our favorite films and discuss the craft of filmmaking. There’s also fun original soundtracks that accompany the articles and reviews, curated/produced by @missy_aggro.
It’s basically something I wish existed when I was younger and interested in art and filmmaking. We support girls who aspire to be filmmakers, or are working in film/video production. Hopefully we can also help girls avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way.
P.S. We’re looking for new teen writers!
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
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
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