By Ozzi Ramirez
Welcome to NYWIFT, Rianne Pyle! Rianne an award-winning filmmaker whose New York City upbringing greatly influences her film projects, some of which raise awareness of societal issues and focus on providing an outlet for people of color to share their stories.
In addition to directing documentaries such as Vic Barrett: Youth Voice, which centers on a young climate change activist intending to sue the U.S. government, Rianne has also contributed her directorial talents to the short film Burning, along with several music videos, which have acquired more than five million views collectively, while featured on platforms such as BET Jams and Lyrical Lemonade.
Rianne spoke to us about the intersection of film and social change, her approach to documentary filmmaking, how gentrification has impacted her filmmaking as a native New Yorker.
As a born and raised New Yorker, can you describe any specific encounters that you experienced growing up that directly influenced your career interests?
Being a native New Yorker is such a novelty (says every New Yorker), but it’s true – the intersectionality of cultures, the art, fashion, and community are truly unique. Every corner of New York is filled with beautiful and engaging stories waiting to be told. Coming from the East Village, which is a predominantly Puerto Rican and African American community, I became invested in representing and telling the stories of people from these communities and communities just like it.
One of the reasons I focus on telling stories of people of color and underrepresented communities is because of the gentrification that I see happening in my own community. I don’t want people to forget about the abundance of mom-and-pop shops that once lined the streets but were replaced with beaming new high rises and franchise stores. Documenting these people and their community is an important way to pay homage to the same village that continues to inspire me.
There are numerous ways to tell stories. What is it about directing and writing specifically that sparks your interests?
With documentary directing especially, there’s such an inherent challenge. Not only are you thinking of the look and feel of the documentary, but you’re constantly trying on “new coats” to see how all the pieces can be threaded together.
I always feel like directing documentaries is similar to putting together a puzzle without the reference photo and the magic and thrill of documentary filmmaking exists within the trial-and-error period. You are able to stand inside as the story begins to tell itself.
As an artist who has worked in a variety of mediums from documentaries to music videos and commercials to photography, from your perspective, are there any overlapping similarities between these art forms?
I would say the biggest crossover between the different mediums is the amount of planning and creativity that is required amongst all of them. There’s no shortage of dedicated teams, resourcefulness, and creative ideas to make each project happen. The collective energy of the team that makes each and every project great is found across every medium and I think that’s a beautiful thing!
Two of the three documentaries that you directed, Freedom Day and Vic Barrett: Youth Voice, are centered on raising awareness on social issues. Do you see yourself more as an activist who directs documentaries or as a filmmaker who is interested in exploring current events?
I am someone who cares deeply about social and cultural events and making sure that important historical moments are documented. I don’t want to say I’m an activist in that sense, but rather a filmmaker who feels obligated and deeply compelled to share these stories in order to wield some change in our communities.
I know that filmmaking doesn’t have to be created for the sole purpose of helping change the world, but after making these short docs, I would like my films to explore current events.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received?
The best advice I have received so far was from my college mentor who advised me to learn as many different skills and trades in the industry. It not only opens up more employment opportunities, but allows you to be a more informed filmmaker when making creative choices on your projects.
The worst advice I’ve received was that overworking is the only way to make it in this industry. It took me a while to truly unlearn that working hard and overworking are two separate things. And the latter can lead to a “burnout” that is hard to recover from.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I was really looking for a sense of female community in the film industry. It can be hard to find your place at times and being able to network and collaborate with other female creatives is imperative as you learn how to navigate certain situations.
Did the pandemic influence your work experience? If so, how?
The pandemic certainly influenced my work and shifted my film focal points. Prior to the pandemic, for my thesis film at SVA, I was set on making a documentary about a musician. With the pandemic halting all live events which were central to the story, I instantly had to switch gears.
When the social and cultural shift happened in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, I wanted to find some way to use my art and become involved. I felt compelled by the story of the Freedom Day Foundation because it reflects the tale of so many activists and leaders in our community who set up protests and programs to help enact social change. I aspired to seek out projects and subjects that have cultural and social significance.
Do you have any upcoming projects in development?
Yes, I’m currently working on developing my first feature doc that follows a beloved New York basketball coach’s journey into coaching, as well as helping my very close collaborator develop her first feature film based on a book she recently read!
Welcome to NYWIFT, Toby Perl Freilich! Toby is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and writer, focusing on cultural reporting. Her work explores all sorts of perspectives, from senators to artists, spanning across the world. She co-produced and co-directed Moynihan, a film about the late New York senator, policy expert, and public intellectual. She also directed, produced, and wrote Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment, about one of the world's longest running and most successful experiments in radical, secular communal living. Right now, she is producing and directing I Make Maintenance Art: The Work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles about the pioneering ecofeminist and the first Artist in Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation. Read about Toby’s inspiring past and future projects here!READ MORE
Finding your tribe is one of life’s greatest pleasures—and losing it is one of the greatest sorrows. In NYWIFT Member Amy Nicholson’s beautifully observed film Happy Campers, working-class Americans gather every summer at a seaside trailer park in Chincoteague, Virginia, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a scrappy, no-frills vacationland, and each other’s company. When a developer buys the land and reimagines the property, the inhabitants of this shabby Shangri-La wistfully eke out the joys of one last summer together as a melancholic twilight hangs in the air. Happy Campers just made its world premiere at DOC NYC, where it received a Special Mention for the Grand Jury Prize. Amy spoke to us about her unique process making this film, biggest challenges and triumphs, and the commodification of some of life’s simplest pleasures.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Melisa Ramos! Melisa is a filmmaker and professor from Puerto Rico, bringing 14 years of post-production and motion graphics experience to New York. Her first production, Puerto Rican Voices, a docu-series about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Following Puerto Rican Voices, Melisa continued to share Puerto Rican and Latin American stories. In 2020, she directed and produced From Performers to Spectators, a doc-series showcasing New York City performers during lockdown. She is currently in production on Hoop Warrior, her first feature film. Read all about Melisa’s journey as an editor and artist here!READ MORE
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