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!
Learn more about Rianne Pyle on her website www.riannepyle.com and connect with her on Instagram at @ri_pyle and Twitter at @pylerianne.
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