By Ozzi Ramirez
Let’s all say hello to Allegra Oxborough! Originally from the Midwest, Allegra now resides in Brooklyn, NY. A versatile filmmaker who directs, produces, edits, and writes (among other talents), their body of work ranges from the short film series The Endless Sleepover to the docu-film short A Blue Morning, and the compelling short film narrative Distance. In addition to these titles, some of their other film projects include working on The Tiny Death’s music video US, the Peter Hujar-inspired Fear for Eliot Krimsky, and the upcoming I Already Went.
Read more about Allegra as we discuss the common and complex dynamics experienced by artists who are trying to honor their craft while being devoted parents, and the Ira Glass quote they revisit frequently and find applicable to their art. Also, remember to check out Allegra’s website and Vimeo page, where you’ll be able to access and experience a variety of her film projects!
Tell us about yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
Hi! I’m a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, New York. I’m interested in how we internalize social mores, especially as they relate to gender and family, and my work spans documentary, hybrid, and speculative fiction. Recently, I’ve been exploring subconscious and existential anxieties around normativity, using bleak comedy and surrealism in my writing.
Your projects A Blue Morning, The Endless Sleepover, and Forms of Balance explore the intersection between being a parent and artist. What are some significant observations or realizations you experienced while interacting with these artists-parents? Has their approach to art influenced your relationship to your craft and/or work-life balance? If so, how?
Being in my mid-thirties, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether to become a parent. In many ways, becoming a mother is the most socially acceptable (and celebrated) thing a woman can do. At the same time, there aren’t social systems that universally support parents (childcare and healthcare are costly and privatized, and parent-labor is unpaid). As an independent, early-career artist, I’ve wondered how it would look to raise a child and have an active arts practice – both are very costly in terms of time and money. I’ve realized that many people who do both have at least one partner contributing income and health insurance, via a salaried job. Others rely on money from family to support their art or free childcare provided by family members. Even with these additional resources, it can be difficult to justify or prioritize an arts practice that isn’t immediately profitable.
I’ve enjoyed using film to study this topic. These projects have opened the door for conversations with dozens and dozens of artists, including artist-parents and child-free artists. Ultimately, I’ve concluded that as a self-employed and (at this stage in my career) self-funded artist, it’s not realistic to have a child without some of the aforementioned resources available to me. I’m OK with that and grateful to continue to build family in other ways.
Can you describe your earlier years? At what point did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker? Which artists and/or life encounters influenced you to want to create your own art?
I always wanted to be an artist, but it took me many years to give myself permission to pursue art seriously. I grew up in the Midwest and didn’t relate to what most people around me seemed to aspire to. Artisthood seemed like a way to challenge oppressive expectations around square jobs, nuclear families, and over-consumption. But I needed to take care of myself financially, and I wasn’t clear on how to do this as an artist.
I’m a first-generation college graduate, and attended school on scholarship, so I guess it felt more important to get a degree quickly and cheaply, than to pursue my interests. I really loved non-fiction storytelling though, and after college I volunteered at a community radio station making documentaries. Also, I did an internship at StoryCorps and then took a couple of workshops in DSLR filmmaking. After making my first docu-hybrid short film Distance, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. The whole process was totally intoxicating – from hiring great talents to encountering happy surprises in production, and continuing “writing” through editing.
Although your body of work is eclectic, one recurring theme in your projects seems to be the subject of intimacy. Whether it’s through the characters’ interactions in Distance, the sultry dance moves in The Tiny Death’s music video US, or the hypnotic style of Scenes from A Marriage, there is sense of rawness and openness to your work.
As a director, how do you connect with the performers in your films so they feel more comfortable being more vulnerable in front of the camera?
Distance, Us, and A Blue Morning each star non-actors who are partners in real life. With all three projects, I conducted a series of informal interviews with the cast members ahead of production. We became more comfortable with one another, and the conversations gave me insight into how these couples actually move together in their relationships.
I try to create a space within which my collaborators and I are able to introspect, relate, and experience some collective catharsis – and the production grows out of that space. As an audience, getting a glimpse into the private lives of others allows us to feel understood and connected. It’s such a privilege to be able to capture that degree of intimacy on camera and share it.
What brought you to NYWIFT?
I joined NYWIFT because I was interested in fiscal sponsorship; I’m seeking funding for a documentary in post-production. But I often feel isolated not having an industry network to draw on, and I’m really excited to become a member of this vast, inspiring, and talented community! I’m especially eager to learn about how to get production and distribution support, and would love to find mentorship in these areas.
What is the some of the best (and worst) advice you have received?
There is an Ira Glass speech that I re-read pretty often. He said, “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this… And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal, and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions…”
How did the pandemic affect your career?
My business completely slowed down during the pandemic, but thanks to PPP loans, I was able to shift my focus from earning money to developing my personal works. This allowed me to develop my artistic voice and become dedicated to my arts practice (which I hope will eventually become a source of income for me).
What is next for Allegra Oxborough? Do you have any exciting ideas that you are pondering and/or projects in the works?
I run a video ethnography business as my source of income, so I’m always working on balancing that with dedicating time to my personal film work – which, right now, includes a documentary in post-production, one in production, and a hybrid mid-length film I’ve just begun to edit. I also have a narrative short in post-production, and a couple of short screenplays I hope to shoot next year. Currently, I’m seeking mentorship, peers, and industry connections, so I hope to be accepted into a screenwriter and/or filmmaker lab in the coming years!
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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