By Amenya Makuku
Welcome to NYWIFT, Rose Vincelli Gustine!
Rose Vincelli Gustine is Director of Operations and on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) MFA Social Documentary Film program. She is currently producing the feature documentary The Sum of Our Parts and was consulting producer for Busy Inside (PBS America Reframed, 2020). She directed the documentary short What We Discover Along the Way, which is looking ahead to 2024 festivals. Rose was a programmer for filmmakers’ support organization IFP (now called The Gotham) and for AFIDocs Festival. She lives, cooks, and walks in Brooklyn with her family and cats.
Rose spoke to us about what it means to be a filmmaker advocate, her own creative practice, and what she loves about the art of documentary filmmaking.
What was your journey to filmmaking? Did you always know that you’d go into film, and can you trace a general path for us, with some highlights for you along the way?
My first real job in film was at the AFI SILVERDOCS Film Festival in DC — a junior programmer — a job I didn’t know existed until the festival producer suggested I apply. I thought I was making a path to be a film producer. I sort of fell into film programming and was hooked by the job of discovering a new film.
Three years at SILVERDOCS led to eight years programming docs, screenplays and public programs for IFP with Milton Tabbot and Amy Dotson. I learned so much from them and all the filmmakers that came through our programs. Now I run the MFA Social Documentary Film program at SVA with Department Chair Maro Chermayeff, and finally, I am a producer and director, too. I’ve got a short doc I directed, about to go on the festival circuit — What We Discover Along the Way, a portrait of a forager and herbalist in the Bronx; and a feature doc I’m producing in the edit — The Sum of Our Parts, a queer love story.
I love documentary! I love knowing a little about a lot of different things, I love how weird and wonderful humans are, and I love getting to know someone, their life and culture, what they eat and what they think about, through a film.
Tell us what a filmmaker advocate does! Can you tell us about the duties and commitment that this encompasses for you?
I’m having a hard time answering this without feeling cheesy, but I feel really inspired to be able to work with other filmmakers on their films. My work at SocDoc and as a producer is all about supporting filmmakers and advocating for them (sometimes advocating for them to themselves!). This means cheerleading and goading them into their own good ideas, being a sounding board and problem solving.
I love being in the muck on a film — helping to answer, “What is this thing we are creating, and how can we make it shine?” It’s so much harder when you are making your own film to do this for yourself. You need a network and a community to help and to listen. And I love to tell someone else, “Have you heard about this film and how great it is?”
When did you first get the opportunity to teach? What drew you to SVA?
I hadn’t really taught much before working at SVA, really just a filmmaking workshop at my old high school and a few elsewhere, so I was a bit intimidated by it when I began. But actually, teaching at SocDoc is not so different from the work I had been doing supporting filmmakers at The Gotham/IFP’s old (excellent, beloved) Labs for first features. I’m just getting them earlier in the filmmaking process — at the idea stage and then on through to distribution, which is really exciting.
I had worked with a few SocDoc alumni and faculty when I was at IFP and I was impressed with the level of work coming out of the program. But, I was totally swayed when I really got to meet the faculty and see how they are really giving their all to our students — both their day-to-day knowledge of the industry from making their own films, and in the creative support of our students. Now, it’s my students who keep me inspired here. Film is definitely a people business, and it really helps to have a network of allies. That community of supporting peer filmmakers is something I’m proud to sustain here at SocDoc.
Can you tell us what creative nonfiction filmmaking is? My thoughts go immediately to something like In Cold Blood — is this similarly the way creative nonfiction filmmaking works?
I think what’s important about creative non-fiction is having your point of view as a filmmaker incorporated into the film. Documentary is not the same as journalism; and it doesn’t have to be a personal story for it to have a filmmaker’s fingerprints all over the film. This style can help me to gain a better understanding of the issues we’re discussing, maybe just another way into the material. Documentary is cinema, too — I want beautiful images and compelling characters as much as I want the facts and history.
I saw that you are producing The Sum of Our Parts, a queer love story. How do you think the landscape has changed, if at all, for LGBTQIA+ folks in film — in terms of projects produced, as well as open representation in front of and behind the camera?
I feel so lucky to produce The Sum of Our Parts (with Sarah Wainio!). It’s a story that, once I heard, I couldn’t stop thinking about. Roseanne Malfucci is making an auto-biographical doc about herself and her partner Kelly as they go through sort of a hell year of massive change while he completes his gender affirmation surgeries and she is confronted with a new opportunity to take her childhood abuser to court.
One thing I’m especially conscientious of is the privilege to work so closely, creatively, with Roseanne and Kelly and to let them be fully in charge of telling their own story. This, I think, is one of the great evolutions in documentary right now — the shift in who gets to tell whose story, and the feeling of empowerment that allows more people to tell their own. And I love to see these films about queer life from our own perspective, about trans joy, and about taking up space in mainstream life.
Best advice you ever got (doesn’t have to be film related)?
I’ve had so many incredible (women) bosses and filmmaker-coworker mentors it’s hard to narrow it down. I have a poster in my office that is an Andy Warhol quote: “Art is what you can get away with.” It’s a bit cheeky — but I’m pairing it with a post-it on my desk that says, “Be Free.”
It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking about what a film is “supposed” to be, but it’s a lot more fun to try and push the film into what YOU, the filmmaker, want it to be. I’m trying to just do the thing right now, instead of “do the thing that you think others want.” Trying to be present in my own creative practice and trying to push out voices other than my own. It’s not easy, but I’m trying!
Best advice you ever gave — or have to give now?
I do think it’s really important to have a variety of trusted friends and colleagues that you can talk about your work with. Someone who likes you enough not to sugar coat it, and give you real, invested, well-considered feedback. It feels so risky to share your work when it’s not ready, but you have to take that risk so that the film can BE ready.
Connect with Rose Vincelli Gustine on LinkedIn.
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 Elivia Shaw is a producer and co-editor of the fascinating new documentary How to Have an American Baby, which just make its New York Premiere at DOC NYC 2023. The film is a a nuanced, behind-the-scenes look into the booming shadow economy catering to pregnant Chinese tourists who travel to America to give birth in order to obtain U.S. citizenship for their babies. Told through a series of observational vignettes, and with extraordinary access to the maternity hotel industry and their clients, the film outlines the invisible contours of the underground birth tourism industry and its unexpected actors in the U.S. and China, while probing deeply into the lives of several protagonists caught up in the phenomenon. What results is an intimate and compassionate portrait of women’s reproductive journeys, family, traditions, and capitalist desires. Shaw spoke to us about her collaboration with director Leslie Tai and the unique joys and challenges of the project.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