By Katie Chambers
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.
Your work deals with major issues like reproductive rights, identity and belonging, and motherhood. How do you envision storytelling as a pathway toward creating positive change?
I believe that storytelling has the unique ability to connect people on a personal level. I’m driven by the idea of using cinema as a medium to inspire empathy, making even the most complex issues relatable, and ultimately fostering positive change through a deeper understanding.
You work in both narrative and documentary – do you prefer one over the other? What draws you to each of the mediums?
No, I love both. At the end of the day, I am a storyteller. What changes is the way I tell a story. In fact, I apply my narrative skills to my documentary projects and vice versa. My goal as a film director is to create hybrid films in which the audience interacts with them just asking themselves, “What am I watching?”
In narrative films, I like that I can create a whole universe from scratch, and I deeply submerge myself into that world, whereas in documentary films, I like the fact that I find the story while I’m documenting and it’s pretty much about flowing with the story and being present.
I’d love to hear more about your latest film, Cuanacaquilitl (Dandelion), which you wrote, directed, and produced. What inspired you to tell this story, and what do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
Cuanacaquilitl is a narrative short film created with a deep sense of passion. It draws inspiration from the often challenging and real-life experiences women face worldwide, especially within marginalized communities like my own in Mexico.
While the topic of abortions has persisted for centuries and will continue to do so, I wanted to emphasize the significance of having someone by your side to support your choices and to showcase the strength of sisterhood. This story revolves around themes of friendship and companionship.
What kinds of projects excite you?
I’m all down for stories that challenge the hegemonic gaze in cinema.
What is the best advice you ever received? And the worst?
The best advice: When I was in grad school, a very wise professor advised me to write about something that kept me up late at night. She believed that, especially for first-time filmmakers, this approach would provide the necessary stamina and passion to develop, shoot, and complete the project, and she was totally right!
The worst advice: Someone very close to me once told me, “Stop dreaming and get back to your reality. Find a full-time job and stop wasting your time.” I immediately dismissed that unsolicited advice. Only you know what truly gives you joy, and you shouldn’t let anyone dictate your life choices. The worst that can happen if you fail is that you start over, and over again. But with patience and time, you will ultimately reach your goal.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT? How do you hope to engage with the organization?
I love the fact that I’m part of an exciting organization that truly empowers women and elevates their work. I feel seen, protected, and most importantly, I feel that I’m doing the same for other sisters.
And what is next for you?
I have two projects coming: Mi Ranchito, a documentary short film that I wrote and directed, and my Opera Prima “Mayahuel”, a feature narrative film.
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, Mary Skinner! Mary is a New York-based filmmaker whose projects include the widely-celebrated 2010 documentary Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers and Cuba Cubano Cañibano. The former was showcased at many festivals and events before being acquired by PBS and presented in many languages worldwide, in addition to receiving accolades that included the Best Documentary at the UK Jewish Film Festival and the 2012 Gracie Award for Best Public TV Documentary by and about a woman. The latter was an Official Selection of the United Nations Association Film Festival in 2017. Having graduated from UC Berkeley with a specialization in theater, Mary was one of the founding members of the Riverside Shakespeare Company in New York and the producer of the play Coming to See Aunt Sophie. Previously, she worked as a corporate marketing executive in New York and San Francisco and established 2B Productions in 2003. Read more about Mary as we discuss her close friendship with a legendary historical figure, the relationship between her artistry and family’s connection to the Holocaust, and the magic of both theater and PBS!READ MORE
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!READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Katja Haecker! As an experienced and award-winning creative for the advertising world, Katja Haecker had her calling in 2015. Since then, she writes and directs not only commercials within the luxury world but also personal film projects, like "Endless Orange Me," a car/fashion short, or "Laps of Honor," a documentary about the protagonist’s passion for fast cars. A German native, she moved to the U.S. in 2007 and, since then, has worked between continents or wherever her passion for filmmaking takes her. Driven, experienced, focused, and open to all kinds of topics, from racing cars to daily life, she always has thrillers and suspenseful plots in mind, with an artistically trained eye. Katja spoke to us about her most daring commercial projects and how her lifelong love of fast cars shows up in her professional work.READ MORE