Advice Sessions: Telling Your Story
We’re back again sharing the second week of our filmmaker advice sessions! One of the great benefits to a hybrid festival in 2021 was that we were able to stay in touch online, even as pandemic restrictions ease. This year we caught up with 30 of our filmmakers with Instagram live interviews to talk about their films, their process, and advice they’ve received while starting their careers. This is the second of 4 installments, in which we’ll be sharing their advice with all of you to get you on your way to making your next short film.
A story that’s close to home
Many filmmakers have spoken about their closeness to the subject matter of their films. For Zoe Lyttle, creator of SHOTS, chronic illness is a very personal subject and, through making her film, she found a community of people in the United States who share similar experiences and challenges of living with Type 1 diabetes under the US healthcare system . She explains that “it’s something I’ve been around my entire life and I’ve been part of the community my entire life [...] It really brought everything to light around illness, especially in the United States”. She describes how she “felt the need to just share the story now,” and this desire to shed light on a subject that is personal to her but also shared by many results in an authentic and confronting piece of filmmaking.
Mickey Lai, director of The Cloud is Still There, drew inspiration for her experience of discovering Christianity and the family tensions that developed as a result. She explains; “when I was a kid I saw all these rituals and witnessed these rituals, but then when I was sixteen years old I converted to Christianity and then somehow the relationship between me and my family, there was a conflict. So this is my first short film and I wanted to tell a story that was really close to me.”
The specificity and intensity of this shift is depicted so thoughtfully in The Cloud is Still There, really drawing out the details of religious and family disputes, the areas of separation and of overlap. The way Mickey Lai shows the climactic scene of prayer masterfully blends the supposedly opposing religions into a unified prayer cry. The attention to this religious closeness comes from her understanding of the subject matter and the importance of the story to her. The film is a testament to thoughtful and personal storytelling.
Jeanine B Frost, director of Mors Dag, gave a fascinating account of how she surpassed challenges to her film proposal. She described how “There was a lot of resistance at the beginning from the faculty and from the selection committee for thesis projects. And there was one woman on the committee who went to bat for me”. She was so certain that this was the story she wanted to tell, that she continued to fight for it until it was approved.
As something close to her heart, she knew she could open up conversations and present her perspective. She advises other filmmakers facing similar barriers to “[Stick] to the story you want to tell because there is an audience out there for all of them as we know now! There’s such a wide, wide plethora of stories, which is incredible. Everyone can get heard.” Thanks to Jeanine’s resilience, Mors Dag exists as a complex depiction of a mother dealing with the trauma of losing a baby. Despite this being unlike anything usually produced as part of her thesis programme, she was determined to tell this important story, something that will resonate with so many people.
So much can be gained from trusting your idea and going ahead with the process. Your unique voice and perspective guides your filmmaking, and telling stories from a place of lived experience, authenticity and integrity and humility can lead to the kind of filmmaking that makes us feel, change our minds, and calls us to action.