Live from San José!
From the Series: Ethnocine
This series is a collaboration between SCA's Screening Room and Ethnocine Collective whose members are Elena Guzman, Emily Hong, Miasarah Lai, Laura Menchaca Ruiz, Mariangela Mihai, and Natalie Nesvaderani. The series was envisioned by Mariangela, organized and produced by Elena and Natalie, and supported by Emily, Miasarah, and Laura. See also our introduction.
Bad Feminist Making Films is a podcast produced in collaboration with Rhiza Collective that features conversations with feminist filmmakers who are changing the industry. Bridging the academic and filmmaking worlds, our series embraces Roxane Gay’s (2014) idea of the “bad feminist” by acknowledging that we are flawed human beings doing work that is necessarily imperfect, collaborative, and processual. Rather than expecting to have all the answers, we build community with other filmmakers, lift up their personal stories, and reflect together on the mistakes and the hard-earned successes of our work. The BFMF episodes curated for this Screening Room series will focus on strategies for using the podcast as a teaching tool, outlining episode themes and teaching methods that instructors can use to foster dialogue about doing decolonial film work in educational settings.
Bad Feminists Making Films goes on the road for an evening of storytelling with emerging and seasoned feminist filmmakers from across the United States who break down the “how tos” of mounting a decolonial lens onto your camera. Whether it's challenging stereotypes, forging a space for alternative narratives, or digging into solidarity work, we hear from Tricia Creason-Valencia, Elena Herminia Guzman, Laura Menchaca Ruiz, and Nadia Shihab about filmmaking as an act of resilience, love, and courage.
We thank Erica Kaunang for transcribing this podcast episode.
Gay, Roxane. 2014. Bad Feminist: Essays. New York: Harper.
Interlude: Full Service Radio
[00:00:25] Emily Hong: From Full Service radio, this is Bad Feminists Making Films, a podcast presented by Rhiza and Ethnocine Collectives. We are your hosts, Emily Hong.
[00:00:40] Maggie Lemere: . . . and Maggie Lemere.
[00:00:41] Emily Hong: And we'd like to welcome you back to our podcast, a show where we talk to bad feminist filmmakers who are confronting and changing the film industry through intersectional and decolonial practice.
[00:00:52] Maggie Lemere: So today we have a really special episode for you all. It's a recording of a live event that the Bad Feminists Making Films team curated and recorded recently in San José, California in partnership with Represent Media.
[00:01:04] Emily Hong: It was a really powerful event, and even though you weren't able to be there, Maggie, I'm so glad that we have this recording that we can share with our listeners.
[00:01:17] The night really focused on the theme of decolonial lens. And we had a group of four women of color filmmakers who are emerging and seasoned, and they really were able to talk about their filmmaking journeys and how their films challenge a lot of the problematic narratives and approaches within the industry.
[00:01:37] Maggie Lemere: Bad Feminists Making Films actually started as a live event in DC, I guess, a year ago and some change. And what we realized was there was great need for not only online communities and spaces to happen, but offline. And the hope is that; you're making real relationships and more connections that we can find, new avenues of collaboration and support.
[00:02:02] And from what I understand, that definitely happened again in San José. So Emily, what stood out to you as our fantastic panel host from the evening?
[00:02:16] Emily Hong: Well, it was a really easy panel to moderate because I basically just had to give the space for them to tell their incredible stories and to really share the power of their approaches.
[00:02:29] I think what stood out to me was the ways that many of these projects are shifting and challenging these problematic narratives. So, for example, Nadia talked about how her journey into filmmaking really started after 9/11 and how there were these sort of liberal imaginations around the Arab American experience. And then filmmaking was really a path to how she could forge her own narrative in that space.
[00:03:01] And I think Laura also similarly talked about her experience with moving between school and home, where there were these different narratives of what it meant to be a Mexican-American. And I think also her experience in the borderlands shaping her own film project in Palestine.
[00:03:22] Yeah. I'm curious to hear Maggie, for you, what was most powerful about the event?
[00:03:28] Maggie Lemere: Oh, there were so many powerful moments, so it's hard to choose. You know, when at some of the things that I related to sort of how the filmmakers in the panel also talk about always been interested in storytelling and social change, but not necessarily being encouraged and sometimes being actively discouraged from that pile.
[00:03:46] And one of the filmmakers talks about this, incredible pivot moment in her life and her career. And she saw a thirty-something-year-old woman director and realized that all those skills and ways of being were things that she could be, and that she possessed. And that sort of spoke to me about the need of having more women succeed to mentor and show other women what's possible.
[00:04:13] Emily Hong: In that moment, I was kind of jealous. I was like, I wish when I was in my twenties, I had seen a thirty-something bad ass woman director really doing an incredible directing job. I never had that and I kind of wish I had.
[00:04:32] Maggie Lemere: No, absolutely. I feel like it's just more recently. And now I am a woman in my thirties finding these other women.
[00:04:39] And it's really cool because they totally see and recognize the need to mentor. I think other parts of the conversation that, you know, sort of relate to that are sort of about how filmmaking isn't about, you know, conquering and mastering technology, but being really connected to story. One of the panelists talked about directing relationally, which I thought was really beautiful and sort of this idea of dropping assumptions, and being in process.
[00:05:06] Because for me, feminist filmmaking is about the process of storytelling, just as much about the product. And another person spoke about this idea of filmmaking as an act of resilience, which I know we both relate to. There's so many moments in the journey when it seems impossible, but also through that process, you're building your muscle and you're potentially creating meaningful transformation within yourself and others.
[00:05:35] Emily Hong: So before we jump into the episode, let's let our listeners know who is that we're going to be hearing from today.
[00:05:44] Maggie Lemere: Absolutely. So the first person that we're going to hear from today is Tricia Creason-Valencia. She's an Emmy-nominated director and producer, she's from San José. And in the event, she talks about her film Chasing Boundaries, which tells a different narrative about the city of San José.
[00:06:00] She talks about how this was her biggest, you know, budgeted feature film, and how she lost control of it.
[00:06:08] Emily Hong: Second we hear from Nadia Shihab, who was raised in West Texas by an Iraqi mother and a Yemeni father. She talks about her first feature documentary Jaddoland, which explores the meaning of home. She talks about how her decolonial lens is actually bringing her own perspective and narrative to topics that typically we only hear about through these liberal fantasies.
[00:06:36] Next, we're going to hear from Elena Guzman. She's an anthropologist and filmmaker whose films Smile4Kime works to destigmatize mental health diagnoses, through a loving portrait of her friend, a young African American woman who's diagnosed with a disassociative identity disorder. It's a complex character portrait, you know, and it deals with heavy questions, but very importantly, there's also a lot of love and laughter, and a deep friendship that shines through the main character. Kim Edwards is also a producer of the film.
[00:07:09] Lastly, we hear from Laura Menchaca Ruiz, who's a media maker and scholar from California. She talks about her work with Khader Handal on a media series called Hay Betl7em, and the media series showcases the stories of everyday Palestinians to really supplement these media representations that often focus on dehumanizing narratives of the occupation in Palestine.
[00:07:38] So let's listen in to the event.
[00:07:41] The concept of our event tonight is focusing on the decolonial lens. And, we only wish that you know, we could add an actual decolonial lens to our film kits. I kind of wish that it existed. Right. You could just add it, you know, to your DSLR or whatever your film kit is and it would be easy.
[00:08:03] But I think we all know that it's much more complicated than that, right? The given the colonial residue of documentary and of ethnographic film. So tonight we're really focusing on all the ways that the filmmakers we have tonight are trying to address that colonial residue in the different stages of production.
[00:08:22] I wanted to start with giving the audience a chance to get to know a little bit about you personally—about your journey into filmmaking. So anything that you might want to say about, how did you get started? What brought you into filmmaking? Was there a specific moment, or was there sort of a way that you were able to break in?
[00:08:43] And also if there's anything you wanted to add, where does your commitment to a decolonial lens emerge in terms of your own thinking or your own experiences?
[00:08:58] Tricia Creason-Valencia: I've always loved movies with all my heart and my dad and I used to watch movies together constantly. And his philosophy was that it didn't matter if I couldn't understand it.
[00:09:08] If we were together and could talk about it afterward, then we would see it. And I remember him taking me for example, to see foreign films I couldn't read yet. And he would sort of quietly read me the subtitles. I'm sure we were really annoying to other people in the theater, but that was my experience of just like this open-heartedness to film and how important it was.
[00:09:26] And so I didn't study film as an undergraduate. I studied psychology and Chicano studies and I became a community organizer and I was working in the Spanish-speaking community, working on violence against women and girls issues. And we had a $5,000 grant, which is nothing, but we're like, "We're super rich!"
[00:09:42] Audience: [Laughter]
[00:09:42] Tricia Creason-Valencia: We were like, "We're gonna make a video to change the way everyone thinks about violence against women and girls." And crazily, we did it. It wasn't very good, but we did, we made this film as a tool for social change. And my aha moment was I was on the set. I was in my mid twenties and the director was a thirty-year-old woman and I watched her work and I was like, I could do that.
[00:10:04] I thought that filmmakers were magical unicorn people who had different talents than I did. And I watched her all day and I was like, she's really good with people. She's a good communicator. She's super organized. She's the boss. I was like, I can do those things. So I decided to start taking film classes at a community college.
[00:10:22] I had my BA already. And I just was like, I want to just explore this thing. My lens was, I'm a community organizer and I want to make tools. I want to make films that are a tool for social change and how can I do that? So in my late twenties, I entered film school and that was my goal.
[00:10:40] Nadia Shihab: As Emily said in my bio, I grew up in West Texas. And it's something that I don't have to put in my bio, but I put it in there because I feel like if anything in my life has shaped the way in which I experience, my life and the way in which I see things—it's having been brought up in that place.
[00:10:59] And having been brought up in a place like West Texas, a very conservative Christian, kind of desolate place by parents that were from the Middle East. And I think growing up there, I experienced many things that I didn't have a language for, and that I didn't understand. And in part, because I feel like I was constantly moving between worlds and straddling experiences and that hybridity of experience is something I've carried with me to this day.
[00:11:25] And it's something that, when I make cinema, I think about that a lot. I think about, the layers of experience, the different exposures of, a place. And, it's something that when I share some of my work, we'll talk about that a little bit.
[00:11:40] Elena Guzman: I would say similarly, the work, as Emily mentioned, I do my research, my anthropological research I'm on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. But in general, I've always been concerned in thinking about narratives and storytelling of the African diaspora broadly conceived.
[00:12:00] And so for me, I'm always thinking about borderlands in my work and like, existing on peripheries of a variety of places, whether it be my own identity or even the kind of narratives that I share. So for me, I think I've always been a storyteller. I think only recently have I come to film, but I've always been a storyteller and I've always tried to find a way to explain these stories. And I always tell this story to people. I'm sure people who have heard this are tired of hearing it. But I remember when I was in junior high, I read a book by Esmeralda Santiago called When I Was Puerto Rican. And it was the first time I was in junior high that I had read a book about anything that reflected me or my experience. And I was like, "What? People care about this kind of stuff? I can write these kinds of things?" And I think for me, that was such a monumental, shifting moment for me. And so from there, I think that's where my film making journey emerged. And I've just always wanted to kind of tell stories that exist, that those peripheries, that people don't really think about.
[00:13:02] And I think where my decolonial lens comes from is existing in these peripheries myself, and then just kind of reflecting that.
[00:13:13] Laura Menchaca Ruiz: So I don't really consider myself a filmmaker. And I feel like I'm on stage with a few unicorns. But, I do consider myself someone who loves to tell stories and to listen to stories. Ever since I was small, I really liked to listen to people's stories and it could be very simple ones, they didn't have to be anything dramatic.
[00:13:33] Although I did win a few awards in elementary school for writing dramatic children's stories. But, I guess I was really interested in film when I was in my early twenties. I was going to community college. And I had taken some film courses and was really interested in pursuing it and talked to the chair of the department about "what does it look like to pursue film?"
[00:13:57] And he really discouraged me from it, telling me that it's not really a good financial option and I wouldn't make a lot of money doing it. And so I kind of followed his advice, being the child of immigrants, making money for my family was something important. So I kind of set that aside and pursued other things that I thought would sort of pay the bills.
[00:14:18] And I was lucky enough to sort of come back to it, through this love of stories.
[00:14:24] And the decolonial lens, I think, is really what is the impetus to do filmmaking or do media making. So coming from an immigrant family, I really saw how—and living in a community, I think hybridity is a theme here tonight because coming here, living in a community that was mostly white, one of the big cliques at my high school were white supremacists.
[00:14:49] There was really sort of this dialogue about who I was as a Mexican or who Mexicans were. And there was a dialogue that I was getting at home about who I was and who Mexicans were. And I saw such a dissonance between those stories that really impacted me in such a deep way. So, as I moved through adulthood, I became really committed to telling these stories and seeking out these stories from communities, you know, what are . . . what are those, those stories and feelings, emotions, those moments of intimacy that really give our lives and our identities, meaning?
[00:15:28] Emily Hong: We're talking about decolonial filmmaking and often fundamentally. What we're talking about is a struggle over representation. What are the tropes that you are challenging?
[00:15:40] And also, and how are you seeking to shift those narratives? and for whom, right? The question of audience too, I think comes into play when we, when we think about narrative shift.
[00:15:53] Nadia Shihab: So I began making films right after 9/11. I was living in Austin and, it was a very like . . . everyone was just like, at least everyone I was always around, was on edge and there was the buildup to the war in Iraq.
[00:16:06] And so I began to get involved in organizing. I hadn't made any films before. And when I was getting involved in organizing, I, I got, I kept getting this feeling that people wanted me to be speaking. They wanted me to get on the microphone and it was a very white space. It was very male space, a lot of men on the microphone, on the megaphone and I kept finding myself in these situations where people are trying to put me on a stage or at one point there was a debate and we were going to debate like the Young Republicans of UT Austin.
[00:16:34] And they were like, well, "We need a woman on, Nadia, you should do it." And there are all of these rules of debate and I didn't know all of that. And it was a really, really stressful time. And this isn't exactly you're getting at your question, but I felt like there was this way in which I was supposed to, as a young Arab American woman, there was this way that people wanted me to fit in, into whatever their liberal fantasy was of like what they wanted me to be.
[00:17:00] And what I so appreciated about filmmaking, was that it was a space where I could be all by myself. I didn't have to be in this oppositional dialogue where somebody else was deciding, the vocabulary and the rules of the game, and I just had to kind of defend my point of view and argue, according to their rules. But it was a space in which I could determine the language and, the world view and I could kind of forge my own narrative.
[00:17:24] That didn't begin where somebody else told me I had to begin. And that was what was so liberating about the first time I began shooting and, especially, began editing. Because that was really the writing process.
[00:17:37] Elena Guzman: For me, I had watched a bunch of films on disassociative identity disorder.
[00:17:42] And some of them are really bizarre. It was kind of almost like presenting a football team, you know, it'd be like, "and this personality and this personality"—it'd be like a map of all the personalities. I thought how, it didn't seem appropriate, and it seemed almost like it was making a spectacle of the person. I wanted to be able to breathe some kind of complexity and allow people to see, Kaylee—who is the person that we mostly see talking in this video—just be able to express herself when she's laughing and joking, but also when she's very introspective and talking about really deep and difficult things.
[00:18:25] And for me, well, there's not a lot of films that talk about mental health in the first place, but specifically about women of color and the way in which they navigate and understand and deal with mental health. And so what is going to emerge from this documentary is not only a portrait of Kaylee, Kim, and her various selves, but also the kind of intersections with race and policing that a lot of people don't often think about when it comes to, these various topics. That was one of the tropes that I was trying to, to counter—was going against just the lack of representation in the first place and allowing her story to be able to show that in a way that wasn't being shown.
[00:19:13] Emily Hong: A question that we like to ask on the podcast is about the Bad Feminist Moment—so related, but different. And when we say, sort of "What's your Bad Feminist Moment?," what we mean is, even as we might be trying to act in the world as feminists, we accept that we are not outside of patriarchy and that we're going to make mistakes on the way. But also, we are willing to be reflexive and to really learn from those experiences. So still kind of a moment where you may have kind of fucked up and, and looking back, maybe have a clearer sense of what you might do differently.
[00:19:55] Tricia Creason-Valencia: So many, so many.
[00:19:57] I mean, one of the things that I'll just say is I tend to collaborate with one of my best friends, a woman named Meadow, we met in that community college class before I had decided to go to film school and she was in a transitional phase of her life and we've been collaborators for two decades.
[00:20:12] And I don't shoot without her onset. And she's very versatile. It'd be like today, you're going to be sound recordist, but tomorrow you're going to be shooting. You know? I mean, we just work it out so that she can be by my side because our motto that we say to each other in those darkest, darkest moments is:
[00:20:27] "It's not good to quit." And then we kind of usually end up saying it like that because you always reach a point where you're just like, "I don't know, I'm exhausted. I can't figure it out. It's not going the way we thought it was going to go." I think that filmmaking is a deep act, of resilience at its core, and you just have to be really, really unwilling to quit, for all the reasons, right?
[00:20:51] You're going to show them, you really think these stories are important. You owe it to your characters, to the people that you're collaborating with. So that's sort of at the fundamental place. And I think because I've been doing this for a while now, like I was mentioning to someone, my very, very first film that I made in film school was about women of color who'd been cheerleaders in high school, who went on to become activists in the community. And it was a really fun conception. My mother was a cheerleader and a woman of color. And I wouldn't include her in the project. And people were like, "Why not? What's happening?" I was like, I had done this oral history thing with her in college that had gone really badly because I heard myself on tape just making all these assumptions and being so frustrated with her and wanting to define her journey for her.
[00:21:36] And I was young and it was embarrassing. So fast forward and I'm like, I'm not going to do that again. I'm not gonna include her in the project. And I remember my advisors in film school being like, "You need to include your mother in the project." So I did, and then I watched the footage and I was making assumptions and I was expecting her to say certain things.
[00:21:54] And I was frustrated when she didn't and it was like, "Oh my God, why have I not progressed in this decade since I did the first project to the second project?" And you know, now many, many, many years later, I think I'm much better at; checking my assumptions, and I'm much more relational in the way that I interact with folks that I'm collaborating with or working with on these projects.
[00:22:16] I really try to listen and hear what they have to say and not bring the preconceived notions, which is why I think your thing is so delightful. It's like, I don't want to ask the same old questions. I don't want to fall into the same tropes. I don't want to assert my feminist agenda, which is what I'm usually doing, frankly.
[00:22:31] I'm like, you know, I've got my perspective and I'm clear about it and I want to get people to respond to that. So I think a lot of what I've learned to do is just to mellow out. And to listen. And to really create space for conversation. And I think one of the things I'm seeing in all three of the projects you all showed is that you're creating that relational space and it feels really authentic.
[00:22:55] And those women are really telling their stories. So yeah, don't quit. And listen.
[00:23:03] Emily Hong: Picking up on something Trisha said, you mentioned you bring Meadow on all of your projects, no matter what. I love that. And I think sort of in Ethnocine, we kind of do the same. It somehow feels more possible. And the challenges seem more manageable. Or, we have the space to even kind of debrief those bad feminist moments. And to grow. Because you know, as Laura said, it's a matter of when, not if those moments come along. So what I want to ask is what are ways that finding your Meadow, given that all of you, are in some ways trying to open the space for these counter-narratives, in an industry that is, not necessarily that, and has a very dominant approach. That's not the one that is characterized by the films we've seen today. But is sometimes very hostile; to either the perspectives or the approaches brought to the table. So what are some of the tactics and strategies that you found that work to shift the industry, even if it feels small. Cause I think it's quite important for us to recognize that it might sometimes feel that we're each working on our own films, but in a way, each of us is contributing to shifting the industry and changing it. So getting a little bit at some of these, small, small tactics or strategies that you might be able to share with the audience.
[00:24:46] Tricia Creason-Valencia: Yeah, I mean that woman, the twenty-five-year-old on the set that was like, "I'm good at being the boss. I want that job." It's part of why I'm a director because I get to decide. I get to figure out who's on my set with me and I get to find the best collaborators and I get to rehire them. And I mean. . . we talk about representation and struggle. "There aren't enough people in the industry who can do this." And we know there are. We know we're here. So we need to hire each other and we need to pay each other fairly. And we need to not ask each other to work for free. And you know, I've turned down jobs. I've been insulted and been like, "No, I'm not going to do that because I can't pay my cinematographer properly."
[00:25:21] I've also taken pay cuts for myself so that I can pay my cinematographer properly. I value their work and I value the art. So some of it is economics and, you know, embedded in that film that you saw, it was the biggest budget film I ever directed, and that was such a luxury and I could hire great people.
[00:25:37] The risk, the problem was I didn't own it when it was over because it was a commission. And all my other work I've fundraised. Dollar by dollar, month by month, year by year—and it takes five years to finish. And I was able to finish that in a year. So there's not a simple solution, but it does come down to economics and I will not not pay my people fairly.
[00:25:59] I just, I won't do it anymore. So hire women.
[00:26:07] Laura Menchaca Ruiz: I don't really consider myself in the industry, I guess. But, something that I really love and appreciate is the idea of public art. So I've always really loved murals, artists who really put their work out there for free and it's visible and accessible to communities. I was from a family that, in an economic class background where I didn't always feel comfortable in museums or comfortable in spaces where art is sort of curated for a certain group.
[00:26:36] And I guess, in thinking about how to make media, I kind of see that the same thing. So that sometimes films that I really want to see are not accessible because they're shown at, you know, Cannes, or they're shown at these festivals that are not places that I'm going to be able to fly to, to see them. And then I can't always purchase them or, you know, online.
[00:26:56] So through this media project, something that we talked about that was very important to us, is that we make it sort of like very public. So in Bethlehem, the social media tool is Facebook. So we're gonna make a Facebook page and these videos are going to be released bi-weekly on the page.
[00:27:15] And then we're going to create a website that has an archive where people can go and access them where, so I guess this way of really trying to make the work that we create accessible and easily disseminated among people is something that's really important. And central to our work is availability to anyone who, to anyone and everyone.
[00:27:36] Emily Hong: So now I want to move to a question about the female gaze. There was an article, that Mariangela from Ethnocine came across. And it's an article by Tori Telfer in Vulture. And, if you're interested in reading it later, we, it's posted in our; Bad Feminist Making Films Facebook page.
[00:27:55] I'll just read a very short quote from it: "The female gaze it's feminine and unashamed. It's part of an old fashioned, gender binary. It should be studied and developed. It should be destroyed. It will save us. It will hold us back." So it, it, it can be all these things, right? And it goes on to actually quote from different filmmakers—femme filmmakers who have very different takes on what the female gaze is. So I wondered if anybody wants to say something about what they think—what you think the female gaze is and or how do you approach it, in your own work?
[00:28:39] Elena Guzman: So the female gaze, that's a very interesting concept and ideal, and obviously it's countering the notion of the male gaze, which is very popular in Hollywood and the filmmaking industry. Aside from the, you know, gender binary, maybe not female gaze, maybe the woman's gaze . . . I think for me, at least, it's coming from a place of love and sensitivity. And I feel like that's something that is, across this panel that I've seen, is that the work that we're doing is not coming from a place of curiosity—but of deep love and affection for the communities that we are a part of or the people that we love.
[00:29:24] And so I guess that's the way that I think of the gaze that I put, and for, you know, the way that I was framing and in my excerpt, what I hope came across was like a deep love that I have for this person and the way that I am attempting to shape that narrative as well.
[00:29:45] And so for me, that's the crux of it—is like a deep love.
[00:29:53] Emily Hong: Yeah, I actually think that came through in all of the clips that we saw and I, I was really moved. Even though I had seen most of them before, just seeing it on the big screen, I felt that.
[00:30:06] Tricia Creason-Valencia: So I reference Jill Solloway when I teach about the female gaze with my students. You know, rather than objectifying.
[00:30:14] I think we kind of have a basic understanding of what the male gaze might mean and, and their definition of the female gaze is quite straightforward. They did a one-hour talk at the Toronto Film Festival that I use. And fundamentally it's the camera as a tool for building empathy.
[00:30:34] Which I think is pretty much what you're saying. It's just another layer. So that's the lens that I use that I apply after I have watched this piece: "Do I now have more empathy for the characters within it?" And that works for me.
[00:30:49] Emily Hong: So the last question I have is what advice do you have for the feminist filmmakers out—who are in the audience or who might be listening to the podcast later? What are some of the things you wish you knew earlier in your journey? And what's the sort of wisdom that you now hold that you only came across through challenging situations. Well, what is that hard-earned wisdom that each of you have?
[00:31:25] Nadia Shihab: So sometimes when I think back to when I first started making films and I also didn't study film. And, if I had known everything that I know now, or if I had known what it takes to make a film, I don't think I would have ever started, like, it'd have been so overwhelming, but I was so naive and I was so confident.
[00:31:43] I was like, "Yeah, I just got this camera. I'm going to make a documentary about—", you know, my first film was about this anarchist bookstore in Austin. And actually it was really like fun and I didn't have, I didn't have . . . I didn't even have self-consciousness about it. I just was very confident. I think there's something really beautiful about that when you're younger and—maybe people retain it through their whole life—but I think the more that I learn about cinema and the more that I learn about my own practice, the more critical my mind becomes in both a positive way and in a way that can hinder, I think, the creative process. That's one observation and another is that one thing I'm really interested now at this juncture in my life because I just had a baby who's one year old and I found it's becoming a much more difficult—like I can't just sit at a computer for eight hours and edit anymore. Like maybe I have forty-five minutes, just take a shower or something. And so what I'm interested now is constraints and how to use creative constraints in a helpful way to make work.
[00:32:40] And what does filmmaking look like with different kinds of constraints? And I guess advice, I don't know if there's the question, but how do you use those constraints in a productive, positive, helpful way in your own work?
[00:32:55] Laura Menchaca Ruiz: So I guess something I would say is just that it's doable.
[00:32:59] I think if you have a camcorder, you can go ahead and go make films. That's what I wish I would have known. I think that I thought it required a lot of training and education and money. And I realized that what if you have a compelling story? People will listen and watch. They're very patient. They're patient viewers.
[00:33:19] So, if you're a good storyteller, if you're someone who's intrigued by stories, then you can, you can make the art that you want to make. You don't have to be inhibited by money or education or these things that kind of weigh us down.
[00:33:34] Emily Hong: You're listening to our recording of our live event in San Jose, focused on a decolonial lens.
[00:33:39] We have to take a break, but we'll be right back.
[00:33:52] Interlude: [Music break]
[00:33:59] Emily Hong: Welcome back to Bad Feminists Making Films, a podcast on Full Service Radio presented by Rhiza and Ethnocine Collective. We've been listening to a recording of our live event in San José. Now we're going to turn to the question and answer, where we had some really thought-provoking questions from our audience.
[00:34:20] So let's listen in.
[00:34:22] Audience: So, I guess this is sort of like more of a specific question, but I think a lot of your films are very, I guess, personal stories, where you have a very large personal stake in the people or the community. How do you balance, like how much of you to put in there? Like, do you balance what you think you want or like what feels right—is what I'm asking.
[00:34:50] Nadia Shihab: I try to give myself options when shooting. So that, I mean, for all of my films, they've been in some way related to my family. So it made sense that I'm the one that's filming the film, but, with this most recent project, I tried not to definitely hide myself...in the material.
[00:35:07] And then it was four years of editing without my voice in it, without seeing me at all. Until I started to put myself in it after people started to give feedback. And I think it just depends on the project and the story. Oh, and I, one time someone told me it was like a rough cut of the film and he was like a very established editor and he was very helpful in some ways, but he also, well, anyway, he gave me some advice. That's the thing, it's okay. I'm saying that, you know, you have to be prepared because your voice is in this film. It's female narrative. It's about, you know, a woman and her mother and mother-daughter stories. Like people are going to be ready to hate on your film.
[00:35:44] And later, I was like who are you talking about exactly? Then I was in a conversation with some friends about Rotten Tomatoes and about how, you know, like who is writing for Rotten Tomatoes. And then, I was thinking there should be an alternative Rotten Tomatoes called Juicy Papayas that maybe is started by Bad Feminists Making Films.
[00:36:04] It's an idea.
[00:36:07] Audience: Hi, first I want to thank you all of these, we just saw clips, but you can see how powerful they are. The question about the opposite of the male gaze and what you said about love and empathy...And I also hear solidarity. I hear "witnessing" and all of "being with others." And, so I just think that's really powerful. And I wanted to ask a question about place and Nadia, you use the word "dislocation," and you're using the words "connection." How do you, I guess, how is it to play with time and space? We're inhabiting, I guess, different places and, at the same time or in the past and the future. We're inhabiting different, different places when we meet whether, you know, a Chicano or Mexican American and Palestine. Right. I just wonder how place has figured and, and of course your documentaries are very much about the stories and how space is created and, here in San José. But also the way it's denied. So a question about place and space.
[00:37:51] Laura Menchaca Ruiz: So yeah, Chicana and Palestine, how did that happen? So when I was going to community college, it was at a time when the border . . . you know, I lived in California—in Southern California and a hundred miles in from the border. The border patrol was allowed to have checkpoints.
[00:38:13] And so when I went to community college, I had to cross this checkpoint and I was routinely stopped because I was Brown. I was in a pretty shitty little Honda and would be asked for my identification. Pretty much every time that I went, sometimes my trunk would be searched. There was a moment when border patrol came onto our campus and was asking students for identification and it was just sort of life as I knew it.
[00:38:45] I went to Turkey for a conference many, many years later and had a friend who was in Palestine for a bit. And she had invited me to come see her. So I went and was kind of shocked to realize that there I was taken for Palestinian and asked for my ID and I went across checkpoints. I had this sort of, similar experience, something that reminded me of this other experience that I'd had. And I'm certainly not to make an exact parallel because it's very different, but there was sort of something that resonated to me about, okay, then what is this about that, there's this intensive policing of people and this sort of marking out of territories, and what happens to these overlapping histories that are there, that are being erased.
[00:39:39] And it made me really curious to go back to Palestine. And so being there now, I think something that I've learned is, our experiences are very different but there's sort of a sensibility that's created from being someone who's living on the margins. They're sort of a dominant society that makes the rules.
[00:40:05] And if you're outside of that, there's a sensibility that is really generated from the experiences that you have. And so something that I found in Palestine is that although our situations are really different and we're learning from each other, there's a kind of sensibility that is shared at times.
[00:40:22] And I find that really heartening for doing solidarity work. And it really helps me to rethink maybe the kind of work that I would do in the U.S. and my own community. So, spaces figured pretty large, and it's been hard navigating the space, but also really generative and I'm grateful for that.
[00:40:47] Nadia Shihab: I think I came to....I began making personal films, in some ways, because I was in a few situations in my early twenties where I felt like at one point I was working with young refugee women, and another period I was working with internally displaced women in Turkey and in various situations. Especially when you're working with a young woman and the woman, you know, like young women are beautiful and vivacious and it becomes so easy to point the camera at them, especially when you're in relationships like these economic relationships of nonprofits getting funding and needing to tell people's stories.
[00:41:26] You're empowering the women by—I don't know, there's just so much language around and it was so icky and, I just found it so problematic, those kinds of extractive relationships. And so for me, like going to that personal space and working on projects that are, you know, necessarily from my position and necessarily from the place—from where I am, and that's connected to place, whether it's my hometown or . . .
[00:41:56] One of my early films was with my grandparents in Toronto. They'd come from Iraq and they were watching the war in their homeland through their TV screen. And they lived in this tiny apartment. And so a lot of my films are bounded in that way. But they're connected to places that are far away and that brings back that dislocation.
[00:42:17] Audience: Thank you so much for sharing your work. It's also very moving and I think it really speaks to the care that your gaze is bringing to the subject matter and the people that you're working with. But in thinking about the gaze there's, of course, the moment which we've talked about here, about the moment when you're in a room or in a space with your camera and have that kind of intimacy, but also the gaze when you're editing. And for those of you who shoot the material that you edit, if you could speak to the intimacy of sort of logging footage and rewatching and, and how that's a kind of act of falling—for me at least—like sort of act of falling in love too, apart from the camera work.
[00:43:04] Elena Guzman: It's funny cause when you said intimacy and logging, I was like "what" but I know, I absolutely know what you mean. The footage that I started off with, for Smile4Kime, which started off blurry and then kind of like has various shots of her as she moves around. She, well, she wasn't really aware that the camera was on her. It was one of those moments where I was logging through and I was just like, "this is so beautiful."
[00:43:29] It was just so like . . . it just felt so intimate and it's just something that . . . it felt so beautiful to me. I feel like I go through that footage and also I think those, you know—and I'm sure a lot of other people can talk about this and it's been talked about elsewhere—but what ends up in the film and what doesn't end up in the film.
[00:43:46] And so I feel like I have access to this larger story that nobody else is going to have access to. And so through logging the footage and listening to everything and listening to all of those really important details that sometimes just can't make it into the film and you have to make those tough decisions like, "Oh, this is so important, but I'm going to have to cut this."
[00:44:05] I think for me, those are the two aspects of intimacy that I get in that editing process is, like, actually just being able to see the footage and see this person. And then also at the same time, hear their story in a way that I know nobody else is gonna hear that story.
[00:44:24] Nadia Shihab: I mean, editing is so joyful, especially when you're watching your material for the first time. Like when else do you get to experience something for the first time? But then, I also think for me, it's been immensely important to make me a better shooter. Cause you see your mistake and it's this iterative process. But there's also something so crazy about editing where you can just go into it, like into this deep dark hole.
[00:44:48] I feel like I've had so many periods where actually the first time I ever began to experience anxiety and stress in my life was in this period of editing. And it was so close to this feeling of excitement too, it was like this really fine line where I'd be like on my editing chair, like totally tweaked out at three in the morning, you know?
[00:45:06] You have a deadline the next day for a grant and you're just like, wow. It's so nuts, crazy making, but it's so amazing and thrilling too. Yeah. And I can't imagine actually making films without also having learned editing, you know, just because of that. It's the writing process.
[00:45:24] Tricia Creason-Valencia: Then I think for me, remembering to show the work to other people, and this is something that I say to my students all the time. It's like, you get into your loop about, "Oh, this really works. And isn't she amazing. And I love her so much."
[00:45:36] And then other people were like, "yeah, that's not working."
[00:45:38] "What? We need, but, but the thing in the backstory and it took us six days and we were there and we stayed up all night—" And they're like, "yeah, it's not working."
[00:45:46] "Oh." So all of that sort of factoring into what is editing? How do you find the story? What do you, you know, what works? Because ultimately it has to work.
[00:45:56] Audience: Hi. Thank you for, I mean, the films were amazing and powerful and I really enjoyed when you talked about paying your artists then paying the people that are there.
[00:46:05] I mean, I think that's crucial for all levels from writers, poets to, again, especially filmmakers. And again, with access, I'm putting this decree on or making it accessible, on these media outlets like Facebook. And all that. And now my question really robbed her on audience.
[00:46:22] I mean, especially when, when you're, you know, making it accessible. Do you think about audience when you're filming this? I know I'm not Nadia. You said something like you, you don't think about the script or beforehand, but, yeah. So I was just thinking too, is there . . . is the audience in mind while you're—before this goes into production or before you even go into filming or, or was that just kind of, I guess the whatever public life that takes on afterwards?
[00:46:50] Nadia Shihab: I try not to think about audience when I'm making the film. I find that it does interfere with my process and I actually had to put a sign that's framed in front of my editing desk that says you're the only one that has to like it.
[00:47:02] But when the film is done, I find that then I can start thinking about audience and also the audience, the film finds the audience in the world, I think.
[00:47:12] Laura Menchaca Ruiz: I think for our project audience is very much at the forefront of our minds. So when we talked about what we wanted the project to do, sort of the, the indicator for us of being successful is we wanted people to, to really say like, "that's my city."
[00:47:29] To see themselves, to see the people, the guy who sells bread on the street with a pushcart, the person who opened up the dog shelter or the person who did the barber scene, like getting your nails done things that are very commonplace in the city—for people to just see themselves and see home in it.
[00:47:49] Because yes, like the tanks and the wall—that these are all aspects that are there. But when we think about really home . . . that's not what people think of. So we really wanted to show that.
[00:48:01] Audience: Yeah. Thank you guys so much for coming out tonight and sharing all of your films.
[00:48:06] I think when you're in a position of an artist or a creative professional, and you are in the position where you can set your own deadlines, it can be really hard to commit your work. So my question is, how do you know when, when your film is done? How do you know when you can stop and be happy with it?
[00:48:27] Tricia Creason-Valencia: The film is done because there's a deadline. You're not done. You're never done. And you watch it every time. And you're like, "Oh God, yeah, we were going to do the thing. Oh, right. Ooh. That says that's not a good transition"—whatever it is, you're not done. Cause you, you could do it forever. And I think, you know, not to cast too many of my film school compatriots with a wide brush, but like they're not filmmakers cause they can't be done. They could never master the business side of it.
[00:48:54] They could never master the deadline side, the deliverables, it needs to be done, whether it's a film festival deadline or whatever it is. So it that's it, you just have to turn it over to somebody else. And I mean, I am the worst procrastinator and like one of my students is in the room. Don't listen to this, Michelle.
[00:49:10] I mean, I literally will be like, "Okay, we, we, the dri—they're here to pick up the drive. Cause the thing is tonight. So come on, I need the drive" and my post production team is like, "we'll keep it. We just need it. Ah—there goes the drive." So that's how I do it.
[00:49:27] Maggie Lemere: So that was a great and very optimum event and the live event.
[00:49:31] Emily, I know that we both really relate to so many of these moments where we just sort of eat by, and dealing with deadlines and desperately getting things in under the wire and this kind of never-ending process of pushing forward, even when things feel impossible and never feeling like things are done.
[00:49:48] And, I think that's also part of, you know, why having community and telling these really authentic stories about the ups and downs and all around, I suppose you could say, being a filmmaker, are really helpful so that when you do finish something last minute, you don't feel like the most giant fuck up ever. You realize you're just a filmmaker—totally normal. And we've kind of encouraged each other to keep going in those moments when it feels like hard and really stressful.
[00:50:15] I loved hearing all of these really authentic, genuine stories and reflections on filmmaking. What's today's shout out?
[00:50:25] So today's shout out is an opportunity to see the work of one of our featured filmmakers, Nadia Shihab. Her first feature-length is making the film festival circuit right now. But if you don't happen to be going to any of those festivals, one of the themes for today, of course, is accessibility for those who don't have a chance to, say, fly to the Cannes film festival. So you can actually catch her film, her first film, A Mall's Garden, streaming on Kanopy.
[00:50:53] And that's the film that she mentioned in the podcast about how her grandparents were watching the Iraq war from their television set in Toronto. So it sounds like a really powerful film. And you can get access to it through your public library or your university. And it's Kanopy with a K. And I also want to remind you that if you want to take a look at the clips from our events, as well as hear the filmmakers talk about their decolonial lens, those are going to be on our website at badfeministsmakingfilms.com.
[00:51:32] A big shout out to our episode producer Laura Menchaca Ruiz, as well as the amazing Ethnocine team and Represent Media for making our live event such a huge success. Thanks for listening to Bad Feminists Making Films. See you next time!