By Madeline Johnson
In Astoria’s historic Kaufman Studios, filmmakers from the African diaspora shared local stories that reverberated deep into universal themes and questions as part of New York Women in Film & Television’s Women Filmmakers: Immigrant Stories screening on May 31, 2018.
Featured in the fourth season of this NYWIFT series highlighting narrative and documentary films about the New York immigrant experience, these short films tackled issues ranging from the #MeToo movement, to President Trump’s travel ban, to the immigrant experience, to what it means to be American, among many more.
Take for instance director Iquo B. Essien’s Aissa’s Story – a proof of concept short film about an African housekeeper who was sexually assaulted by a powerful hotel guest.
“It’s a David and Goliath story,” Essien noted, “[her story] split a lot of communities.”
Nominated for the 2013 Student Academy Awards, Aissa’s Story is a multi-layered exploration, delving deep into the emotional terrain Aissa navigates and questions as she seeks to regain control of her life. In a world and industry reeling from the #MeToo movement, fumbling for a way forward after dark truths are laid bare, Aissa’s Story has a lot of wisdom to share.
Also showcased was America Heard: Refuge of Hope. Part of a series of short films produced from every U.S. district directly after the 2016 presidential election, this five minute film explores what it means to be a refugee living in Syracuse in Trump’s America.
What does Trump’s presidency mean for refugees who have already resettled in the U.S.? For the varied communities and people shaping America, how does this presidency change who we are and how we understand ourselves?
America Heard: Refuge of Hope was released the day after Trump’s travel ban was announced. At the screening, producer James Boo speculated aloud – how does the meaning of this film change as America changes?
“Feelings may change about what the film is here to do and what it means,” Boo wondered.
Finally, Addie & Addy, a collection of sketches of “two weirdo Nigerian-American roommates living their best life in Brooklyn, NY” explores finding your way, honoring your past, and understanding yourself. Through comedy that pokes fun at life’s absurdities, it gently explores what it means to be Nigerian, American, black, young and 20 years old, and all of the intersections in between. As producer and actor Wunmi Fowora noted that black women are often seen as “combative” in the media, Addie & Addy sought to explore how these characters can “get as many nuances.”
Additionally, director and actor Adenike Thomas specified that in order to bring their project to life, they sought creators who connected with the subject matter. “You get more subtleties,” Thomas highlighted.
Each film screened contained a strong and distinct point of view, not often readily found in mainstream media. But in the words of Essien, being a director means “holding true to your vision, even if no one will support you. I have that.”
NYWIFT’s Women Filmmakers: Immigrant Stories series continues through June. For more information about upcoming screenings, please check out NYWIFT’s events calendar.