By Katie Chambers
As summer heats up, New York Women in Film & Television gears up for the start of our new year – and with it, new faces join our leadership team!
As a 501(c)3 non-profit, NYWIFT is governed by an 18 member Board of Directors, elected by the membership in late Spring. This diverse, accomplished group of women are at the top of their game in TV, film and digital media. They steer NYWIFT in advocating for equality, providing unique professional development opportunities, funding women filmmakers, and celebrating women’s achievements.
Meet producer Yvonne Russo.
Tell us about what you do outside of NYWIFT.
I own my own company, YVONNE RUSSO. I’m a film and television producer based in New York and Los Angeles. I have a portfolio slate of projects that I’m producing with different companies such as Warner Brothers, Bad Robot, Sea Change Media and Handmade Films out of the UK. My company also advises on film productions that have indigenous-themed content. My goal is to elevate voices of indigenous people within the entertainment community and tell stories that reveal a slice of America that we haven’t seen on screen.
I also started the first Lakota Language class at NYU in April of 2018 to help revitalize the Lakota language, which is endangered. We only have 2000 fluent speakers left, most of them elderly. I’m passionate about indigenous languages and feel it’s important to help revitalize them before they become endangered. I want to create more multi-cultural content that utilizes the original languages of the community and culture that reflect the diversity of our nation.
In my spare time, I like to paint and spend time in nature. I also blog for HuffPo.
Yvonne Russo was the Lakota advisor for the upcoming feature film Woman Walks Ahead, starring Jessica Chastain. She talks about her role in the production here:
What is your fondest memory of working in the entertainment industry?
I love what I do so much that the process of manifesting a story from thought to pitching the idea, to developing, scripting and into production is such a journey that it involves 1000% focus and perseverance every step of the way. The fondest part of the process is advancing with the joy in making it happen. When you actually get to witness the deal being made, and the actualization of making a project a reality is always a moment in time to remember.
How did you first get involved with NYWIFT?
I first became involved with NYWIFT when I moved from Los Angeles to New York in the Fall of 2012. I didn’t have any established industry relationships in New York City and was eager to connect with others in the same line of work. I heard about an event produced by NYWIFT, the Power Player Breakfast with Sheila Nevins of HBO. As an admirer of Sheila’s work, I decided to attend. I felt like a fish out of water, as I didn’t know a soul. I remember standing by myself, sipping my cup of coffee and watching everyone mingle. I was a quiet observer. Suddenly, a woman named Jane Applegate walked up to me and introduced herself and welcomed me with open arms. She was a member of NYWIFT and encouraged me to join. I enjoyed myself that day and even wrote a tiny blog about my experience.
Why do you love NYWIFT?
I love NYWIFT for everything it stands for! Camaraderie. Inclusion. Education. Women’s empowerment. Diversity. Collaboration.
#MeToo and #TimesUp have dominated the industry conversation this year, and righting that imbalance of power and opportunity has always been a big part of NYWIFT’s mission, for all 40 years of our history. What are your thoughts on the problem? And how should it be solved?
The way to solve the problem is ZERO TOLERANCE! Our voices have been silenced for too long and we’re at a point in time where women are harnessing their power and standing up for what’s right. It’s imperative that we have an established code of ethics within every union and guild, and corporation. We have to focus on creating constructive relationships rooted in mutual respect with an actionable plan towards inclusion. We have to be part of the solution and conduct business in a manner in which we want to be treated. Nobody should ever have to feel threatened again. From this moment forward we need to reflect the change we want to see in the world. So let’s stop talking and make it happen.
What’s the best TV show/movie/web series you’ve seen recently?
I love Billions with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. It’s a super complex drama about high finance, power, politics in New York. The plot points and twists are so unexpected. I’m literally addicted to this show. It’s my Sunday night appointment TV with dinner and a glass of wine.
What are your plans for the summer?
My summer is going to be spent developing a new television series with my producing partners in Los Angeles. So I’ll be spending my time outlining, writing and researching over the entire summer. I’m also in post-production on a feature documentary I directed titled Viva Verdi! Giuseppe Verdi, Italy’s most notable composer, willed his vast fortune to build a distinctive retirement home for musicians and artists in Milan, Italy. [The film is] an intimate documentary journey uncovering the rich and diverse stories of these living legacies who call Casa Verdi home and the international music students who are mentored and live among them. Viva Verdi! is scheduled to be released in 2019.
Watch the trailer for Woman Walks Ahead, for which Yvonne was the Lakota advisor: