Project Spotlight: 'Refuge of Hope', The Series Documenting the 2016 Election
Yasmin Mistry is an Emmy-nominated animator and filmmaker. Her work has been displayed worldwide including recent showings at the White House and United Nations as well as at film festivals such as Cannes, SXSW, Tribeca and Clermont-Ferrand. She is the recipient of the Puffin Foundation’s 2013 film grant, the Brooklyn Arts Council’s 2014 – 2017 film grants, and the winner of the Jessie Streich-Kest Memorial Grant.
Can you explain your background in film? When did you start what roles do you take on?
I actually have a background in animation and design. About 5 years ago I decided to direct a short animated documentary which gave foster youth a voice. This was a population I had been volunteering with for many years and I wanted to give this often silenced group a chance to be heard. The project grew much bigger than I initially intended and it evolved into a series of films which used a mixture of live-action footage and animation; thus I unexpectedly fell into the world of live-action filmmaking.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
Coming from an animation background I had to quickly learn how to direct and produce live-action work. Luckily I had a strong network of independent filmmakers who helped me every step of the way.
Do you have advice for your past self?
Once you complete post-production on a film the work isn’t done, it’s actually just beginning. Keep this in mind before jumping into your next project. Filmmaking is a marathon, not a sprint.
How do you feel about the importance of inclusion and diversity?
I like to use film to give a voice to those who are often not heard, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
How do you approach a new project? What’s your process like?
With documentary film the process is always changing since the story itself may still be evolving. I start by identifying film subjects and doing initial interviews. I usually get the interviews transcribed and create an initial paper edit. This helps me identify the themes and story we want to initially focus on as we move forward.
Do you feel like artists have a responsibility to be political?
I believe in using art as a means for social change. I think that artist’s work should have a message and inspire people to think. The message doesn’t necessarily have to be political but if you’re lucky enough to have a voice I think it’s important to use it.
Is it difficult for you personally to take a claim to your success? Do you have advice for creators who are afraid?
When a film does well I like to give credit where credit is due. Filmmaking is a collaborative process. A director can’t make a good film without a producer, cinematographer, editor, film subject / actor etc. Finishing a film is not easy so I think it fine to take claim for each step forward you take, just make sure you’re bringing your collaborators with you.
How did you get involved with this webseries?
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election a few filmmakers got together to create a web series called America Heard. This web series was founded by filmmakers who wanted a platform where many diverse stories of Americans across the country could be shared. In particular, they wanted to inspire conversations surrounding topics that are not being told or are not fairly covered by skewed media outlets. Upon learning of this project, and their need for local filmmakers from all 435 congressional districts across America, I decided I wanted to share a story from my hometown of Syracuse, NY. Knowing that Syracuse is home to over 10,000 former refugees, and that their perspective often gets misconstrued or lost, I felt that this was an ideal platform through which I could give members of this community a voice
What message were you trying to portray with your episode of it?
“This election made many of us keenly aware of how much we all live in our own bubbles. We shape social media so that it reflects our opinions. We surround ourselves with like-minded people. We tune out those who don’t agree with us. This leaves us in an echo chamber. But the reality is, everyone does not share the same ideas. It’s vital that we start to hear other voices and film has the capacity to do just that. It can connect us to people in places we don’t usually go. Through the amazing power of film, we have the opportunity to open up our eyes and ears to bridge political and geographic divides.” — America Heard
In our episode we wanted to humanize the refugee, immigrant and new American experience. If you don’t personally know someone who has had these experiences it’s easy to make assumptions. The young women featured in our film ask that before you judge them you get to know them. I think this is an important universal message that can be applied to any individual or group.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The film is part of a larger project called American Heard. It is a non-partisan web series which will showcase post-election views from all 435 congressional districts across America. Our film represents District 24 in upstate NY. If you’re a filmmaker and would like to contribute a film from your district visit the America Heard website to find out more: https://americaheard.com/getinvolved.html
Follow Yasmin’s journey as a creator here:
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