I started making films 10 years ago at New York University’s graduate film program. From my earlier piece (fiction) to my most recent (documentary), I’ve attempted to give voice to outsider characters and to locate the subtleties and gray areas in their untold stories. My aspiration is and has been to push past simple explanations of who we are and what has shaped us to illuminate the complexities of our interactions, human needs and desires.
My graduate thesis film, The Salesman and Other Adventures, follows a traveling salesman through a single day as he encounters person after person who confound his expectations and questions his — and the viewer’s — preconceptions about the world around him. As a passerby in these people’s lives, the Salesman is challenged to leave the insularity of his ‘outsideness’ and act on the behalf of strangers. My first narrative feature film, Arresting Gena, tells the story of a teenage girl floating in the space between youth and adulthood, searching for someone or something to embrace that will give her clarity about who she is and where she belongs. Within this film, themes of belonging and place re-occur and yet this time the motif is visited from a new point of view.
Most recently, I’ve spent the last four years visiting with and videotaping the Luis family (completing the documentaries La Boda and La Escuela). I’ve shared beds and meals, cooking and cleaning responsibilities, accompanied them in their migrations between states and countries, to their work in the fields and into the classrooms of their youngest daughters. At this point in my work, I’m finding that the themes of place, belonging and identity have taken on a whole new meaning for me.
As my relationship with the Luis family has evolved and our connection has
deepened, the line between who I am as a filmmaker and who I am as a guest/friend/surrogate sister has blurred, often creating confusion on a cultural as well as professional/familial level for both myself and members of the family. For example, often during moments of familial strife, while my ‘filmmaker’ instinct tells me to pick up the camera and shoot, a deeper instinct tells me to set the camera down and respect the privacy of our personal shames and human flaws — not to exploit them for dramatic purposes. For me, high drama can sometimes be a shortcut to explaining who we are. The true challenge in creating and imparting a story — whether fiction or non-fiction — is to find in the gray areas of reflections of our lives that give shape and texture to our collective identity as human beings.
I have learned a lot from the Luis family about filmmaking. They have taught me to look beyond the familiar, to listen and watch with patience and to find the tenacity to stand up to my own myths and preconceptions — qualities I hope to apply now in my future endeavors as a filmmaker.
—Hannah Weyer, Director