Thursday, February 4, 2016

Amberly Ellis: Filmmaker

Last year Creative Director Amberly Ellis launched Film For The People Productions with one objective in mind: “…to capture life through film in ways that force audiences to think about something in a way that they did not think about before, and to do this in a manner that is as true as possible.” 
With a razor sharp focus and a commitment to her purpose, this Baltimore, MD native has set out on a path to bring awareness to the social issues that plague various people. In doing so, Amberly has traveled to many countries to capture these stories first-hand. Amberly’s way of bringing different people’s stories to life was celebrated when she told the story of “A young man’s journey through recovery and personal loss after a traumatic gunshot wound.”
 Bullets Without Names went on to be selected for Best Documentary Short at the 2014 American Visions Awards. After being awarded a grant that same year, Amberly set her sights on Cuba and the great women Filmmakers that the country has produced. 
Currently on location in Cuba, Amberly took time away from her busy shooting schedule to talk about Nuestra Cuba, the challenges she faces as a Filmmaker, and her passion for telling untold stories.

Did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I actually always thought that I was going to be a writer. At a very young age, I started journaling. I have kept a journal for every year of my life since the age of eight! It was really my father who helped me discover filmmaking. He is also a documentarian and photographer. Growing up, I always saw him with a camera, but as a girl, you don’t often see women behind the camera lens, and I always associated filmmaking with men. When my dad bought me my first professional camera for Christmas one year, that all changed for me. My dad always supported me as a woman behind the camera lens, and his support taught me that my gender didn’t matter. It gave me confidence to venture into an industry that in many areas is still very male dominated.

Why did you start Film For The People Productions?

I find that now, more than ever, so many stories are being told around the world through documentary films. Often the subjects of these films don’t have a more active part in doing the storytelling. In most cases, when it comes to marginalized communities, the images and experiences are misrepresented. I wanted to create a film production company that tries to change this narrative about documentary filmmaking. For these reasons, I created Film For The People Productions.

What is Nuestra Cuba? Where did this idea come from?

Nuestra Cuba is a two part documentary series that follows the stories of Afro-Cuban women filmmakers at the Institute of Cuban Cinema (ICAIC) in Havana. The idea for this film came from my discovery of the work of Sara Gomez. Gomez was the first woman to direct films in the Caribbean. I will never forget when I first went to ICAIC and I saw her photograph among a sea of male faces. Something about her photograph spoke to me. I connected to her spirit. I knew then that I had to tell her story. When I began research for the film, I quickly realized how little was known about her life. Many people in Havana were unfamiliar with her work and her legacy in cinema. When I later discovered that over thirty years would pass before ICAIC would produce another film director that was both woman and Afro-Cuban, I was even more convinced that there was a story here that needed to be told. Gloria Rolando is currently the only working Afro-Cuban woman film director at ICIAC.
I decided to call the documentary Nuestra Cuba or Our Cuba as a way to invite the audience to see Cuba through the perspective of Afro-Cuban women. The work of both of these women focuses on little known histories in Cuba, and I believe the world should know about their contributions to Cuban cinema.
Read More: Here

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stop and Smell The Roses

I’m currently taking a certification class to teach ESL in the US or in other countries (that’s why there hasn’t been much activity on here lately). After my class the other night, I was chatting with one of my practice students about our best and worst experiences while living in NYC.

She told me her best experience happened while walking to her train and hearing someone play, “the most beautiful sounds a piano could ever make.” She said she followed the music and was led to a man playing his keyboard in the middle of the busyness that is Penn Station. She listened to the man play for a while and then struck up a conversation with him. They ended up going for coffee that same evening and she has continued to visit the piano player at least once a week. She said they have developed a great friendship and she looks forward to the great conversation he provides.

My heart was warmed as I listened to my student. I was in awe of her story for several reasons. The main reason being because my student is fairly new to NYC; she came directly from Ecuador. And for her to have such a regard for the piano player that she would make it a point to talk to him really stood out to me. I remember when I first visited NYC in 2010, I too was in awe of some of the talents that were displayed on subway platforms and on subways. But since living here, I have become like all other New Yorkers, and past those people straight, without even looking at them or listening to the talent they are sharing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Darian Symoné Harvin: Journalist & News Curator

An ambitious attitude. That was my first impression of Darian Symoné Harvin when I connected with her on Twitter. And the fact that she picked up and moved to NYC a month after graduating from college lets me know my impression was correct.

With a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from Emerson College, Darian has mixed her acquired skills with her passion and secured some pretty exciting positions. Positions that include: News Curator, Editor on the Yahoo News Digest app team, and Managing Producer of HRDCVR.
Of all the many hats Darian wears, this Buffalo, NY native has not lost sight of her goal and purpose. “I’m a journalist who wants to create new ways to present information and news to people,” Darian says.

In an insightful interview below, Darian thoroughly talks about HRDCVR, her podcast and forthcoming website, the women who influence her, and so much more.
Read More: HERE

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Some of us have them in one area of our body, while others have them all over. Regardless of where those pesky red, pink, black, brown, or sometimes white lines appear, the general consensus is that all of us women hate them.

I’m talking about stretch marks. Which I unaffectionately referred to as “those.”

I was in seventh grade when “those” appeared on my calves; it was as if they came out of nowhere. One day nothing, and the next, a mess. I didn’t know what to do or how to get rid of them. I just knew those stretch marks were ugly, horrible, and made me stand out. The thought of those lines on my calves made me feel marked and altered like I’d done something wrong to my body. I couldn’t understand why I got them when most of the other girls in my seventh grade class didn’t have any…that I knew of. The only thing I did know was that I didn’t want to get made fun of for being different.
And the fact that I was at the age when girls were starting to shave their legs (my mom wouldn’t let me), I knew I couldn’t let anyone at my school see my hairy, stretch mark tarnished legs. So I chose to wear pants every day. It was the only way to keep myself out of the line of fire while at school.
Love Your Lines 11
Photo Credit: #LoveYourLines, Instagram
From seventh grade on, I never wore shorts– only in the privacy of my own home. Even when I got to high school and was issued shorts for P.E., I still didn’t put them on. Thankfully, we had the option to wear sweat pants instead of our gym shorts. If not, I’m sure I would have ditched P.E. as often as possible.
I continued to keep my legs and “those” covered well into high school. While other girls would wear shorts without thinking twice about it, I was secretly wishing I could do the same. This would lead to internal battles with myself about whether or not I could handle the ridicule that would come at exposing myself. But I never allowed myself to give in. “Pants for life” was my motto.

Growing up in Southern California, with excellent-sometimes hot weather, the one thing I was trying to avoid happened. While I was trying to avoid being an outcast and teased for having “those,” I was being talked about for always being covered up–even on hot days. In eleventh grade, I remember hearing an acquaintance say, “Tamika always dresses like it’s winter.” I thought to myself, if their commenting about me always wearing pants, their sure to comment on my stretch marks.”

Read More: HERE

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Reflections

Every year I write a reflection blog post about the things I experienced or about the main lesson I learned throughout the year. 2014 was all about living my life to the fullest and living in the moment. And I know for a fact I tried my hardest to do both this year.

2015’s lesson: “Love Yourz”. This lesson was brought to me by none other than my fave rapper, J. Cole. With the release of his December 2014 album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole dropped one single gem on me; a gem I’ve needed to hear my entire life.

Ever since I can remember I have always imagined how much better my life would be if I was a different person. As a child I would fantasize about how cool I would be if I had a different name and looked “Latina.” In high school I would visualize myself having a bunch of fancy clothes and somehow equated that with having a better, much cooler life. I used to always look at my life as boring and stale. The crazy thing is I felt this way despite my friends/peers constantly wishing for the brand new car I drove at age 16, the large family I have, and the attractive culture I come from. But that was never enough for me. I always wanted more.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Standing On My Own

I moved the arrow on my computer screen over the “send” option and paused. Will my fellow Afro-Latinas like this? Am I representing myself, my culture, and them in a positive way? Is this even a good idea? At the very last minute doubt crept in, and it was strong. But at that point the thing I’d been working on for two weeks straight (bouncing ideas off of friends, finalizing the header, researching women to feature, compiling article links) had to go out. There was no reason it shouldn’t. It was done, it was ready, I sent it.

“Doubt can only be removed by action.”

The idea to start Es Mi Cultura -a monthly newsletter that spreads awareness of the wonderful contributions Afro-Latinas are making to further advance our presence- randomly came out of nowhere. I had been wanting to start a newsletter all year, but had no idea what purpose it would serve. But now when I think about it, the idea specifically for Es Mi Cultura came to me at the right time; which is why it was perfectly launched during Latino Heritage Month.

The doubt I experienced on launch day was also felt in the days and weeks leading up. My feelings were very up and down. The ups were the excitement of producing something with information I am passionate about. The downs came in the form of self-doubt, at the hands of social media.

Friday, December 18, 2015


It’s fall now, so when I leave my apt I have to remember to grab a jacket. I walk down the stairs to the lobby of my building and pass the young children playing ball in the hallway. As I approach the door to exit, I hold it open for an elderly lady who is coming in. She passes me and says, “Gracias, Mi Amor.” I smile at her. And I smile because I am home.

Home, literally. But more importantly, home in the figurative sense. Although I have only lived in my upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights for a year now; I am comfortable and this is home. California will always be my home too. That is where my family is, it’s where my heart is. It’s where I was made. 

But NYC is where I became alive, it’s where I started living. And my Washington Heights neighborhood is where I belong.

I walk up Broadway and feel comfort, I’m amongst my people. The old man who sits on his stoop and hollers out to his friends in Spanish; he reminds me of my Abuelo Victor who does the same from the porch of his house in Panamá. The woman who owns the Bodega and recognizes me, she calls me, Mami. The Coquito lady and her cart are still stationed in the same place she’s been all summer. A few months ago, for a dollar she would hand me a small cup filled with memories of the many Raspados I had as a child. Now she hands customers a steaming hot drink to combat the chilly weather.

It’s the blonde haired Dominican woman, Gloria, who waves and smiles as I pass by her hair salon. She doesn’t know English and my Spanish is sketchy but she always knows exactly what to do with my hair. Our lack of communication reminds me of my cousins in Panamá, who I also just smile and nod at. It’s the women in the nail shop, with heads full of pink rollos, who remind me of Ma and my Tías. The fellas laughing in front the nearby barber shop remind me of my brother. 

Read More: HERE