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

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