The non-profit organization New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) and City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley have joined together to present the films within Crowley’s districts. The project is a part of the city’s Cultural Immigrant Initiative which provides funding and cultural programming for the diverse immigrant populations across the five boroughs.
Crowley, who also serves as the co-Chair of the NYC Council Women’s Caucus, is proud to share the stories of the city’s diverse communities.
“New York City was built by immigrants and it continues to grow stronger thanks to their unique contributions,” Crowley said. “It is my hope that this film series will not only empower other immigrant women and filmmakers, but also challenge the perceptions of New Yorkers across our City.”
NYWIFT has done screening series before, but this particular series is focused on local issues that are usually overlooked.
“We’ve done one that was an international focus where we focused on different cultures,” Elizabeth Estrada, an executive assistant at NYWIFT and the series’ project manager, said. “But this is the first initiative that is focusing solely on immigrant women and their experience in New York City.”
The first film in the series, “Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor” by Zahida Pirani, will document the daily life of a Guatemalan street vendor, Judith, as she works along the city streets facing a number of challenges. But Judith also shows another side that may be unexpected. While she shares her aspirations and dreams for her family, Judith will also shed light on her role as an activist and community organizer.
Each of the short films in the series will feature the theme of activism. The next scheduled films, “Claiming Our Voice” by Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel and “Living Quecha” by Christine Mladic Janney are proof.
The two films will feature women who maintain a balance between living in their new lifestyles while still maintaining their cultural identities in one capacity or another. Whether they want their voices to be heard through establishing a theatrical performance or building a new community organization, their stories can be representative of thousands of current immigrant women.
The series will also get to showcase some first-generation female filmmakers. When NYWIFT decided to create this program, they sent out a call for submissions and naturally selected those that were empowering for women. Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel was one of the filmmakers chosen.
Samuel is a Sri Lankan-American photographer who has previously produced short films for UNICEF and PBS Frontline. Her work connects personal stories to larger themes such of identity, migration and movement.
Her film, “Claiming Our Voices,” shows the development of an organization founded and led by a group of South Asian, low-wage workers. The women work to support one another while also collectively organizing against exploitative work conditions.
And although many of the films are 20 minutes or less in length, Estrada still believes each one acts as a snapshot that will still have an impact on the audience.
“I feel like the filmmakers did a really great job at capturing the essence of these women, whether it’s the work that they do or the kind of struggles that they are experiencing, such as trying to keep their cultures alive or trying to work through some past issues like domestic violence,” Estrada said. “I think that it might have been a challenge but they did a great job at encompassing what these women go through and what their experiences are."
And even though it’s only 20 minutes, it’s a snapshot into what their lives are like.”
Even though the films will be shown in a few neighborhoods, it is still applicable to many Queens residents. Estrada wants the audience to understand what it is like to specifically be a woman and an immigrant in this city. And she knows that there are thousands of stories that are still untold.
“I hope they’re also able to see how powerful it is to use the medium of film to tell a story,” she said. “And I hope it will inspire them to tell their own story.”
“Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor” will be shown on Friday, Feb. 27 in Maspeth Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. There will be a Q&A session with the filmmakers following the film.