Tag Archives: Documentary Filmmaker

Producer Melina Tupa helps change lives stories in Frontline’s ‘Rape on the Night Shift’

Melina Tupa is more than a filmmaker, she takes her role and knows how many people she can affect with her work. She adds the responsibility of being a journalist, telling harsh and real stories that need to be told, and she shares them with the world. Her commitment to her craft is outstanding, and her talent is unparalleled.

With experience in both producing and journalism, Tupa has emerged as a formidable documentary filmmaker. Last year, her film The Search captivated audiences and critics alike, a trend she is well familiar with throughout her established career. Her work with networks like Turner Broadcasting and Nonstop TV have seen similar success. These accolades, however, are not important when she is doing what she loves.

“I wanted to be a producer to be involved in all the aspects of the film. It is the only position where you can connect with all the other team members of a production. I always liked working with diverse groups and being a producer meant I could learn other skills from other production areas fairly easy. It is also a position where you can have a real impact on the final product. The producer is the thread that unifies and solidifies all the pieces of a documentary,” said Tupa.

Bernardo Ruiz, a Director and fellow Producer, worked alongside Tupa on the feature documentary The Gatherers, which has been funded by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Sundance Documentary Institute. Ruiz was astounded by her talent, and is now looking at having her co-produce his upcoming feature documentary about California’s Napa Valley.

“Melina is an experienced and dedicated production staffer and researcher. She has an excellent reputation, having studied with some of the top documentary filmmakers in the business and I have gladly recommended her to other producers seeking top documentary talent. Not only does Melina have top tier formal training in journalism and documentary production, but she is also an experienced independent producer. Her ability to work on multiple fronts is a major asset to a production as are her language abilities, as she speaks, writes and can conduct research in at least three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese,” said Ruiz.

Tupa’s investigate reporting and producing talent was evident once again with her work on the critically-acclaimed film Rape on the Night Shift. The chilling documentary looks into allegations of sexual abuse of immigrant women working in the janitorial industry and how companies handle the problem.

“These women who worked at the janitorial service to support their families had been raped and the perpetrators had gotten away with it. It was very important that their stories were widely known and that there could be structural changes in the janitorial service so these atrocious acts would never happen again,” said Tupa.

With her trilingual abilities aiding her, Tupa was approached by a producer on the film to come on board the project, knowing that speaking Spanish was key. Most of the main characters and interviewees on this story spoke in Spanish and it was crucial that whoever came on board could understand them. Tupa also assisted in pre-editing interviews, transcribing, and translating interviews, and assisting on overall production tasks. As documentary units are usually small, every person’s contributions are key to the success of a project, and every task is essential. Tupa’s work was no exception.

“I always wanted to work for the Investigative Reporting Program since it’s one of the most important journalism centers in the United States and the world. When I found they were working on this project in particular I knew I wanted to be part of the team,” Tupa described.

Many of the victims were undocumented immigrants, and they thought they had no rights because of this. However, once the documentary aired, the powerful story not only helped changed the lives of the victims that were interviewed, but the lives of thousands, as California law was changed to protect janitors like them from sexual violence and abuse on the job. The bill was inspired by the documentary, and Tupa could not be prouder of the part she played in impacting the lives of so many women.

“This was a very important story to tell. There were a lot of women suffering and these women never had an outlet to tell their stories before. So, I knew this documentary was going to be important and, in fact, after it aired it led to change in policy in the janitorial service,” said Tupa

The film premiered on June 23, 2015. It aired on PBS Frontline. You can also watch Rape on the Night Shift here.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

Writer Sarah Stunt tells inspiring and impactful story in award-winning film ‘Girl Unbound’

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Actress/writer Sarah Stunt, photos by Alexis Dickey

Growing up, Sarah Stunt always loved stories. The Toronto native was always a big reader, reading her first novel, Little Women, at just nine years old. She loved the history and romantic setting, drawing her to the visual, and she was immediately taken by the characters, seeing herself in the passionate and independent writer Jo March. At the time, the only way she could describe the feelings the book gave her was on paper. It was something that changed her life. Now, her talent communicating through the written word, and that passion that started at just nine-years-old, has propelled Stunt’s career, and she is recognized around the world as an outstanding writer.

 

Stunt’s work has impressed international audiences for many years, but it was writing the impactful documentary Girl Unbound that she considers the highlight of her career. The film is about an exceptionally brave girl living in Waziristan, Pakistan, “one of the most dangerous places on earth.” Maria Toorpakai defies the Taliban, disguising herself as a boy, so she can play sports freely, something the Taliban strictly prohibits girls from doing. However, when she becomes a rising squash star, her true identity is revealed.

“I love working on documentaries as a writer. It’s always a long-term, nurturing relationship that changes and grows as time goes on. The lives of the characters are real. You don’t have to envision the conflicts, the inciting incidents or arcs, they evolve naturally on their own. Being able to capture it on the page is where the magic before the magic takes place, because in a matter of pages, your essence of the film presents itself and sets the stage moving forward. Being able to create some sort of affect, as the subject matter is usually from a human-interest point-of-view, is always the greatest outcome. You learn to champion your characters and unlike fiction, their stories continue to evolve after production is complete. It has a long-lasting affect,” said Stunt.

As the film’s writer, Sarah worked closely with the Producer, Cassandra Sanford-Rosenthal, to develop the film’s basic concept, and from those initial ideas, she wrote the film’s script. Rosenthal says without Stunt, the film could never have been possible.

“Sarah is an exquisite writer whose skill and talent for her craft is obvious. Girl Unbound could not have been made without her guidance and her amazing abilities. The fantastic record of success the film had could not have been achieved if not for Sarah’s prodigious talents,” said Sanford-Rosenthal.

After being asked to premiere at the world-renowned Toronto International Film Festival last year, Girl Unbound received rave reviews from such top industry publications as The Hollywood Reporter and screened at more major international film festivals such as the DOC NYC (where the film was nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize), Cleveland International Film Festival (where the film was nominated for Best Documentary), Athena Film Festival, and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

“I am so proud that the film has done so well. So much work, dedication and time went into the making of this film. With all the ups and down, everything from capturing the characters and their lives to the struggles of filmmaking in general, the final film is beautiful and powerful and executed in a way that will continue to generate a conversation after the film has been screened. This, in my opinion, is the true purpose of documentary film,” said Stunt.

With experience in writing for documentary, which for obvious reasons does not have scripted lines but requires a strict outline, Stunt was asked to join the film. The filmmakers knew they needed an experienced and skilled writer to properly tell such an important and captivating story. Originally, Stunt came to work on the film for a short time, but ended up as the lead writer, watching over the process from start to finish.

“The messaging is inspiring. The themes are varied with a focus on human rights, girls in sport, the right to education, and identity, but the courage of this one girl and the support of her family to use their platforms to inspire and make change is why it’s so important. Our main subject Maria is a force to be reckoned with, and if she can win and continue to do so, then it spreads the message of hope for others to do the same,” said Stunt. “The story was so strong and ever evolving. It took a lot of risk, courage and strength for all involved to actualize the final product and it inspired me to do my part as a writer, even though I wasn’t on the ‘frontlines’ of it all.”

In a world with a growing stereotype towards the Middle East, the story of Girl Unbound is of increasing importance. For Stunt, working on the film was not about the many awards and recognition both she and the film received, but about educating the viewers and inspiring audiences through Maria’s story.

“I loved working on this project. It took on many lives but the story that is out is the one that needs to be told. It has so much heart and invites viewers into a world that is both complicated and beautiful. It expels Western notions of Pakistan, sheds light on the lives of many but especially women and children and challenges old world notions that this generation of youths are trying to identify with and evolve from,” she concluded.

Documentary Filmmaker Liliya Anisimova!

Director and TV Journalist Liliya Anisimova
         Director and TV Journalist Liliya Anisimova

Liliya Anisomova is a driven journalist who has always known what she wanted. As a young girl she would climb inside the cardboard box turned TV set, created by her grandparents, and drift away into her fantasy. For years she would play pretend, imagining herself as a news anchor; but she wouldn’t have to pretend much longer, as her ambition would soon make her dream a reality.

Even though she had been freelancing since the age of 13 it wasn’t until age 16 that Liliya kicked her goals into overdrive. Not one to wait around for things to come to her, Liliya moved from her hometown of Volgograd, Russia to Moscow to become a TV Journalist. Her forward thinking and direct approach has lead her to many opportunities. When she felt like she wasn’t getting the experience she needed she didn’t sit around feeling sorry for herself, she got up and did something about it.

When Liliya, a self confessed travel junkie, stumbled across the Russian Travel Guide one afternoon it was love at first site. After contacting RTG TV, she was a part of the team in less than 24 hours. Through her role at RTG, she was lucky enough to work with a range of talented directors, which planted the seed for her next move.

She says, “The more I was watching experienced directors working on documentaries for Russian Travel Guide the more I wanted to try it myself. I learned a lot while working there, but I knew it was time I did it myself.”

Watching directors work their magic sparked something within Liliya. She wanted to share her vision and help others share their stories; and, ever since she began her directing journey, she has continued to produce compelling documentaries.

She moved to New York soon after where she began directing her first documentary, Magic of the Underground. The film details the life of Steve, a generous New York Subway magician who not only got people to notice him, but also brought laughter to his audience. As this was her first documentary, Liliya learned a lot about the relationship between a director and their subject– something that would serve as an important lesson for all of her future film projects.

About working with Steve, Liliya explains, “He let me into his life. Sometimes it was even overwhelming, as he would call me in the middle of the night crying and complaining about depression, or other personal problems.”

Liliya’s more recent film Love is the Highest Law, which was released at the end of 2014, is just as touching, but this time she chose to take on the politically charged and controversial topic of gay rights in Russia. As an Official Selection of the Queer Film Festival, Liliya’s film screened at the University of Oregon where she was invited to talk about gay rights and her experience making the film.

Something that comes across in all of Liliya’s work is her incessant bravery. She is not afraid to be honest, share tough stories and speak up for what she believes in, characteristics that make all of her projects as informative as they are groundbreaking.