An open letter to the fellow filmmakers of the Dances with Films Festival 2022

Awards night of the Dances with Films Festival was a bit of a blur. Preparing for the “America’s Family” premiere had been a long haul; I was exhausted and not prepared for us to win both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award. I vaguely remember stumbling through my acknowledgement of the diversity and inclusion of the festival and saying that I had hoped we accurately represented the struggle of mixed status families fighting to stay together. What I remember much clearer, however, was looking around and seeing all of the festival filmmakers, a few of whom I knew, most of whom I didn’t, a few whose movies I had seen, most of whose I hadn’t. I remember realizing all at once that the most important people to speak to and recognize were the fellow filmmakers in the room with me that night, and that I was blowing the opportunity.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they say, and after thinking it over for months, what I wished I had said is below.


Fellow Filmmakers,

It is quite an honor to have “America’s Family” considered in line with your films. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I practically killed myself to make my movie, and I imagine so did you. We all pushed our ideas all the way up the hill to film fruition. We made movies without celebrity attachments and without enough resources or time. We did this regardless of having other more important and sane things to do and in spite of having to explain over and over again to people just why we were choosing to make a movie instead of building our lives in some kind of normal trajectory way. If I deserve this award then we all do.

While it is exciting, if also surprising, to win awards, and while I am grateful to have won, let’s face it, your film on a different day at a different festival with a different set of people could win and mine could lose. We know that the process of rating art is subjective at best if not an impossible task. It seems that what we’re really doing tonight is recognizing a few particular films, for whatever the reasons may be – and that’s it.

 Like you I have been designing posters and printing business cards, stuffing goody bags, racing to panels and workshops, wrangling a publicist, calling, texting, e-blasting, social media posting, calling-texting-e-blasting-social media posting, calling-texting-e-blasting-social media posting, anything and everything short of pleading for an audience to attend the premiere. Here is where I thank you for attending my screenings if you got there and also where I apologize if I missed yours. I wish I could have been more present to experience ALL of your visions and see your ideas unfold on screen because your ideas spark my ideas and this is something I’m going to need a lot more than awards down the line.  

 Meeting you has been my favorite part of this festival. Hearing you champion your cast or crew or about the best and cheapest way to make networking cards or learning what has been working for you and what hasn’t has been both tremendously meaningful and helpful. Sharing this space during this short time with you has meant that for a brief time I wasn’t alone battling the everyday isolation that comes with being the loony artist trying to make a living and realize a vision.  

 If you do win an award tonight congratulations. If you don’t, I hope you will forget about it as soon as you walk out the door. I imagine that winning means something, in that it is an exciting moment and the endorsement may or may not help with distribution, but who really knows where any of our films will end up or what the long term pay off will be? All we know for sure is that we have made good work, that we are becoming better artists and that we are continuing to find our audience. You know what they say about the Butterfly effect. I have to believe that our creative voice, however small it may be in this vast universe, has impact, if only that it is distinctly our own and cannot be replicated, not really anyway.

We also know that things are changing, as slowly as that change may be coming to pass. We just saw two white male award winning filmmakers hand me a woman of color filmmaker, accolades for a film made by a cast and crew of upwards of 90% people of color and immigrants. We all have our own barriers to face and implicit bias to struggle with. Tonight, well, you saw me turn a small corner through mine.

 I do want to acknowledge my incredibly hard-working and talented cast and crew, my remarkably flexible Executive producers, the CHIRLA staff and the Film Fest Mastery family. I also want to thank the festival staff and the juries both for acknowledging my work and for introducing me to you and your work. Thank you for anything and everything you may have gone through to take your film from seed to reality. Thank you for not giving up. This is a special moment in my life, however fleeting it may be, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share it with you. We have all earned the right to be here, to win, and we are here together.  Thank you for the inspiration, if nothing else to propel me forward to make the next one.


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