As the fall semester at USC cranks back into gear, I am once again surrounded by talented, driven, and creative students who inspire me to work harder. The transition from the lazy days of summer in Rhode Island to the hectic fall semester is always a balancing act, but in Los Angeles, a filmmaking mindset is an easy one to fall into. This city was built for movies after all. This past week I have been working on an academic essay about my experience in Tanzania. In March 2015, I was awarded the USC Africa Student Fund Scholarship in support of the film. I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the benefactors who made this scholarship available to students, and allowed me to have such a positive and impactful learning experience. Upon return from my trip I was asked to submit a five page essay detailing the value of my time in Africa. Hands down, it has been the easiest essay I have ever had to write during my time at USC thus far. I wanted to share with you a condensed version below. Enjoy!
My crew and I spent almost three weeks in Tanzania, stayed in 8 different hotels, and saw many different towns, villages, and cities. Every day was challenging, every day was new, and I quickly realized how hard it was going to be to balance my needs as a producer and director, my needs as a traveler, and my needs as a human. I felt myself being pulled in every direction: wanting to stop and smell the roses, wanting to analyze things from a development perspective, wanting to take in the sheer beauty of the country, and also wanting to always be ready to capture an unplanned moment on film. However after a few days, I realized that it wasn’t so black and white. As we got to know these women and spent more time with them I realized I had an unbelievable advantage as a filmmaker. First, we had unprecedented access into the lives of these three gracious, inspiring, and honest women because we were able to form a relationship built on trust and openness. Second, I was taking in the country, culture, and environment through an actual lens which allowed me to break down what I was seeing and process it slowly and with care. Finally, I had a purpose; a way of giving back with the skills I actually possessed. I wasn’t building houses (I am no handyman), I wasn’t organizing communities (I'm no development professional), I was a storyteller making a non-profit film that would directly aid these women and their communities, and indirectly inspire, raise awareness, and open the minds of my peers to those worlds away. And I was doing it by simply listening with an open mind. Of course, I made total rookie mistakes; conducted awkward interviews, missed a social or cultural cue, or ruined a moment by interrupting or talking too soon. But I learned and corrected myself throughout the trip. I grew as a filmmaker and as a person. And as I am learning, the two are not so separate.
Astridah, Margaret, and Crispina’s stories need to be told. These women have inspired me more than I have ever thought possible and I am so excited to share that with others for the rest of my life. Stories make a difference. Sharing the challenges, successes, and everyday moments from the lives of these incredible leaders connects us and brings out the best in all of us. The true blessing is that I can be a filmmaker, tourist, and a student. I am not forced to choose. And it is the convergence of these things that make me a better human, and that is always the first step towards real change.