This week we find ourselves inspired by Mikaela Shwer, award winning filmmaker and director.
It takes an incredible filmmaker to share the stories that need to be told, and that’s what Mikaela Shwer does. In 2016, she made her feature directorial debut, Don’t Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie). Showcasing the struggle of undocumented persons in the U.S., Don’t tell anyone follows the journey of Angy Rivera, one such person. From her life in Columbia, to the abuse she suffered while finding her way in a new country, the film follows Angy’s journey to becoming the leader of a national movement to improve the lives of people like her.
Don’t Tell Anyone aired on PBS/POV in the fall of 2015 and was supported by ITVS, Latino Public Broadcasting, POV, and the Fledgling Fund. Shwer’s work on the film earned her the George Foster Peabody Award.
Don’t Tell Anyone will be screened as a part of the JAYU 2016 Human Rights Film Film Festival, along with some of the best and most compelling films dealing with issues such as immigration, women’s rights, homelessness, the refugee experience, mental health and LGBT rights. The festival takes place this weekend (December 9th to 11th) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in downtown Toronto.
Get inspired and read Mikaela Shwer’s answers below!
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
I studied media arts and journalism in college, but really only started to work in the documentary world many years later when I moved to New York. I worked as a documentary editor for many years before I saw an article about the incredible work Angy was doing with the New York State Youth Leadership Council, including her online advice column for undocumented youth, Ask Angy. Reading about her story was the first time I decided to really step behind the camera as a director. I learned many lessons along the way and had a great team helping me along the way and now I’m currently directing two new documentary projects while still editing.
What is your WHY? (The reason why you do the work you do)
I feel so fortunate to be working in documentary film because I love what I do every day and I learn from each person I meet. I’ve always loved working in documentaries, even while working as an editor. However, now as a director I am driven to tell character-driven stories to help inspire and affect an audience who may not know much about the issue I am covering. My hope is that someone will watch Don’t Tell Anyone and connect with Angy, her family, and her community even if they have never had an experience with the undocumented community. By making the political personal, we hope to inspire and educate both those within and outside of the community.
What are some of the successes (big or small) you’ve had?
We have had the incredible opportunity to broadcast nationally on PBS/POV. Getting the film out to a large community over a public broadcast meant we could reach a large audience around the country with no cost to the viewer. We are also thrilled to be playing at universities and to students nationwide through Women Make Movies to better unite students at a critical time in our national politics. And we are so proud to have been honored with the George Foster Peabody Award in 2016.
What’s piece of advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do, or trying to follow their own dreams?
To anyone looking to make documentaries, I would say to stick with it and go with your gut. Making a film or following your passion generally takes dedication and perseverance – it’s an absolute rollercoaster of an experience with some highs, but many lows, and finding the right way for you to continue moving forward to get you to the finish line is important. Also, seek advice! I learned an incredible amount from the community of filmmakers and mentors around me.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
Don’t tell anyone opens the JAYU Film Festival tonight at 6pm. Details can be found here.