Auntyland Film Festival's founder and director Sylvia Wong Lewis on flipping the script
January 3, 2022
The new Auntyland Film Festival (AFF) is accepting short-length indie films by and for women and BIPOC artists for its inaugural film festival now through January 30, 2022. The film festival touts itself as the only film festival that "embraces mature women filmmakers and artists of diverse cultures and backgrounds."
The vision for AFF, according to its founder and director Sylvia Wong Lewis, is to establish a legacy by joining older generations with the next future generation.
"My purpose is to tell stories through the lens of my mixed-ethnic/multicultural ancestry and culture," she says. "Stories can help people and Mother Earth to heal. Our films and stories are cultural footprints that can outlive us and influence society for positive change."
Wong Lewis says she created AFF while sitting in her roof garden during quarantine.
"The endless time thinking, meditating, watching bees, butterflies, berries, veggies, moved me to channel my ancestral stories and [those] of my friends and colleagues spiritually, cosmically; most of those stories are unwritten. I began to visualize the stories in my head."
Wong Lewis worked for over 30 years as a journalist, artist and chef, before becoming a filmmaker at 60 years old. A phone call from a teenage girl inspired her film career. "[She said] 'Hi, I’m your niece. I lived in foster care all of my life. Can you tell me who I am? Where do I come from? What were my grandparents like?' Her questions touched my heart. I tried to explain our crazy (im)migrant mixed-racial, multicultural family. The real answers to her questions led me to create a short, award-winning film called From Shanghai to Harlem."
The film, along with her two "badass" grandmothers — one a Black Creole from Mississippi and the other a Chinese-Trinidadian — would further inspire not only Wong Lewis's filmmaking and storytelling, but also the impetus for AFF.
"I believe that indie film fests like AFF can help to decolonize biased mindsets in the mainstream industry," she says. "We only need exposure and access. We have millions of stories and creative content. The digital landscape has made it possible for breakthroughs. The current way is not sustainable. Many indie filmmakers, actors and screenwriters, programmers, and curators see another path. I certainly do. AFF is taking a path to embrace and encourage cultural authenticity. I’m hoping that short films will show the way to healing the world, and making positive changes in society."
As for why showcasing stories featuring and by women who are 50+, Wong Lewis says audiences and the storytellers "need to envision life beyond the mountain top" in our youth-obsessed culture.
"Contrary to what people think, mature women and BIPOC enjoy very juicy, spicy and interesting lives. It’s about time that we see films about it."
Wong Lewis says it's only at age 50 and beyond when women realize their superpowers to change the narrative.
"We can see through the patriarchal false scripts. We need to tell, write and show our stories in literature and film that tell the full sweep of womanhood and BIPOC life," she says. "We are all born artists. But our artist souls got smashed down by life. By the time we mature, we become courageous again to revive our artistry, recover and re-discover the artist inside all of us. Who decides that you are an artist? Do you allow others to define you? This is a reminder memo: Only you can decide and define yourself."
According to Wong Lewis, an ‘aunty’ film has an "attitude."
"It’s bold, fierce, authentic, interesting and excellent. The best, real aunties tell you: 'Do you. Be you. Listen to your heart. Go with your gut feelings.' That’s some serious aunty realness."
She cites Ududeagu by Akwaeke Emezi, Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box by Michelle Parkerson, and The Maids by Muriel Jackson as examples of the type of "aunty" films she hopes to tell at AFF.
Wong Lewis says AFF is choosing to focus on short, online films and web series because "indie artists can bring more of their stories to life and share with large digital audiences on a small budget, with quick turnaround, and more control."
The film festival was envisioned with a hybrid format with a Tribeca in-person venue and digital format but is now currently totally digital for health safety reasons due to COVID-19.
AFF is accepting submissions until January 30, 2022, and is tagged to Women’s History Month next March 2022 and International Women’s Day on March 8.
Wong Lewis adds they welcome short films about any topic, "not just those about aunties." Projects will be judged by diverse, multi-ethnic, multicultural and film professionals, and prizes and awards and multimedia exposures will be given to the winners.
At now almost 70 years of age, Wong Lewis says she's ready to flip the script.
"I am a seasoned woman of color who lives a daily, triple-whammy of sexism, racism, and ageism in many aspects of my life. It’s time for directors like me to greenlight decisions about what stories get to be told."
Submit your films today: https://filmfreeway.com/AuntylandFilmFest
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan
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