Welcome back to #100DaysofWomeninFilm. For day 8/100 I would like to put the spotlight on New York based filmmaker Veena Rao, a master of documentary shorts.
I first became acquainted with Veena a few years ago, as I was invited by my friends Mike Ambs and Erica Hampton to join the filmmaker collective The Bureau of Creative Works. Veena was also a member. Fast-forward a few years, I had the pleasure of working with Veena on a short film commissioned by Lottie Dolls for their Inspired by Real Kids campaign. I worked as producer and editor and hired Veena to be the cinematographer for one of the episodes; since then, Veena has become a friend.
I’m in awe of Veena’s talent as a filmmaker. What I love the most about her documentary shorts is that she elevates what most people might think as ordinary… and turns them into something magical, filling the viewers with a sense of wonder.
Veena’s filmmaking style makes me think of cinéma d’auteur: all of her films have an innovative, coherent, singular style – from the cinematography, to the storytelling, editing and sound design.
If you have an hour of free time today, I would recommend skipping Netflix and watching instead Veena’s documentary shorts, which are all available on her website. Rebuilding in Miniature is the portrait of Ali Alamedy, a displaced Iraqi artist who creates intricately detailed dioramas of places he has imagined but has never been. The Honeys and Bears makes you discover a synchronized swim team from Harlem, New York, made up of seniors 55 years and over. Mumbai Mornings tells the story of a gold polisher who becomes an ultramarathon runner.
Veena’s films have screened at festivals around the world, they’ve been featured by the New York Times Op-Docs, the Atlantic, National Geographic (just to name a few) and in 2017 Vimeo selected Veena as one of “10 groundbreaking women in film to watch.”
Without further ado, here is a Q&A I did recently with filmmaker Veena Rao:
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about the projects/work you’re most proud of?
I’m a filmmaker based in NYC. I love making portraits and finding a way to reveal the extraordinary in the everyday. I have a soft spot for one of the first films I made in college – Mrs. Henderson’s Kids, which was about my second grade teacher and her collection of over 2,000 dolls. I loved reconnecting with her after all those years and exploring ideas about girlhood, motherhood, and old age with her through her collection.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I started in photography because I loved the story a single image can tell and loved watching images magically appear in the darkroom. When I was introduced to film during a class my freshman year of college, I quickly became fascinated with the possibility of film and exploring storytelling through it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Trust and believe in yourself and your voice. Also, know that filmmaking is a collaboration, so seek out people whose work you admire and start making things!
Who is the woman in film who inspires you the most? Why?
I really admire the late Agnès Varda – she was a true artist who embraced her curiosity and used the medium of film to tell stories full of wonder, beauty, playfulness and compassion. I think her filmmaking marries form and content in a beautiful way, and love that her work spans fiction and documentary filmmaking, as well as photography and installation.
What are your favorite films by women directors that you’ve watched recently?
I recently saw a beautiful short film called Mizuko by Kira Dane and Katelyn Rebelo, which I loved.
What can we do to watch / support your work?
My completed work can be seen on my website. I have a few projects in the works and and hope to have something new to share soon.
- Veena Rao’s website: www.veenarao.com
So far #100DaysofWomeninFilm has featured:
- 1/100: film director Elvira Notari (Italy’s first female director)
- 2/100: American cinematographer Kira Kelly (13th, Queen Sugar, Self Made)
- 3/100: film editor Margaret Booth (the first person in the history of cinema to be named “film editor”)
- 4/100: filmmaker Madeline Anderson (the first African American female documentarian)
- 5/100: film critic Iris Brey (author of the book The Female Gaze)
- 6/100: trailblazing director Ida Lupino
- 7/100: film director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, The Invitation, Destroyer)
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