To Call It Home
Kristal Sotomayor ’17 brings "the tradition of Bryn Mawr fearlessness" to her filmmaking.
Kristal Sotomayor ’17 was living her dream this spring when her film, To My Motherland, screened at the Kurzfilmfestival in Germany. Her exploration of identity and the meaning of home appeared in a curated program of 11 films about belonging and acceptance. Her film has also had showings at the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival, Rough Cut Film Festival, and Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival, and was shortlisted for the Independent Women Films at The Lost Format Society in London.
How did you become interested in filmmaking?
I was going to be a pre-med biochemistry major. After taking both chemistry and biology my first year, I decided that it wasn’t really for me. Instead, I became a comparative literature major because it allowed me to investigate the intersections of my Latina identity, and the Spanish and English languages.
I was pretty lost after abandoning the pre-med track, so I decided to take different courses to see what interested me. That’s when I took Video Production I. Film. I’ve always been in love with writing and was going to be a creative writing minor, but film as a form of art allowed me to best express my ideas and experiences. From there, I just dove in!
Were there other classes that inspired your filmmaking?
The class that really got me started with my love for film is Homay King’s History of Narrative Cinema. Professor King is so knowledgeable, and this course is an amazing introduction to film theory and different global film movements. My favorite film from the class was Chungking Express directed by Wong Kar Wai, a film that is so beautiful and amazing!
What filmmakers do you particularly admire?
This is such a difficult question! It’s a pretty varied list: Wong Kar Wai, Andrei Tarkovsky, Barry Jenkins, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Cecilia Aldarondo, Sam Pollard, Sabaah Folayan, and John Waters.
Your film, To My Motherland, has been accepted at four film festivals and nominated as best experimental film at the Rough Cut festival. Tell me a little about that film.
Film festivals describe it as personal essay, experiment, or documentary; for me, it’s about documenting, remembering, and bridging identities—it’s an exploration of my identity as a first-generation Latina women in the United States visiting my motherland for the first time. It’s bittersweet about both the beauty of a multicultural identity and the difficulty of negotiating borderlines.
It’s a very personal film that addresses language and translation and forging an identity.
As a Latina woman, I feel like I am constantly negotiating my Peruvian ancestry, the struggle to hold onto the Spanish language, and being American. What fascinates me is the intersection of different languages and cultures, the beautiful in-between space that blossoms in art.
My parents are immigrants from Peru, so I fundamentally think/believe in the need to build bridges between cultures, not walls. Being first-generation creates a disconnect between the world of your family and the society you live in, and my film is about trying to mediate the gap.
You use still photographs throughout the film. How did you decide on them as your framing device? And who are the people in them?
They are family pictures of my mother’s side of my family—many coming either from my grandparents’ or aunt’s house. I chose to use them because I had never seen many of the faces in the pictures.
In the black-and-white still with the passport photos, you’re seeing about four generations. The only color photo in that scene is of me from the U.S. when I was just born. What struck me when I visited family in Peru were all of the photos they had of my brother and me that my mom had mailed from the U.S.
What did you take from your experience at Bryn Mawr?
A sense of professionalism. As I start on my career, I’ve noticed that Bryn Mawr taught me to be eloquent and, especially as a woman of color, voice my opinions. Through my films, I am continuing the tradition of Bryn Mawr fearlessness, expressing my ideas while trying to contribute to the betterment of society.
You also took on a number of leadership roles at Bryn Mawr. Tell me about your involvement with the Film Series and the Filmmakers Association.
The Film Series Committee is an SGA-appointed group that screens films twice a week throughout the school year. I joined as a sophomore and became head as a junior. My personal contributions include starting special screenings with food, raffle prizes, and lots of fun and launching the filmseries.blogs.brynmawr.edu website. Plus, I promoted films starring and directed by people from diverse backgrounds and, working with the Asian Students Association, organized a group to volunteer at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival.
Senior year, I founded the Filmmakers Association, which unites student filmmakers, provides workshops, and organizes a 48-Hour Film Competition and Festival. My co-president Kellie Dinh ’19, who I met while taking Video Production I, and I ran a successful 48 Hour Festival with a total of six Bi-Co student filmmakers.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a documentary on chifa—Peruvian Chinese food—that began last summer when I went to Peru as a Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Research Fellow. I was in Lima for two months, researching, networking, and scouting locations to film interviews with Chinatown chefs and restaurant owners. My research, which examined the history and importance of chifa, was presented at the University of Pennsylvania Honors Diversity (Ph.D.) Symposium in the fall 0f 2016.
Plus, this summer, I attended the Flaherty Film Festival on a Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities fellowship from Haverford. The Flaherty Seminar is the oldest documentary film festival in North America, and this year’s theme is Future Remains.
What are your plans for the future?
Currently, I am interning with POV, the documentary film series on PBS, editing together interviews with filmmakers accepted into the series. I am also a film scholar fellow with Scribe Video Center, co-sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the fellowship, I am learning how to create a documentary film from funding to post-production and will be making another short soon.
I hope to find a job in film or in media creating videos—and also get into a grad school film program. Fingers crossed!