Kristal Sotomayor '17 was a comparative literature major with a minor in film studies at Bryn Mawr. Kristal is now a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and festival programmer based in Philadelphia. Kristal has been named a 2020 International Documentary Association Magazine Editorial Fellow. Kristal is in post-production on "Expanding Sanctuary," an independent short documentary about the historic end to police surveillance organized by nonprofit Juntos and the Latinx immigrant community in South Philadelphia.
Kristal recently returned to campus as part of the Career & Civic Engagement Office’s Alumnae/i in Residence program (note: this program will be held virtually for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester).
In the below Q&A, Kristal talks about how she was able to learn film making at Bryn Mawr, preparing for a career in the arts, taking advantage of the resources available on campus, and more.
How did you get involved in your current field?
Professor Homay King’s History of Narrative Cinema class was my first introduction into film. After taking that course, I was interested in film theory and video making. At Bryn Mawr, there aren’t many hands-on video production opportunities but I was able to create opportunities out of the existing systems. For example, I was a Hanna Holborn Gray Research Fellow studying chifa, Chinese Peruvian food, in Lima, Peru. During that fellowship, I bought a camera and filmed interviews with chefs and food studies scholars. My senior year, I made my thesis short film "To My Motherland," about my experiences being first generation Latinx. That film ended up being accepted into the Backup Film Festival at Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany. I received funding to attend the festival through the help of my professors and staff members. For two years, I was also the head of the Film Series Committee and co-programmed weekly film screenings on campus. The Committee informed my interest in film curation and I ended up volunteering at the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF) my junior and senior year. All of these different experiences at Bryn Mawr have shaped my involvement as an independent documentary filmmaker and as the Programming Director of PHLAFF.
What part of your Bryn Mawr experience has been most important to your professional development?
Attending Bryn Mawr taught me to be self-sufficient and “shoot my shot” when it comes to making your own dreams or opportunities come true. There are so many resources available at Bryn Mawr that are not available at other institutions. I mentor film students from many different Philadelphia-area colleges and universities so I know that many of the funding resources at Bryn Mawr are not available everywhere. Particularly, the Hanna Holborn Gray Research Fellowship and the Career & Professional Development Office’s internship support are unique. I took advantage of a lot of the resources at Bryn Mawr and started my own clubs or found my own funding opportunities if it wasn’t already available. The ability to network and build connections to support your work is a very important skill in filmmaking.
What career advice do you have for current Bryn Mawr students?
My number one piece of advice for all college students is to save enough money to support yourself for a few months post-graduation. For a lot of recent grads, particularly those in the arts, finding a job after undergrad is very difficult. Myself, as well as many of my friends, graduated without jobs and it took several months of applying to find a decently paying job.
Another piece of advice would be to only accept jobs, internships, and work-experience opportunities that will help you in your chosen field. It is very easy to find an unpaid internship but there needs to be some form of compensation that you receive, such as key connections and networks, a strong industry reference, a job referral, etc. Don’t take the first thing that comes to you. Pick the opportunities that will help you advance your career and interests. Follow your intuition when it comes to gigs or low-paid opportunities. Not all opportunities are right for you or will end up benefiting you.
What made you choose to attend Bryn Mawr?
I chose to attend Bryn Mawr because I wanted to be academically challenged in an open, accepting environment. Having gone to high school in rural Western Pennsylvania, I wanted a change of scene and the opportunity to define myself and my curriculum. I’m very proud to have graduated from Bryn Mawr and wouldn’t trade that experience!