Why I feel called to be a filmmaker

I first discovered the wonderful world of cinema when I was 11 years old. I mean, I had always enjoyed movies, but it was not until that particular year that I started to realize I no longer had a choice in the matter – I had to be a filmmaker.

In retrospect, I see that I had many filmmakers’ symptoms even before I knew what they were. For instance: when I was introduced to E.T. at age eight, I spent the next months relentlessly searching for a flashlight that could create the same kinds of light beams I had seen in the movie. I even went as far as putting ‘flashlights’ all over my wish list for both my birthday and Christmas – not knowing that those beautiful cinematic beams were caused by the haze in the air, and not the flashlight itself. That was the beginning of my film-nerding phase.


Screenshot from E.T. Dreamworks 1982. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

But this story does not really start there. I am not writing this because of a fascination for “Spielbergian” cinematography, or because I saw one single film and decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. No, I am writing this to share the story of the months that changed my life, and slowly made me discover a passion that goes far beyond light beams and flashlights.

It all began when I was ten, and one morning woke up with terrible stomach pain. To make a long story short: the doctors found three cystic tumors on my liver, and as my health was quickly deteriorating I was and sent to a hospital in a city three hours away for treatment. You can read the whole story here: “The tumors that changed my life”.

During this time, movies became a way for me to escape, and they allowed me–even for just a moment–to forget about the cold liquids that entered my veins through the IV standing next to my bed. I let Charlie take me to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, I saw Ms. Trunchbull hammer-throw little girls by their ponytails in Matilda, and I witnessed Pippi Longstocking’s superpowers with the same excitement I had seen Elliott’s bike fly across the full-moon in E.T. a few years earlier.

The thrill of seeing the young characters overcome their struggles, explore the unknown and stun the world with their abilities made me hungry for more. Despite their young age, they had already experienced severe adversity, but that did not in any way lessen their success. I wanted to be one of them, and I wanted to tell stories like theirs – stories to encourage and inspire.

 

In the years that followed, my family faced a number of challenges because of my mother’s health, but together with our mutual faith, movies have always been something that united us. It is that time of the week when we are all together, we forget about tomorrow and we sweep through several movies back to back. It is our thing. And it is great.

More than a decade has passed, but my goal is still the same: I want to make films that make people feel what I felt when I was first introduced to Matilda and Charlie, and I strive to make people feel what they only experience in their dreams, or when they look back at their past. That does not mean I only want to make those glossy, orange-filtered music video-looking films that remind people of their glorious youth. No, I want to make films that can inspire people to expand their own horizon, help them see beyond where they are and what they have, and encourage them to believe in something bigger.

As an adult, I see that it was not Matilda, Charlie, Pippi, or Elliott themselves that inspired me – it was their stories; they were ordinary people on extraordinary journeys.

I may never invent anything that will have a universal impact on people, but I want to use my talents to tell stories, and let them speak for themselves, something I think is more important than ever. Not just for entertainment purposes, but because, in my opinion, film is one of the mediums that still possess the power to truly influence people.

So what about the things I said in the introduction, about not having a choice in the matter, and that I had to be a filmmaker? Well, that is how I feel, even if at this point do not have the financial resources to go to film school. I guess some people feel called to be doctors, carpenters, lawyers, priests and teachers, while others are called to make films. I have many times wished I were not so ridiculously passionate about it, because it is certainly not the most secure or financially rewarding job, at least not to begin with, but I am determined to do everything I possibly can to tell those stories that are just waiting to be told on the screen.

Maria Lavelle

Photo: Naras Prameswari.

It’s been a week since I got accepted to the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and like I mentioned in my last post “Mysterious Ways,” people have reached out and suggested ways to come up with the money. So, after a lot of debating with myself and a lot of “peer pressure,” I have now stepped way outside my comfort zone and started a GoFundMe profile. 

https://www.gofundme.com/nyu-tisch-maria-lavelle

It’s really uncomfortable putting myself out there like that, because this time around I’m not doing it on behalf of the homeless community or anyone else. I also keep thinking that having a roof over your head, food on the table and a basic education is a right we should fight for, while going to film school is not a human right — it’s a privilege.

But for me, it is about embracing an opportunity that will allow me to tell more of those important stories. I want to change lives with my work, and I believe NYU can help me on my way.

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