I left you hanging a little longer than I would have wanted after my previous post, but so many small details had to be put into place before I could share the big news. Now, however, it’s time!
I apologize to the few individuals who already know about this but started expecting some other big news after reading my last entry. If I already told you it means you’re a part of my inner circle, so try to see that as something nice.
If you’ve read the blog regularly, you probably know that the three letters N-Y-U have been the source of a lot of excitement—and despair—for me over the past few months. You may remember my post, “So very bittersweet,” about how I got accepted to the graduate film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and about how I was $30,000 short and couldn’t go. I was heartbroken, but I told God that I wanted to walk on His path, with or without NYU. I let it go, right there in that moment and chose to trust His ways, while I started looking at other—and more affordable—ways to fullfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker.
But then, some things happened behind the scenes, and I wrote the follow-up, “Mysterious Ways,” where I shared that I was suddenly just $15,000 short. Changes in the budget and several donations from family, friends and strangers made the whole thing seem a little less impossible — but still not quite within reach.
In the weeks that followed, I was asked to do a number of interviews with the media, and I told all the reporters that “Yes, I’m going to NYU, and I look forward to starting my studies there in the fall.” When I didn’t say anything on the blog, some of you probably thought “oh, she must have found a way to pay for it then.”
At that point I had only told a few people about my secret because I wanted to wait for all the paperwork to to be completed. But now I can finally write the words:
Thanks to God’s amazing grace, my family’s support and the tremendous generosity of Mary Hart and Burt Sugarman, I now have the money I need to attend the first year at NYU!
I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m still blown away, and I realize that this sounds like one of those stories you only see in the movies: “Foreign girl without financial resources gets accepted to prestigious university, and a Hollywood-couple—whom she has never met—watches her zero-budget documentary and decides to give her the help she needs to fulfill her dream.”
This is the short version of the story, but the truth is that most of this happened without me knowing. My family did what they could to help me on my way, but when they couldn’t go any further and had to let it go, some people picked up that near-doused torch before the relay eventually ended up in Los Angeles where Mary and Burt ran the final leg of the race.
God surely works in mysterious ways.
I did not see this coming, and words cannot express how grateful I am. I laid down all my plans of going to NYU that day when I wrote the first post about it, but there was a way there all along. I just couldn’t see it on my own, and I needed help to run the distance. I don’t know how I’ll finance my 2nd and 3rd year in New York, but I believe there’s a way for that too.
I want to thank my family for doing everything in their power to help me make this happen, as well as my friends and the Augustana community for their support and encouraging words.
I want to use my talents to honor God, and I will do my absolute best to make sure these resources are well-spent.
Seven days of spring
Thanks for all your love and get-better-messages I’ve received since I told you about my hospital visit last week. You’re truly amazing <3
After a week of laying in bed, eating nothing but bread and baby servings of french fries I now feel much better. Several pounds lighter and a couple of shades paler, but better! Thank God.
It’s been a week of contrasts. When I started to feel sick last weekend, it was snowing and I was—like I mentioned in my previous post—freezing my butt off (mostly because of the fever, but still). And now, as I took on my first day back in the world, I had to deal with sunshine and 28°C (83°F). It felt like I had slept through a whole season! Which I probably did, in South Dakota terms. Spring must’ve been last week.
Oh, and before it fades too far into the past, I just want to share something fun! Right before the whole kidney thing I had the pleasure of attending a so-called “friend raiser” event with the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House (the homeless shelter where we shot “Over the Bridge”). I was honored just to be invited, and enjoyed the fact that I could see the gala venue at the Hilton downtown from the inside, but I had no idea what was awaiting me there.
In hindsight I see that I probably should have taken the hint, but oh well. I just remember thinking people were unusually welcoming, “but hey, these people run the biggest homeless shelter in the state — hospitality is their thing,” so I didn’t think twice about the fact that everyone knew my name or wanted to say hi.
Apparently I was “the guest of honor” — something that only became clear to me when I was asked to step onto the stage area in front of a 170 people crowd to receive a “Sincere Appreciation Award.” I did not see that coming, but I can’t express how much that particular award means to me. When Sarah and I started producing “Over the Bridge,” our main goal was to raise the awareness of homelessness, and by receiving this type of recognition from the people who sacrifice blood, sweat and tears to help the people in need in Sioux Falls, it feels like we succeeded.
We have won several awards for the filmmaking aspect of it, but nothing felt quite like receiving a humanitarian award for the work we did. The circle was suddenly completed, and I now know that Over the Bridge has fulfilled its purpose.
To God be the Glory.
Escapes and Paths
Good evening, and happy belated Easter!
In my last post I mentioned the guest I was expecting in my dorm room — a TV-crew from KELO. I already shared the link on Facebook, but some of you have asked when I would post it on the blog, so here you go.
Click on the picture below to start video:
After a year with numerous media appearances I have realized that I prefer TV over radio. I don’t know why, but my English is significantly better in front of the camera. On the radio I sound like I a freshly immigrated kid reading off a script without knowing how to say the words, but on TV I feel more like myself, haha.
Well, with our without my Scandinavian accent, I think KELO did a really good job telling a story I never thought would be told on a screen. I already shared my secret about “The tumors that changes my life” on the blog, but it was a different experience having it told by someone else.
Some of you have asked why I’ve done so many interviews lately, and I honestly don’t know how it happened. I’ve simply been contacted by the media and accepted the offers. Not because I want the attention, but because it allows me to continue shedding a light on an important social issue through Over the Bridge and because I’m a storyteller looking to inspire with my work.
Here’s the full radio interview I did for SDPB with lots of extra footage and special features from the production process of Over the Bridge.
To see more, go to Media Appearances under “Maria” in the menu above.
Have a blessed night,
Talking about NYU & filmmaking on the radio
Like I mentioned in my previous post, I was invited to the “In the Moment Live” radio show with Lori Walsh at the South Dakota Public Radio.
This is the second time I’ve done a live radio interview, and it was nice to be back, even if I still think radio is more intimidating than TV. I don’t know why, but it may have something to do with the fact that TV allows you to use more than just your voice to express yourself, and since I’m sort of an immigrant with an intermittent accent, it’s always interesting to
see hear how it turns out, haha.
To watch my other interviews, CLICK HERE.
You see, after almost three years in the US, my accent fluctuates between “so American that people ask if I’m from Watertown, SD” and other times I sound like I came riding into the US on a fjord-horse just two days ago.
But with or without accents, I’m happy with how it went and Lori made me feel comfortable in the setting. We talked about Over the Bridge, NYU Tisch and everything in between — for almost 17 minutes. So feel free to hit the play button below and listen along.
Or click on this picture:
Have a blessed day,
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.
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.
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.