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. 


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.

New York Love

I was an overwhelmed freshman with ultra blonde hair and a Scandinavian accent when we first met. Quite frankly, I had more than enough with just keeping my head above the water as a foreign student in South Dakota, and I should have known we weren’t ready for each other yet.

You were so exotic, foreign, and yet so familiar. I liked you, but I was unable to see what you had to offer at the time. I felt so small, so lost and so out-of-place. I know you did your best to make me feel welcome by introducing me to warm pretzels and pizzas so big I had to fold each slice in half to even have a chance at taking a bite, but I still found myself longing for the comfort of not having to jump into something new.

You showed me diversity, eccentricity and what it really means to be free. You acquainted me with people who were on a mission, people with a deeper sense of purpose than I was used to seeing, people with dreams that had to be fulfilled, people with songs that had to be written and stories that had to be told.

Still, that first time, I wanted to leave after just a few days with you. I was overwhelmed. But that was okay, because I knew we’d see each other again. That last glimpse of you at the airport told me that our story wouldn’t end there. We had many more chapters to write, but the circumstances had to be different; I would have to mature, figure out where I was going and get more comfortable with myself, but I knew I would see you again.

Our week in October was amazing, but I must say, you’re just as handsome in February.

New York, I love you.


It took me three years, but I’m ready for you now.

I’m not the intimidated freshman girl straight from Norway anymore. I’m a woman now, a woman looking to tell stories, and, New York, I think you may be able to help me on my mission.

My freshman-self vs. my senior-self in the City of Dreams.

Hopefully, you caught the fact I wrote the love letter to New York City, and not some strange mesmerizing guy with exotic looks. I wouldn’t want any of my relatives to get their hopes up about a potential new family member just yet — I can assure you that my actual love life is still non-existent, so don’t worry.

I was in New York for the second time in a few months for some errands that I’ll tell you more about later. But before I wrap up this post I want to share a funny incident:

A week before I left, Elisa Stokka, a traveling Norwegian student priest, was at Augustana to make waffles and talk with us. I’d never met her before, but we started talking and I told her I’d be heading to New York the following week. She then invited me to join a student dinner at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church on Manhattan that just happened to be the Monday I was going to be there! Funny coincidence? Well, it gets better! As soon as I get there, the first guy I meet is from my hometown in Norway. A couple of minutes later I stumble upon another lady with an accent I recognized, and guess what?! She was from Haugesund as well! Yup, that little village-like town in the tiny Nordic country called Norway. It’s a small world!


The Seamen’s Church’s mission is to create “a home away from home” for traveling Norwegians, and they certainly did that for me. It was an amazing night with lots of Norwegian New Yorkers and traditional Norwegian tacos. 

God is good.

Bless you,

Reflection: 2016 in pictures

With the exception of my occasional “personal disclosures,” this blog has mostly revolved around film work, so I wanted to take a moment and reflect over the past year as an aspiring film director, so, here we go!

The Sioux Empire Film Festival (2016) Photo: Rachel Johnston

I can’t talk about 2016 without mentioning Over the Bridge, and now it’s been precisely a year since Sarah Kocher and I started the production process inside the Edda office at Augustana. Little did we know then, that our little zero-budget amateur film would still be screened across the US a full year later!


Like I’ve said before; we just wanted to make a documentary for fun, and if it turned out somewhat decent, we would show it to our professors for some constructive criticism. And maybe — just maybe — we’d do a screening at Augustana. You know, for our really close friends and stuff … But, well, 200 people showed up, and there was no turning back.


After the premiere we took Bob, our homeless friend, out to eat at his favorite restaurant to symbolize the ending of the Over the Bridge-chapter.


We thought that was it, and I was ready to move on to new projects, but God wanted it differently.

And we got invited to an actual film festival! Woooohoo!


We certainly never expected we’d ever get to screen it at the opposite side of the Atlantic! Even if the Norwegian premiere was less “packed,” it was still a nice experience.


Then, the highlight: I got to travel from coast to coast of America!


Red carpets and cocktail parties in downtown LA suddenly became words I could use in sentences formed in first person. Even if it was only for six days it was an experience that made me hungry to learn everything about the film industry. Read more about it HERE and HERE.


The following week I flew to Washington DC with a bunch of awesome journalism majors from Augustana. Read more HERE.


Two days later I headed to New York City (Read about it HERE) I visited the NYU Tisch School of the Arts (the university of my dreams) and did some film-related errands in the beautiful city of New York. I’ll tell you more about all that when it’s settled.


Even if I didn’t find time to make another film this year, I learned a lot from directing my first play. Read HERE.


And during the last weeks of the semester my photojournalism group and I made a short video about the Augustana Theatre, which was a nice way to tie both film and theatre together.


Throughout the year, Sarah and I have been invited to universities, churches, organisations and Homeless Advisory Board meetings to speak and show the film, we’ve done several TV- radio- and newspaper interviews, and we’ve had the chance to raise awareness around an issue we’re both passionate about.


Only God can spread a tiny documentary with jumpy sound and blurry footage to eight states and two continents without even publishing the film online!

So my conclusion is that God is good, and all honor goes to Him. I’m so thankful for the doors He’s opening, and I want to continue honoring him with my work. Let’s see what He has in store next. I choose to trust him.

Thanks to everyone who has helped make this a good year. Bless you all!


Dedication or Addiction?

It’s a new year and everybody seem to have entangled themselves into intricate new year’s resolutions; “Work out more,” “Eat healthier,” “”Lose weight,” “Run a 5K” and the list goes on.

I’ve never been a fan of so-called resolutions starting January 1st because I think the 364 other days are just as good for improving yourself. But after an extremely busy year where health and fitness became less of a priority for me, I now find myself tempted to join the wave of mainstream resolutions.

But I know better.

Not because I think I’ll fail at sticking to it, but because I’ve tried it and I know what it does to me.

– On April 1st 2005 I decided to stop drinking soda, and what happened? I just never started again, so I’m now going on my 12th year!

– On May 1st 2010, as a competitive long jumper, I wanted to get some technical advice on my lifting, so I joined a weightlifting club with the intention of doing 2-3 sessions with them before I moved on. Well, the next thing I know, I’m signed up for my first competition, and a year later I won Nationals, became a part of the National team and traveled to England to represent Norway in an international championship. Don’t misunderstand, I feel incredibly privileged to have that experience, but I got so carried away that it was very hard to let go when I realized that juggling two sports was too much.

– In 2012, when I had to quit track because of a stress fracture, I decided it was time to stop chasing athletic performance altogether. I signed up at a gym and was planning on working out twice a week. You know, just taking it slow and doing things the normal way; walking on the treadmill, doing Sumba and lifting those small pink and purple dumbbells covered in rubber. Well… before I knew it, I was on my way to the stage as a fitness athlete. The pink dumbbells and yoga pants had been replaced by callused hands, lifting-straps, protein shakes and muscles so ripped I could see veins on my shoulders. I had gotten completely carried away — again.

Before / After

– So, when I picked up jogging last year, I thought I was cured because I stuck with my three-times-a-week-regimen for longer than a month. Until I — once again — found myself wearing a start-number on my chest. I could, of course, have settled with a 5K or a 10K, but well … I ran a half-marathon and started planning my full marathon debut before I even finished the half one. Unfortunately (or luckily?) I woke up with plantar fasciitis the next morning and was unable to run for the next six months, which sucked, but maybe it was necessary for me to be able to focus on what’s actually important. I probably would have aimed for an ultra-marathon after the regular marathon anyway.

Brookings Half Marathon 2016. My dear friend Matthew is apparently just as weird as me. (Especially after I forced him to join me. Poor fella. He’s great btw)

It may sound like I used this post as an excuse to brag about my athletic merits, but my propensity towards the extreme in terms of training has caused me so much pain, frustration and expensive medical bills that I really should learn to moderate myself. I’ve had several stress fractures, and about a dozen other injuries caused by my ridiculous enthusiasm for sports. In my family, we sometimes joke about it, and whenever I tell my parents about my athletic plans, dad always says: “She’s back at the bottle” as if it’s an actual addiction.

Therefore, my resolution for this year is to not have one.

I’m not an athlete anymore, and I’ll keep telling myself there’s no point in putting in the effort of an Olympian when my dreams don’t include those five colorful rings anymore.

I’ll instead transfer the discipline of my inner athlete to the projects that matter, and limit my workouts to 30 minutes a day — regardless of how tempting those Ironman competitions, martial arts courses and cross-fit classes seem.

Filmmaking is, after all, more important to me.

Bless you,

Photo: Naras Prameswari

Sweaty is the New Skinny

Good evening, dear readers!

Last time you heard from me I was out on the East Coast, but I’m back in Sioux Falls — with less free time than I thought was possible, haha. Like I mentioned earlier, I worked three weeks ahead on my homework before I left for LA, but I had to take all the midterm exams and do all the projects after I got back, so needless to say, I haven’t had much time to keep the blog alive. But you’re here, and that means you forgave me. So, welcome to you all!

I thought Over the Bridge was ready to be put to bed after LA, but I’ve been invited to show it at the Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell on Thursday, and then there will be two more screenings here in Sioux Falls before Christmas. I’ll tell you more about it later.

Another new thing is that I’m directing my first theatre show! This whole theatre thing has really grown on me — it wasn’t that long ago I thought it was a … rather… weird form of art, but after picking up a theatre minor to help me improve my directing skills, I’ve really learned to love it. It’s so much fun, and I’m very excited to present the play “Precipice” on the Augustana main stage next weekend. It’s a short play that will be shown together with seven other short plays, so it should be pretty cool. More about that later too.

Theatre does come in handy whenever Halloween is around the corner as well. Flashback to the past:

Even if it’s tons of fun, I’ve been craving an hour of free time. You know, just one hour where you can relax, scroll through facebook, watch an episode on Netflix or go grocery shopping (Wal-mart makes me relaxed, I know it’s weird), but with all the projects and exams it seemed like a long shot. I was, therefore, delighted to learn that daylight-saving was coming up, and I got a whole extra hour! You’ll never appreciate something like that until you’ve skipped three weeks of the semester and have to catch up on the 504 hours you lost while traveling, haha.

Since this is not a fashion blog, I’ll also take the freedom to share a a time-saving tip I discovered last week:

I’ve been wearing running shoes and leggings everyday lately, because you see, walking to class, walking to meetings and walking to the cafeteria is simply too slow. I won’t get there in time if I just walk, so I’ve been running. Not only do I get to my appointments a little faster, I also save that hour I’d normally be spending at the gym. Win, win.

Paparazzi shot by: Naras Prameswari

And if you add the weight of your backpack, camera bag and theatre props in the plastic bag you get a full body workout!

We all know sweaty is the new skinny, right?


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