Interview of Dasola, Emma, Tessa, Sariena, Elena by Sophie Van Bastelear
Dasola, Emma, Tessa, Sariena and Elena hail from different towns, go to different schools, and have different backgrounds; what the brilliant ladies share — besides intellect and grace — is a passion for film, and spots on TIFF’s prestigious Next Wave committee.
I sat down with them a couple of weeks ago, and left feeling so incredibly inspired; friendly, chatty, and motivated, I felt honored to meet them, and can’t wait to see what they do next. Here’s what they have to say about movies, progress, dreams, feminism, and Emma Watson.
Can you describe the Next Wave committee?
Dasola: Basically, we’re a group of twelve high school students who all love different aspects that make up the film industry. I want to work in distribution, and so many people want to be directors, cinematographers, actors and things, and we all love film. We come together from around the [Greater Toronto Area] and we program the Next Wave festival. We also help with youth outreach here at TIFF and provide a voice for other young people and their perspectives.
How did you know you wanted to get involved with film?
Dasola: I didn’t think I was much of a film buff because the only movies I loved were really cheesy ones. The first movie I watched in theaters was [The Adventures of] Shark Boy and Lava Girl. I realized when I was 10ish that my family and I would always watch movies together, and I realized how much it brought us all together. So I think when I looked past the fact that it’s okay to like cheesy…movies, that developed into…talking about other movies.
Tessa: When I was younger, my parents only showed me Charlie Chaplin films. I only ever saw like film films…when I was like twelve, and able to navigate choosing what I watch on my own, I hadn’t seen any real movies, so I watched all the Disney animations for the first time — instead of just Monty Python or Charlie Chaplin. I also used to be a competitive dancer, and then I quit, so I had all this time, so I watched all these movies.
Tessa: So…I came back [from a summer film program in Michigan], I heard about Next Wave, I applied last year, told my friend about it, I didn’t get on, my friend got on —
Emma: I didn’t get on last year either.
Tessa: I applied again this year and I didn’t get on this year, and then someone quit, and they let me on. It’s been a long haul…so I’m very happy to be here.
Sariena: My dad was a photographer, so I was very greatly influenced by cameras, and always had a fascination with cameras. If my sister got the…the…the…what was it called again? The cameras that you can just buy for twelve bucks?
Sariena: Disposable cameras! Thank you! Every time my sister bought them, I would just take them — my sister’s nine years older than me, too, so she would get really annoyed — and take pictures of the most random things…
All I did was watch animations with my dad growing up. Animation has greatly impacted my vision of the world, I guess….that’s where my fascination began. At age 11, my sister got another camera, and I would make all these videos and […] it kept going upwards from there, and I’m like, “oh, this is what I want to do as a career, I love this.”
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Dasola: I have a hard time placing my favorite movie, so I tend to say a variety of different things, which is kind of to show my character. I tend to say the musical RENT — it’s really fun, it’s super cheesy at times, but also has a lot of important messages about community and relationships and marginalization. I love RENT. I love musicals.
Emma: Singin’ in the Rain. And a modern one would probably be Midnight in Paris.
Tessa: When I first started getting involved with film, my favorite movies were Vertigo and Chinatown, because I really liked old movies, but now I would say my favorite movies are — they’re actually both in Next Wave this year, somehow — Mommy and Divines.
Dasola: She rigged it.
Tessa: I really did [laughter].
So those are my two — I love movies that aren’t kind of structured perfectly. And there’s a lot going on, and there’s a lot that’s not talked about, it’s just there. If I could only watch one movie the rest of my life it would be 10 Things I Hate About You because I can literally start it and quote all of it, and I’ve seen it over a hundred times.
Sariena: Howl’s Moving Castle. I feel like it’s heavily shaped who I am today. Hayao Miyazaki is my alltime favorite director — I don’t even want to go into animation, but I love him. He has those same themes in all his films (pacifism, environmentalism and feminism). Because of the fact that I watched it so much growing up, it allowed me to understand so many different things, especially the concept of pacifism, and then I became all of those things, because of this film.
What’s one superpower you wish you could have?
Sariena: I always thought about being a genie; the concept of making wishes come true. That’s always something I thought about. But then you’ve got to be careful what you wish for.
Elena: I would say teleportation, so you can go anywhere you want without the cost of travel. That’d be great, right?
Tessa: I think mine would be teleportation, or — I was thinking about this recently — I have two others. One would be to be able to go to sleep and wake up right away, and not be tired. I feel like you’d get so much done if you could always be well-rested. Or, whatever food you’re thinking of, if you could just HAVE it.
Dasola: I’m stuck between time travel and invisibility.
What do you hope for the future of film?
Emma: Personally I’d like to see more Asians in mainstream films — it’s getting better, but…as an Asian actress, it’s hard to get jobs and auditions.
Tessa: Mine is very similar. I would say representation in film, and not just roles ABOUT people because of their race or gender — not ABOUT that, just more representation all around and behind the scenes. It’s hidden, but just as bad.
Sariena: More women in the industry.
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Sariena: I have an organization called Flaunt It, that works to promote self-love for women, by using the arts as its main mechanism. Our five year goal is: we want to be able to open up a youth-space that will provide programming and opportunities for women and have it be an arts studio in general, so we have opportunities for mainly youth in marginalized communities.
Dasola: I’m hoping to live in Nigeria when I’m done school. I was born there, and then I moved to the Bahamas, and then I moved to Canada. There’s not as many Nigerian people, or even African people, that I know of in my everyday life, outside of my family. So hopefully I can go there and continue doing the things that I love, so maybe doing my youth service for fun, or taking a lot of photos. I like to call myself a photographer. To do that, and learn languages better, and just hang out with my family, and people who look like me and have the same experiences.
Tessa: I hope to be travelling too. All over, not really living anywhere. I don’t know how this would happen, but hopefully doing some kind of photography, or documentary, or journalistic something…that kind of stuff.
Elena: I don’t know where I’d want to be living, but I like the city vibe, I like NYC, any other big city. And honestly, I really like what we’re doing currently with the committee, and being a part of a programming team, and I found that I’m honestly really interested in that and can see a career in that. I’m interested in business as well, and the intersection between business and film. I would like at some point in the future to be a studio executive — where [I’m working on] post-production of films, and the rights, and distribution.
What is one subject you wish was taught in high school?
Dasola: Taxes…tax forms are simple, I guess, if you’re an adult, but [when I had to fill out a tax form alone] I was like, “…am I signing my life away? What is this?” So, finances and stuff.
Elena: I feel like some schools do teach this, but I never got a formal resume-building [class]. A lot of us are applying for universities, and colleges, et cetera. So, how to make your resume strong, how to do cover letters, anything in that branch that’s going to help you in your career…I don’t think I’ve gotten the proper education for that. It’s kind of ‘figure it out for yourself.’
Sariena: A curriculum stressing self-love and building self-confidence at a young age. The lack of self-confidence within women will eventually affect them in their relationships, their education, their workplace and so on. And it affects the amount of women leaders that we have today and will have in the future. So my major thing is building that curriculum within younger grades, so it gets embedded in them, so that they grow…to feel empowered.
Emma: I just feel like they should have world issues. So people can know what’s happening, how they could help, what they could do.
Tessa: I think honestly everyone should take a course where you learn about rights and movements; you learn about women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, and Islamophobia…I always see Facebook rants about things, and I’m like, “I wish everyone just learned this.”
Which one woman in the film industry, past or present, would you have lunch with if you could?
Tessa: I’d probably talk to Tina Fey because I just think she’s hilarious. And I love SNL more than most. I think it would be really interesting to learn from her. She’s quite behind the scenes compared to others, and she just seems really cool.
Emma: Either Meryl Streep or Rowan Blanchard. I feel like Meryl Streep has a lot of wisdom, all the roles she’s had, I feel like she could offer good advice…with Rowan Blanchard, we could talk about how to move forward with women empowerment in the industry.
Dasola: It’s gonna be Oprah Winfrey. Even though Oprah Winfrey hasn’t done as many films as other black women…I just really like the power that she embodies, that I could attain to be something like that in the industry. I love watching the old reruns of the Oprah Winfrey show.
Dasola’s honorable mentions: Ava DuVernay and Janelle Monáe
Elena: The first person I thought of is Emma Watson.
[appreciative murmurs from other girls]
Elena: Yeah. I know. I’ve been very into education, so looking up to her as Hermione, and I think that Emma Watson is very similar to her character, in that she stands for girls getting educated. The fact that she had such a successful career with Harry Potter…and then she still went to university, prioritized her education, and then did the crossover to be a UN Goodwill Ambassador, I mean, that’s just — lifetime achievement. That’s so amazing. And the whole He for She movement, and being an intersectional feminist…so I would just talk to her about how [to] bring attention to causes that you’re interested in while also succeeding in your career.
Sariena: The first person that popped into my head, because I think she’s so perfect, is Zendaya. One, I’m a lot more comfortable talking to people more near my age, and two…everything she stands for. She’s all about women empowerment, representation in the industry, and so on…so I see her as someone who’s really on the come-up of all these different things. I think she’s just such an important figure who’s going to continue to do incredible things.
What do you love about being a girl?
Dasola: Friendships with people. When I talk to some of my closest girlfriends…the connection makes me really happy. I don’t know, there’s something about: “can I borrow a hair tie?” Simple things. Or even just the similarities you have with people, the understanding like when I meet other black people, or other people who are Nigerian…there’s an unspoken connection.
Elena: Girl-love. Girls supporting other girls and helping them rise. [That’s] a common goal with all human beings, but especially with women and especially in terms of career and being in the industry. You’ll want to help other women if you’re successful, or you’ll want to be helped by others, and guide them. I think there’s a lot of women who take mentorship roles, and boost each other up, and stand on each other’s shoulders, and I think it’s really wonderful.
(interview has been edited for clarity and length)[share]