We’re excited about our newest major at Moore, Film & Digital Cinema, a program specifically built for emerging women and nonbinary filmmakers to learn and to share their unique stories in a rigorous and supportive creative environment.
In our new Q&A series, we’re asking local film industry leaders and influencers to share their excitement about the program and tell us more about why Philadelphia is a great place to be for students interested in film and cinema.
Next in our series: Stephanie Ayanian from Storyshop LLC.
Who are you and what is your connection to film and cinema?
My name is Stephanie Ayanian, and I started making films in 1996 while I was an undergraduate student at Penn State. I was really interested in making experimental films, but also documentary and fiction films, and I dabbled in a little animation. After graduating, I worked professionally in the industry for a while, then [transitioned to teaching] and I realized that I missed it! So I thought about what I really wanted to do with my future. I wanted to combine my love of teaching with my passion for filmmaking, so I decided to get my MFA so I could teach filmmaking at the university level. That brought me to Philadelphia in 2003 to get my MFA in Film and Media Arts from Temple University. Since graduating, I have been mostly involved in feature documentary filmmaking for public television (PBS) distribution. I worked for a period of time at WPSU PBS, which is a public television station serving Central Pennsylvania. In 2011 I left that job because I was living in Philadelphia full time again, and I started my own production company, Storyshop LLC. We focus on telling real people’s stories, often through feature-length documentaries, but we also do client-based work. Our main focuses for client work are sustainability and educational advancement. So if a college or university is embarking on a major capital fundraising campaign, they hire us to do the films to support it. Doing this work allows me to pay the bills while also developing feature films on meaningful topics.
Why is Philadelphia an exciting place for film students and young filmmakers?
Philadelphia is such a unique space to create art. It’s in this amazing geographic location where you have access to the best of big city living in Philadelphia, but you also have quick access to New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, other major art centers and major filmmaking centers. Making films in Philadelphia is unique; it’s a very supportive environment. We have a support system here for any size film we want to make; a no-budget film has a support system and a huge Hollywood blockbuster has a support system, as does every independent film in between.
There are a lot of filmmaking collectives, there’s also the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which was established decades ago to support filmmakers in the region—filmmakers who are local to the region and filmmakers who are coming in from all over the world to create their work here. What’s exciting about that is that when work comes to Philadelphia, it needs local talent—it needs people like Moore students, people early in their careers and people later in their careers, to help create these international films. There are also a number of amazing film festivals here: the Philadelphia Film Festival has an international draw, Blackstar Film Festival has an outstanding, important presence in Philadelphia and internationally, there’s the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival. There are so many festivals that can showcase our work but also illustrate the work internationally that’s coming to our city to inspire us to create other work.
The rich history in the city and the architecture really provide an inspiring backdrop for the arts. It’s a beautiful canvas. One of the things I like about Philadelphia is that a lot of the filmmakers know each other, so it’s a really nice community of filmmakers who encourage one another. Sometimes when you get to the bigger cities, people tend to get a little bit lost in the shuffle and you know who you know, but in Philadelphia it’s not unusual that we either know each other or we have one degree of separation from somebody that we can work with and collaborate with.
Why are you excited about Moore College of Art & Design’s new Film & Digital Cinema major, which is specifically for women and nonbinary students?
It’s an outstanding time to be in a program that focuses on stories coming from women and nonbinary students. This is a place where these voices can be heard, supported and encouraged. The size of Moore’s classes allows for real relationships to form, leading to outstanding collaborations between classmates in your cohort as well as faculty members. You can form a family here that not only will hear your perspective, they will respect your perspective and help you grow it into something you never thought was possible. This is a space that is unique because of it focusing on women and nonbinary students—you will not find that anywhere else on the east coast. In this space, you will have access to equipment and learning in an open and caring environment.
What advice do you have for future students in our program?
Come in with your own stories. Your life and your perspective are different than anyone else’s, and they can lead to outstanding films. Come in with an open mind and ready to hear critique because critique is what makes us better artists. Also be prepared to provide critique; it’s important that you are an active participant in the classroom and outside of the classroom to help your classmates and your work grow.
Tell us about any upcoming projects or opportunities you’re working on that current and future Moore students should know about.
My most recent main project, What Will Become of Us, is a documentary on Armenians in America, 100 years after the genocide of 1915, that is currently broadcasting on PBS stations across the country and is also an Official Selection of the Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival and others. I always wanted to make a film about Armenians to honor my ancestors. My grandparents were genocide survivors, and I grew up hearing stories about the genocide at home. It was important for me to do something, so I did this film on the hundredth anniversary to pay memorial to what my ancestors sacrificed. My team is also currently editing our next film, No Difference Between Us, which focuses on an Armenian-Catholic priest in Los Angeles who is helping refugees of all backgrounds when they first come to this country, to help them find their way in the melting pot of America.