Finding Your Story, by Barbarella Fokos

The first question I ask a new batch of documentary filmmaking interns is, “What story do you want to tell?” It’s a rare occurrence for someone to have a ready answer. Usually I’m met with blank stares or, worse, panicked expressions. So I ask it a different way: “What do you care about?” And still another: “What are you curious about?” And another: “What do you think other people should care about… and why?” 

When all of these questions are answered, they become bright neon signs that clearly point in the direction of one precious answer. That’s the story that needs to be told, by the only person who can tell it. 

Though they may have less experience in terms of years, young people have just as many stories to tell than any grown-up, and their perspectives are often fresher. My interns are primarily juniors in high school, around 16 years old. And their stories are profound indeed. In Kristy’s case, it was the story of internalized racism resulting in body image and mental health issues, which she felt were exacerbated by her community’s silence on such issues. 

Kristy’s short documentary

The story Isabella realized she needed to tell was how a tragic loss can bring a family closer together. As this was a shared story, she included the voices of her parents by interviewing them about the illness and subsequent death of her younger brother. 

Isabella’s short documentary

From immigration (I’ve mentored interns from India, Lebanon, Guatemala, Philippines, Armenia, and Mexico) to environmental concerns, to historical accounts such as Isaac—who chose to tell the story of gender through the history of the high heel—each story is as unique as its teller. And each of us, whether we realize it or not, has one, or one hundred thousand, to tell. 

Isaac’s short documentary