Smashing Stereotypes Through Film
“Why are you studying communications? People who look and speak like you will never be on television.”
What the then 26-year-old Violeta Ayala looked and sounded like was an indigenous Bolivian-Australian who had only learnt to speak English two years prior to pursuing a journalism degree at Charles Sturt University. It was a good thing then that she was older and secure enough in her own skin to dismiss her classmates’ unsolicited opinion.
“I didn’t care,” said Violeta. “Since graduating I’ve built a company, I’m a filmmaker and I have an office in New York. And I am living off the work I love.”
What she did not add was that she has spent the last five years collecting numerous awards at international film festivals for her hard-hitting documentaries. Her fourth documentary, Stolen, based on the true story of the enslavement of Sahrawi refugees, swept 15 international awards after its release in 2009.
Her latest film, The Bolivian Case, was screened at the Sydney Film Festival last month and is in the running for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award. But as rewarding as those accolades are, where Violeta truly finds fulfilment is in breaking stereotypes of minorities in the media.
“So many of us look different in Australia yet we have no firm representation in on television,” she pointed out. “We have not fully grown into that space yet and it will not be easy but when we start, we will open doors for others.”
You are known for producing heavy, intense documentaries. What drives you towards these stories?
The stories find me! And I want to deconstruct them so we can question society and its systems. I pursue these stories because my experience and background help me understand complexity in a way that other filmmakers do not. I have severe dyslexia and have to associate words with visual meanings but this also means I grasp emotions and make connections very quickly. That is my gift.
What goes into taking a documentary from good to award-winning?
The editing process. It is a very long, difficult process of trial and error that demands patience, tenacity and a good team. The Bolivian Case took more than a year to edit. A film takes everything from you so if you are not passionate about what you are making then do not even begin.
How does it feel to have the responsibility of telling someone else’s story?
Very scary and challenging because even if it is their story, it is told through my eyes. Honesty with myself and my characters is key, and that sometimes means letting the story flourish on its own.
How do you clear your head?
I love walking, travelling and watching movies. But now I have a one-year-old daughter so I do not have much time to relax! And I do not think I actually can
What life lessons would you like to impart to your daughter?
Society always wants to put us in a box so I want to teach her to fight the box and find herself. I want her to learn the rules of the system so she can break them. I want her to know how big the world is and to always be proud of her indigenous roots.
What media stereotypes would you like to see squashed? Tell us in the comments below!
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