I was a shy girl growing up. I was studious, reserved, and well-mannered. I’d very selectively raise my hand in school, secretly afraid of delivering the wrong answer and facing judgment by my teachers or peers. Storytelling was the one place I felt there were no wrong answers, just truths about life, masked as fiction. I felt safe as long as I had this magical, elusive forum to voice my dreams, ambitions, and desires without worrying about the consequences.
My new short film Rockaway –– premiered on opening night of the 2012 Atlanta Film Festival –– tackles the difficult transition many young women face as they’re slowly finding their footing, departing the safety of childhood, and growing into their voices. Set in the beautiful and rarely filmed beachside community of Rockaway, Queens, the story follows an unpredictable, playful, and sometimes volatile teenager named Teresa, who is leading a lost soul of an existence in her grandmother’s old house. In the face of suppressed grief over her grandmother’s passing and the fading protection of the only safe haven she has ever known, Teresa takes stock of her sexuality as a means to support herself. The story shifts from the humor of childlike antics to darker, more adult territory, and we bear witness to a revealing moment, triggering the emergence of deep-seated wounds from which she has been long hiding.
My goal in the making of Rockaway was to capture both the beauty and heartache of growing up, especially as a woman- namely, letting go of the circumstances in our lives that are beyond our control and redefining ourselves after hardships that seem to suppress our voices because we’re unsure about how we will be outwardly perceived. I wanted to emphasize the importance of seeking “shelter” in ways that are nurturing, not self-destructive, and of living a life that is unabashed.
Today, whenever I participate in public speaking, my mind wanders back to when I was once so fearful of waving my hand in the air to voice my opinion and what it all meant. Now I speak freely, comfortably, and passionately. I treasure the experience of working with actors who make themselves vulnerable to the exploration of all those delicate, painful, and blissful moments of everyday life we as filmmakers try to accurately capture. I now know how important it all is- that the gift of your voice is never something that should be overlooked or quieted. It is your most powerful possession and you should never be shy about it.
Melanie Schiele is an alumna of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore and the award-winning writer/director of the short film Delilah, Before. Her new short film Rockaway premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival as part of an all-female filmmaker showcase entitled: “New Mavericks, Women Directors”. Melanie will also be speaking on two panels as part of ATLFF’s CINformation seminar series: “Short Subjects” on March 27 and “Writing Strong Female Characters” on March 29.