With her upcoming documentary film, UNSPOKEN, director Geneva Peschka reminds us of the beauty and power of storytelling. Her journey to becoming a filmmaker inspired her to use film as a vehicle to create change, emotionally connect people and show the importance of humanity. This is her story….
Name: Geneva Peschka
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Profession: Filmmaker / Creative
Why did you choose to be a filmmaker?
I love connecting with people and telling stories. Documentary film-making was the most exciting and intimate area where I could meet, connect with people and be a part of sharing their story.
How did you get started? What were three of the key steps you took?
I spent most of my youth attending art schools, so creating has always been a part of me. In my 20’s I was working as an executive assistant and coordinator at a feature animation company and really loved witnessing the process of creating characters and making them come to life. I eventually ended up managing a commercial production office in NY and got to see and be a part of the live action side of production. Both experiences helped build my curiosity of different ways to share stories and be a part of creating something impactful.
3 key steps to becoming a filmmaker:
1) Create: I started creating concepts on my own unsure of what would come from them, but knew I had to follow through and complete them for myself. My first concept was an animated series called LIBBY.
2) Share your work: I looked for ways to connect with other creatives, share my work and if I couldn’t find opportunities, I created them by directly contacting producer’s and development VP’s at major networks to introduce myself, share my pitches and ask for feedback.
3) Have faith and surround yourself with like minded people: I believe in my work and think it’s important to surround yourself with people that believe in you and raise you up (as you do for them). Build your tribe, support one and other and success will come.
Do you think aspiring filmmakers need to go to film school? If so, which ones would you recommend? If not, what are ways people can acquire the technical skills behind filmmakers?
I think everyone learns differently. Some people excel in a school setting and some with hands on experience, so each filmmaker should find their own path. I have personally always had a hard time learning in a classroom setting unless it was art class, so school was not the path for me but might be something I revisit in the future. If film making is the path you want to take research filmmakers you admire, see what their path was and go from there. Also, just start shooting your own work (or collaborating with others) and start developing your own voice.
I didn’t always get a yes, but the times I did were great opportunities for growth in the direction I wanted to move in.
What are some of the ways you were able to connect with other creatives? How did you find them?
I had an advantage by working in creative spaces. I would often ask questions and I would ask for opportunities to be on set and be a part of the creative process. I didn’t always get a yes, but the times I did were great opportunities for growth in the direction I wanted to move in. I also reached out to people whose work and work ethic I admired, and asked to meet for a coffee to learn more about their path to see if they had any advice for me or any feedback on my projects.
What’s an average day like?
Every day is always different, but I like to start my day centering myself with a run and/or meditation. I’m currently prepping for the world premiere of my documentary, UNSPOKEN at the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival, so my days are filled with prepping for that and reaching out to people, organizations and press to let them know about our film. I spend a lot of time sending emails, writing and researching people to interview (for my doc series), but I need to have time to play and create, so I usually have a brainstorming session and write out ideas, draw and listen to music.
I also do freelance work, so there are days that require me to give my full attention to an outside project, which I love doing and it’s a nice break.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Connection. People, their stories and the beauty of humanity.
Why does film matter?
Film is a great vehicle to create change. Visuals can be extremely impactful since you can create an emotional connection almost immediately and remind people to feel.
Overall, there have been a lot of challenges, but I choose to see them as opportunities of growth
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:
UPs: You get to see something that you created come to life and share it with the hopes that it will positively impact people’s lives.
DOWNs: Things aren’t always going to turn out the way you visualized. On the flip side of that, it’s ok, let it go. If you’re working with a team, your project has the opportunity to become more whole when you can collectively include different ideas and voices that can lead to the success of the project. It can sometimes be difficult to get there, but the journey is well worth it.
Biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenges so far have been finding funding for projects. I was able to secure some seed money for UNSPOKEN at an early stage, but raised over 80% of the budget through a crowdfunding campaign which was incredible, but also very time consuming. I’m hoping after UNSPOKEN is released finding, funding will become easier.
Overall, there have been a lot of challenges, but I choose to see them as opportunities of growth because through them I have also learned what I am capable of achieving and that isn’t something I would have learned without experiencing the challenges.
Your greatest achievement so far?
Working with Emma on UNSPOKEN and having the opportunity to help share her beautiful and important message with the world. I’ve known her and her family since she was eight, so this was an incredible journey to experience with her.
‘UNSPOKEN’ Documentary – TRAILER from Geneva Peschka on Vimeo.
UNSPOKEN tells the story of your 14-year-old co-director, Emma Zurcher-Long and her experience with autism in her own words. What drew you to her cause and compelled you to make a film about it? Also, what would you like viewers to take away from this film?
By knowing Emma and her family for seven years I was able to witness her communication breakthrough when she learned how to type. She opened so many minds with her poetic and brilliant words while advocating for autism self-advocacy and human rights across North America that it was evident that her story needed to be shared with the world as it could help create change. I asked her if she wanted to share her story and make a documentary and together with Julia Ngeow (our other co-director), we set out to share her story authentically through her words. As co-director, Emma has been involved in every aspect of production of the film from development to post production.
Viewer Takeaway: This film is a great reminder that things aren’t always as they seem and that we can learn so much by setting aside fear or judgment and remembering the importance of humanity by connecting with one and other – a much needed reminder in today’s world.
Were there any films or other mediums you were able to pull inspiration from during the making of the film?
We were aiming to do something different with UNSPOKEN. I wanted to give Emma the platform to tell her own story (no interviews). It was important for me to not compare what we we’re doing with other work and to stay focused on our goal of creating change by supporting self-advocacy and honor Emma’s voice by sharing her authentic story through her own words. As a woman and person of color, I know what it’s like to have someone speak on my behalf and I want to be a part of breaking that cycle.
Is there a website people can visit to make a donation to the film?
Yes, please click here.
In addition to UNSPOKEN, your website currently lists, LIBBY, an animated series about a vivacious, curious 4th grader who absolutely hates Meatloaf and wom·an, a short documentary series as upcoming projects. As a woman, do you feel that females are represented in an authentic light? If not, what are the stories you wish to continue to tell?
Great question. I do think things are changing and we’re creating more opportunities for ourselves and others to be represented in a more authentic light, which is exciting; however there’s a lot more work to be done. We need to be able to speak for ourselves in order for there to be more authenticity in our representation, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.
I’m personally working on creating platforms for people to be heard. For example, my animated children’s series Libby is about a funny and strong female character that I created so that young girls and boys of color would have more representation on tv. wom·an is an empowerment series that highlights the beauty in our differences (there are currently eight short documentaries in the series).
What is one thing an aspiring filmmaker can do today to get started?
Create. Go out and start working on projects that you want to make. You can find the time, it might have to be after work or on the weekends, but find and create your outlet. Also, ask for what you want and don’t be apologetic about it. It’s your life, your dreams so go out and get it.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully a vacation! I’m trying to find balance with work and self care. On the creative front, I’m looking to get LIBBY signed to a network and to find a platform to share the wom·an series. Once that’s in the works I’ll move onto a feature documentary I’ve wanted to make for a few years.
Fun Fact: Do you have any interesting or fun facts about yourself or journey you’d like to share with our readers?
I still have my super Nintendo lol. I love entertaining and everyone always gets excited when they see it and immediately want to play. It’s a good reminder to be childlike and have fun. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have to be serious all the time.
Let’s Talk Hair
What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?
I’m natural and finally have a routine that works for me.
- Deep condition weekly – I always switch it up, so I don’t currently have a favorite
- Find a good styling cream. I love Camille Rose Fresh Curl (avocado & castor oil)
- Seal with oil. I usually use jojoba oil mixed with lavender or beautifying oil by Aveda
- Try not to use a hair dryer / heat too often and give your hair a break.
- Drink lots of water! I’m working on this, but my hair looks it’s best when I’m well hydrated