By Stephanie Gardner – “33 and Me” Creator, Director and Host
One of the questions I am asked the most in regards to “33 and Me” is, “What are the commonalities or differences between the various 33-year-old filmmakers you meet around the world?”
What I discovered while traveling for “33 and Me” is that each filmmaker I have met is an incredibly unique and special individual, and yet, we each have common desires: the desire to tell our stories, to find our voices, and to be heard.
Many of the filmmakers we meet are not just making movies, they are giving back to their communities, perhaps in much bigger ways than they may even realize, by fighting for their stories, overcoming all odds to make films that represent their societies, and by doing so, they are giving voice to entire nations.
This is a deeply personal journey, as I try to navigate what it means to exist in places of freedom and democracy versus countries that restrict and deny freedoms to its citizens.
When I started “33 and Me” at the age of 33, I realized that I was not so young anymore, nor did I feel very old. I had significant creative and professional accomplishments under my belt, yet still had my entire life ahead of me; a lot of aspirations in my career as a filmmaker; and hopefully, many more exciting adventures ahead.
As I continue this journey as a filmmaker, I realize that I am coming from a very specific perspective: I am a millennial, American, woman who has managed to produce works of theatre and film since I was in my teens.
At home and abroad, I feel engulfed by a strange and surreal world where we are bombarded by messages to “fear the other” and encouraged to “protect ourselves” in our own increasingly isolated societies. As a result, the idea of a free press in many places around the world is being unravelled.
However, I feel fortunate to have been raised in an American democracy under the freedoms and ideals that were fostered, and greatly value the notions of “freedom of speech,” “freedom of religion,” and the “pursuit of happiness.” I realize that I may not be the same type of filmmaker I am today without the influences of these powerful and liberating ideals.
Additionally, I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to live and work abroad. I have lived in countries that do not extend these same ideals to their citizens. These experiences living abroad, in places which censor its artists, have taught me to not take “freedom of expression” for granted. This is one reason why I was inspired to embark on the “33 And Me” journey.
I truly believe that we as individuals need to connect with others around the world to better understand ourselves and our place within it, and for our societies to survive. This is why I am motivated to make “global films,” so as to connect across cultures around the globe in a shared experience. I believe that communicating with others around the world, in expression, in thought, and in shared empathy is incredibly important to a happy, healthy, peaceful society.
Thus, through “33 and Me,” I endeavor to cross borders and discover what other 33-year-old filmmakers around the world, who are at similar stages in their lives, are experiencing creatively, professionally, and personally. What types of films are they making? What stories and themes are they exploring? What genres and visual styles are they drawn to? How do they perceive themselves in their lives and careers? What are their hopes, dreams, and desires?
I have always loved global cinema and believe in it as a tool to bridge gaps and bring people of different backgrounds together to try to better understand one another through the universal mode of storytelling. As a writer, I believe that context is everything and story is king.
Traveling with “33 and Me” has opened up my eyes to a world of cinema and I have come to realize that beyond pure entertainment, cinema is a hugely influential artform to societies all over the globe, oftentimes helping to form a national identity or even shape its history, a trend around the world that I believe should be further examined.
Sometimes cinema speaks for the citizens of a country that otherwise has its voices muted. Many of the filmmakers we feature on “33 and Me” take great risks to tell their stories, and by doing so, their films and actions provide hope, inspiration and knowledge to their populace.
Through “33 and Me,” we meet an eclectic mix of filmmakers who are changing the world around them; some are up-and-coming, many have already started to make a name for themselves by breaking box office records in their countries or winning Sundance, or nominated for Academy Awards. On top of impressive resumes, we feature directors who are revolutionaries, individuals who are building up their country’s film industry from scratch, filmmakers who are challenging the norms, auteurs who have survived wars to go on to tell their stories, filmmakers who continue to fight for their freedoms through the stories they tell and even by the means in which they produce films. We encounter hope and despair, inspiration and devotion, struggles and survival and strength beyond compare.
“33 and Me” is not just a television series, it is a support structure for these filmmakers, to encourage them to continue to produce compelling content and help provide an audience for their work, which in turn further propels their careers forward allowing them to continue to share their stories of strength and survival, to inspire a wider audience and encourage the next generation of filmmakers.
I wish to seek out creative individuals who innovate, inspire and challenge the status quo. In this process, I plan to foster connections around the world among talented, intelligent, and creative individuals; to form life-long friendships and future collaborators; and to help promote the empowering expression of the cinematic arts. Most importantly, I plan to introduce these fearless filmmakers and their inspiring stories into living rooms around the world.