An ode to (female) mentorship

The director of a graduate program, a documentary filmmaker, a researcher turned restaurant owner and the founder of a female-centric production company. These are some of the wonderful women who have granted me opportunities in the workplace, and were friendly faces outside of it too.

We recently paid tribute and said goodbye to a brilliant professor, journalist and filmmaker. Deanna Kamiel was both the director and the heart of the Documentary Media Studies program at The New School. When someone recommended I’d look into that program four years ago, Deanna immediately took an interest in me. She welcomed me with open arms when I visited to ask her some questions and get a tour of the university. Since we both came from journalism, I felt a kinship with her early on. Just two journalists turned documentarians, who believed in the power and beauty of film and that following protagonists with little interference could illuminate some form of truth.

Hearing stories from others on the night of the tribute I learned that what she had meant to me, she also did to many, many others. It was beautiful to learn just how much impact she had made. I’ve always considered her someone who changed the course of my life, both personally and professionally. From her I learned about so many documentary filmmakers whose work I now hold dearly, and she taught me all I need to know about cinéma vérité. She also made it possible for me to both come to and then stay in New York.

Even after I left her classroom, she’d continue to help me develop and stayed actively in touch. She’d champion my thesis film by still showing up to screenings of it, even though she had seen it countless times. She wrote some glowing recommendation letters that landed me jobs and even more importantly, secured my artist visa, allowing me to stay here and continue the work that I love. She’d invite me to come speak to her new class, and afterwards keep me updated about the progress of their films. She’d write me to share thoughts about films she knew I’d enjoy too.

In saying goodbye to her, I came to think of how important mentorship is. And how lucky I’ve been to consider multiple women in my life as mentors. The beauty is, I never had to ask for it. In trusting me with the work I’d do for them, they gave me the greatest gift. All of them allowed me to grow by giving me responsibility, showing me they thought I was capable, making me want to strive for what they believed I could do. They gave me advice when I needed it, or let me watch over their shoulders as they did what they do best.

One of them gave me the chance to prove myself as a researcher, by hiring me for an international documentary series and is now helping me develop a project as a director. Another gave me my first job on a feature documentary, allowing me to grow in my position over years and making me feel part of her core team. Meanwhile the woman who gave me my first internship in the documentary world has grown into a friend that I still visit every time I come home, and who I can always ask for help. And Deanna, she always treated me as an equal, a fellow filmmaker, honoring my voice as a young artist, even when I was still trying to find it.

Along the way, others appeared too, willing to share their knowledge, to take a bit of time to point me in the right direction, or to encourage me to continue. Like the director who would always refer me for jobs, even though she had never personally worked with me. And the author who frequently edits my attempts at creative writing. Or the writer/showrunner who let me and the women I share a collective with ask her all kinds of questions about her work. I owe a debt of gratitude to each and everyone of them.

The other day some advice from lettering artist and author Jessica Hische popped up on my Twitter feed. She wrote how one of the best things any women in her twenties could do for herself is befriend awesome women in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and so on. The reason? “Seeing constant (real) examples your potential future self means never wishing to be a day younger than you are and looking forward for what’s to come.”

I couldn’t agree more. In these women that helped me guide and shape my career in my early twenties, I see what I want to be, and can be. A director, a business owner, a storyteller, a generous friend and one day, a mentor to someone else.