Eve Symington is a recent film graduate from the Graduate Film M.F.A. program at Tisch School of the Arts in New York University. During the span of three years, Symington directed seven commercials and short films. Her thesis project “Tether” garnered attention in festivals, such as the Palm Springs International ShortFest. The film depicts how Nelli’s life, that of a young Mayan girl, changes. The birth of her niece threatens the life of her sister and, as a result, of Nelli’s dream to study outside of El Hato, Guatemala and become a math teacher.
Symington discovered a passion for directing at 11-years-old. In a recent conversation with HipLatina, She recalled her first project depicting a musical in which nuns inhabited the backyard of her childhood home in Connecticut. What initially hooked her to filmmaking? She said, “I like to boss people around.” She laughed. “I wish I was kidding about that, but I’m not.” The collaborative aspect and the opportunity to shed light on the struggles of the forgotten reinforced her passion. She discusses her last film, “Tether,” which first premiered in March of this year at New York University’s Fusion Film Festival and the central themes behind the project. She also reveals details about her next independent project.
Hip Latina: The film’s producer Charly Feldman said that it was important to shed light on the maternal health issues regarding Mayan women in Guatemala through this project. Why did you both want “Tether” to focus on this issue?
Eve Symington: Mayan women are the most marginalized group in Guatemala and their issues reflect the issues of indigenous women in developing countries. These very marginalized groups have dreams that are just like anybody else’s and have potential to realize them if only they were given the chance—if only educational systems were in place for them.
HL: The protagonist’s sister does not receive prenatal care and as a result her life is at risk. What are some of the overarching challenges that you noticed in Guatemalan society preventing women in similar situations from obtaining such resources?
ES: There’s a lot: I think hundreds of years of societal marginalization and oppression is the biggest one, a society that doesn’t invest enough in the schools [and] hospitals in these areas, [and] a cultural belief that these women can’t or shouldn’t reach outside of their prescribed path of early motherhood and taking care of their families.
HL: What communities are prioritizing the rights of Mayan women?
ES: Nonprofits are addressing the issue and doing a really great job at addressing the source of the problem. For example, Starfish commits to seeing [local] girls in programs through high school and then onto either university or whatever career path the girls choose.
HL: You invested time and money in searching for the ideal duo for “Tether.” Why did you go through this struggle of finding local actors?
ES: It’s all about showing other people as people who have their own richness in their lives and their own inherent value as opposed to showing them as some kind of ‘other.’ Portraying people as a homogenized other is incredibly dangerous as you can see with what’s going on right now in politics. What’s going on in the United States is dangerous. A lot of it comes from not meeting people from other places. Obviously, when you’re watching a movie you’re not meeting the person, but if you’re watching a good movie it can be second best. I feel that’s my work as a filmmaker. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, [or a] humanitarian. I’m a filmmaker. This is what I can do to help.
HL: What is a central theme in all of your projects thus far?
ES: If you look about it in general terms about showing a person who is constrained by their circumstances and prevented from realizing their potential, those kind of characters are definitely what I’m interested in telling stories about. Moving forward, I hope to make a feature film and explore some of those issues in terms of here in the United States [and] undocumented immigrants. I’m trying to tell a story about a Central American immigrant mother who is faced with some similar issues.
HL: Why do you want to direct a film about undocumented immigrants?
ES: Coming off the wave of spending so much time in Guatemala and exploring the other end of the journey to America so to speak. If you start listening to people’s stories you know what kind of struggle they go through here. I think for me it’s all about trying to—as a filmmaker—invite the audience into characters that they are not familiar with.
HL: You are now working at Stonehouse Motion Pictures as an executive assistant to director Rob Lorentz. Has your work at this production studio influenced your work as a filmmaker?
ES: Working for a company at a studio makes me think a lot about making a project commercial. If a project doesn’t make money, then you might not be invited to make another project. In terms of my next project, I think that it’s going to be helpful to have it set in the United States. I spent much of my adult life telling cross-cultural stories, even if they happen in our backyard.