Stephanie Boyd has spent the past 20 years living and working in Peru as a filmmaker and journalist. She has produced and directed three award-winning feature documentaries, and her 2016 short film, Parana -The River was recently given an award for best short film from Cusco from Peru’s Ministry for Culture.
Stephanie is currently working on a feature documentary about the Karuara, spiritual beings that live in the Amazons’ rivers, and an indigenous community’s struggle to save these sacred water guardians. The film will follow Mariluz, a brave Kukama grandmother, and her community in a remarkable quest to save their river and the Karuara spirits. Here, get to know where Stephanie began her film making journey, and how she’s persevered over the decades to create a career characterized by radical empathy and a devotion to providing a platform for the voiceless to be heard.
My first job ever was…working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at City of Oshawa pools.
I decided to become a filmmaker because…I wanted to help people who are ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream media to tell their own stories in their own voices.
My proudest accomplishment was…when my film The Devil Operation was used as evidence in a legal case that won compensation for more than 20 Andean farmers and journalists who were tortured by Peruvian police and private security forces from a British-owned mine. Two of the victims were women who were also sexually abused. One of the women came to our screening of the film in her home town and stood up to company officials who accused her of lying with eloquence and dignity. I was proud to have been part of her story.
My boldest move to date was… moving to Kenya at the tender age of 22 (23 years ago!) to work as a volunteer human rights journalist. This was before the internet, cell phones or Facebook and I felt like an alien on another planet: covering civil wars, refuge crisis and female genital mutilation. It was a different world from the safe bubble I grew up in.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I have a terrible sense of direction and ended up in Peru because I was trying to get back to Africa. (Actually, Cuso International, a Canadian development organization, sent me to Peru to work as a human rights journalist. But I really was looking for a job in Africa—thankfully Cuso took a chance on me and sent me to Peru, even though I didn’t speak Spanish at the time).
My best advice to people starting out in film making is…to pick a subject that you love because you’re going to be living, breathing and sleeping with your project for months or even years. Don’t go into film making because you want to be rich or famous or end up with a pension plan. Do it because there’s something inside of you that won’t be satisfied until the film is done: it’s a long ride and you need to be driven to make it to the finish line.
My best advice from a mentor was…“Keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds.”
My biggest setback…happened a decade ago when my co-director and life partner and I separated while we were finishing a movie.
“Don’t go into film making because you want to be rich or famous or end up with a pension plan. Do it because there’s something inside of you that won’t be satisfied until the film is done: it’s a long ride and you need to be driven to make it to the finish line.”
I overcame it by…realizing that the story we were telling was more important than our problems, and that we had to heal our relationship by finishing the film together. We are still friends and support each other’s work from afar. My ex helped me set-up my own non-profit film association and was a consulting editor on my first solo-directed film.
Work/life balance is…understanding that “work” includes keeping oneself healthy, sane and happy. It revolutionized my life once I realized that part of my job is to take care of myself, so that I have the energy and drive necessary for my creative work.
To me, empowering women is…an important first step. But we need to go further and realize that we, as women, are mirror images of Mother Earth and must do everything we can to protect her. We have always had the power to give birth, to create new life and must use our newfound powers in business, politics, media and the arts to act as guardians of our communities and environment.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…my top-secret alias. Or that I’m addicted to chocolate.
I stay inspired by…remembering the protagonists of my films and how they confront dangers and obstacles far greater than any I’ve encountered with courage, grace and strength. And by climbing mountains, even when I feel like I’ll never make it to the top.
The future excites me because…there are still many mountains left to climb, even though the glaciers are melting.
My next step is…to finish a film about a brave Kukama woman and her community in Peru’s Amazon who are using ancient legends, art and music to protect their sacred rivers. I’ve come full circle and will be working as a Cuso International volunteer again this year. I’ll be directing an animation course in the jungle with an indigenous painting school. The students will help us create animations about the magical spirit world beneath their river for the film.
To help support Stephanie’s film-making efforts, donate now (American donations can be made here) or reach out to her directly.