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Anne Checler: “Tell stories about what you know”

I believe that art, and film especially, is a reflection of identity. For the longest time, it has been restricted to the point of view of white men. It is imperative that minorities, whose voices have been suppressed for so long, get to make images of themselves, get to write their own stories. But this […]

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I believe that art, and film especially, is a reflection of identity. For the longest time, it has been restricted to the point of view of white men. It is imperative that minorities, whose voices have been suppressed for so long, get to make images of themselves, get to write their own stories. But this push for diversity can only happen if it’s implemented within institutions from the top down. Those stories have to be promoted, released, broadcast. Hire administrators, executive producers, festival programmers of color. Don’t check the diversity box just by having a couple of BIPOC interns. If the gatekeepers of the narrative do not change, we will be stuck with the same skewed perspective of the world. Our world is divided. There is a lot of hate and fear. The more we get to see, hear, read stories from a point-of-view other than our own, the more we get to understand the other. And how can you hate a person if you truly understand them? How can we not all benefit from more diversity?


As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Anne Checler.

Anne Checler, director of “The Stand”, a podcast about political activism, is an award-winning filmmaker and editor with experience in long and short-form documentaries, television and web series which have covered a wide range of issues, from French Resistance fighters during WWII to slave labor in Brazil, and voters’ rights in the U.S.

Her work has been featured on PBS (Independent Lens and American Experience,) NBC, France 2, TV Globo, the New York Times, The New Yorker, HuffPost/Highline, Quartz, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, DocNYC, and various other international film festivals. She is excited that the first episode of “The Stand” — Goodnight Irene — is having its World Premiere at the New Media Film Festival.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in Paris, France in a multicultural family. My mother grew up in New Jersey, my father grew up in Algeria. They met in the early sixties on board of one of the last transatlantic passenger ships, somewhere between New York and France. We are a family of travelers. My parents, my siblings and I all left the countries where we were born to follow our dreams somewhere else. Art was omnipresent in my life. The walls of my childhood home were covered with artwork from my grandfather and family friends. My mother is a very talented jazz pianist so that was pretty much the soundtrack of my youth. I was a very reserved child, the kind of kid who doesn’t speak much but takes everything in. I loved to write, draw comic books and play classical piano. From the time I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be an artist. In what capacity, I wasn’t sure.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had a lot of admiration for my American grandfather who was an artist. Whenever he finished a painting, I said I wanted to be a painter. When he published a book, I said I wanted to be a writer. I then hesitated between being a classical pianist or a ballet dancer. At the age of 17, I settled on filmmaking and moved to NYC to attend the School of Visual Arts. With film, I found a way to pursue all the artistic careers I had considered — together.

Filmmaking is in essence telling stories by painting with light, writing with movement, and playing with rhythm and sound.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I don’t know about a funny story, but I do have an interesting one. When I was one year out of film school, I sent my short film to a film festival in the South of France. It was a Franco-American festival and being Franco-American myself, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to meet filmmakers from both sides of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, my film was not accepted but I decided to attend the festival nonetheless, to network. This was way before the time of digital files, so I packed my 16mm films in my bag. Just in case.

When I arrived at the venue and introduced myself to the director of the festival, he said: “Oh yeah, Anne Checler… What was your film again? “Alone with Julian,” right? I hated your film, it was so boring! There is no place for that film in this festival!”

No words came out of my mouth, but the hurt was deep. I returned to my hotel room where I spent the rest of the afternoon, devastated. I picked myself up the next morning, determined to find out whether there could be a place for my film in the festival. For three days straight, I attended all the screenings I could fit into 8 hours. There were good films and not so good ones. I got to meet lovely directors and producers. One of them showed interest in my work and offered to organize a screening of my film in a local cultural center. I invited a select group of people and had a wonderful screening. But most importantly, we had organized our own “off-festival” and turned a major disappointment into a success story!

I always keep this story in the back of my mind as a reminder to surround myself with people who believe in me and can help me strive.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Since I have worked as a film editor for most of my career, I spend a lot of my time in a dark room, in the shadow so to speak. My physical interactions are really limited to the producers and directors I work with. It’s very intimate. However, I spend hours and hours with footage of the characters whose story I tell, so I feel a deep connection to them. It is always a beautiful moment when I get to meet them in the flesh. They have never met me and have no idea who I am, but I know everything about them! One of the first films I edited, “Sisters in Resistance”, was about four French women who fought in the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. At our premiere screening, I had the privilege of meeting one of them. It was one of the most humbling moment in my career. I am much more starstruck by people who have put their lives on the line to fight against oppression, than celebrities.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well it may sound a bit of a cliché, but I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without my family’s support. From my husband, my parents, my sister, my brother. It takes a village. Especially as a working mother of two. Without affordable childcare in the U.S., one must be creative and find solutions to make things work. And my family was always there for me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t really have a “Life Lesson Quote”. I am a perfectionist and was schooled in an environment where perfectionism was encouraged. The French school system was brutal that way. You were never [blank] enough. As a result, I have a very annoying little voice in my head that is never satisfied and that keeps telling me I could do better.

Sure, that little voice is a good push when you’re trying to achieve goals, but it can also impede on your self-growth when it’s too loud. So, I’ve decided to “lead my life with perfect imperfection”, which helps me be kinder to myself.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I believe that art, and film especially, is a reflection of identity. For the longest time, it has been restricted to the point of view of white men. It is imperative that minorities, whose voices have been suppressed for so long, get to make images of themselves, get to write their own stories. But this push for diversity can only happen if it’s implemented within institutions from the top down. Those stories have to be promoted, released, broadcast. Hire administrators, executive producers, festival programmers of color. Don’t check the diversity box just by having a couple of BIPOC interns. If the gatekeepers of the narrative do not change, we will be stuck with the same skewed perspective of the world. Our world is divided. There is a lot of hate and fear. The more we get to see, hear, read stories from a point-of-view other than our own, the more we get to understand the other. And how can you hate a person if you truly understand them? How can we not all benefit from more diversity?

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am currently working on a documentary about the history of the Jewish community in Algeria, based on my father’s family history. I am also developing new stories for “The Stand.”

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

We all have different ways of evaluating success. For me, my work makes me most proud when I have succeeded in making an impact, opening up a dialogue. I recently edited a documentary about domestic violence. We totaled over 700,000 views on YouTube. It’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing and makes me the proudest, is that the film has started a discussion on a topic that is usually kept under wraps. It has enabled thousands of women to come forward and talk about their experiences. That’s huge.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Well, I believe we are all works in progress, so some of these “5 things I wish someone had told me when I started,” are things I practice on a daily basis. But here we go:

1. Tell stories about what you know. As mentioned before, I went to school in France. The French school system is very different from the American system in that self-expression is not encouraged. In high school. We were not allowed to write essays in the first person. I recall one teacher saying: “Who cares what you think?” When I moved to New York and started film school, I had very little awareness of my own voice. I projected this image of what I thought a French filmmaker ought to be. My first films tried very hard to be ‘avant-garde”, whatever my idea of avant-garde was. And I failed miserably. The work was pretentious and unauthentic. The moment I started making films about my own experiences, using my own voice, my work was way better, it rang true. And a benefit of telling stories about what I knew was that it came naturally, it wasn’t forced. And it showed in the end. It touched my audience.

2. Behind arrogance hides insecurity. The world of film is very male-dominated and, as a woman, it is not always easy to make your voice heard. In film school, there were 8 women out of a class of roughly 80. Throughout my career, I have been outnumbered. I have had male collaborators talk to me in ways they would never address a man. It’s hard not to take things personally especially when you are starting out. Shifting your perspective and seeing someone’s insecurity before their arrogance makes you the strongest of the two.

3. Surround yourself with people who believe in you: This seems like common sense but don’t spend your energy trying to please the people who don’t believe in you in the first place. Surround yourself with people who respect you and your work, have your back and who you can rely on for advice, support and comfort.

4. Display your successes as reminders: It’s much easier to remember the times when things didn’t go well so I have a bulletin board over my desk where I keep mementos from the biggest successes in my life: pictures of my kids, a postcard of the film that earned me my first award, a heartfelt note from a colleague, etc.

5. Take care of your mental health: Working in documentary films especially can take a toll on our mental well-being. We are confronted to stories of hardship, watch footage which can be triggering so it is really important to practice self-care. I start my day with an hour walk in the park next to my house. If the weather is bad, I meditate or exercise. Especially during the pandemic, working from home, I find it imperative to establish boundaries. My “hours of operation” are made clear to my collaborators. I never check work emails outside those hours. I allow myself to disconnect from work by doing something completely different. I read fiction, I bake, I play the piano, I knit. As artists, the work we do is an intricate part of who we are. But it doesn’t hurt to, once in a while, label our work as a job so that it doesn’t take over our lives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Let’s start a movement that centers on more listening, more empathy. The world would be such a better place.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

My podcast is called “The Stand” and is a collective of stories about political and social activism. I am open to speaking to anyone who took a stand!

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can see my work at annechecler.com, thestandstories.com. I am also on twitter @achecler @thestandstories

You can also follow me on Facebook & Instagram

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you


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