Arielle Nobile: “Question everything!”

My films and the conversations I lead, remind people that we are all deeply interconnected and our stories interweave. We affect one another whether we notice or not. We have to move beyond tolerating one another to loving each other if we’re going to survive 2020 and beyond. We have to tackle our personal fears […]

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My films and the conversations I lead, remind people that we are all deeply interconnected and our stories interweave. We affect one another whether we notice or not. We have to move beyond tolerating one another to loving each other if we’re going to survive 2020 and beyond. We have to tackle our personal fears and programming in order to tune into our courage and love. Whether we look alike, pray alike, think alike, or come from the same cultural backgrounds, countries, or political groups, we have to have each other’s backs.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Arielle Nóbile.

Arielle Nobile, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and creator of the Belonging in the USA docu-series, has been featured in several publications, including The Independent’s “10 to Watch Filmmakers in 2018” list. Since graduating NYU in 2001, she has used storytelling and filmmaking as tools to inspire self-reflection, empathy, and healing.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

I studied Experimental Theatre at NYU for undergrad. In my third year, I was part of creating a devised theatre piece Ad/diction led by master acting professor/director Stephen Wangh (who mentored Moises Kaufman of the Laramie Project) about the connection between addiction and advertising. This is when I got my first real taste of the power of documentary storytelling. The entire piece was created from interviews we conducted ourselves and I LOVED doing those interviews even more than I loved performing.

Then when 9/11 hit, I began documenting anything and everything for over a year with a tiny handheld, mini-DV camera that I had borrowed. That plus an editing internship I got at a small advertising editing shop in Chicago became my independent film school. In 2003–2004 I did an intensive year-long directing program at Second City in Chicago. Then in 2005 I started my own small production company, Legacy Connections Films. At first I was a one-woman wonder, producing/directing/editing dozens of private documentaries for families and family businesses aimed at helping families connect and heal.

By then I was clear that so much of the best creative material comes from real life and lived experiences. The idea for my business was to combine all of my passions into one place, while also finding a way to make a living doing what I love. That’s how I got into documentaries. I spent over a decade making private broadcast quality documentary films for families and then in 2016 with that pivotal presidential season and subsequent election, my focus shifted to creating documentaries aimed at elevating empathy, consciousness, and healing for our shared human family.

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

There are so many! It’s hard to think of just one:) I would say that one of the most interesting stories is about the inception of the documentary that I am just about to share with the public, “Belonging in the USA: The Story of Alicia & Antonio .’’ In many ways it was almost 20 years in the making! The first seed or kernel of the story was planted in my imagination on my first trip to Argentina in the fall of 2000 when I took a leave of absence from my theatre program to write my first play. On the plane, I read my Lonely Planet: Argentina guidebook and learned for the first time about the military dictatorship there from 1976–1983 and the desparecidos (disappeared). I was shocked that a genocide like that had happened in the Americas during my lifetime and though I’d studied Spanish since the age of nine, I had never heard a thing mentioned about it.

I fell deeply and hopelessly in love with Argentina as I traveled there for several months. Then when 9/11 happened the following year followed by Argentina’s complete economic and political crash, I started to obsess about the connection between Germany, Argentina, and the US and fear that we were headed in a similar fascist/totalitarian direction as a nation. I worried for our collective soul. This ultimately led to my returning to Argentina with another small handheld MiniDV camcorder in 2003 and interviewing the activist mothers of the disappeared known internationally as the Mothers of the Plaza de mayo. I struggled and strained to do what I thought I was supposed to do as a documentary filmmaker, to say something new about the Argentina dictatorship.

While I struggled to find a cohesive narrative to build the film around while working several jobs and starting my own production company, I couldn’t seem to let the story go. By then I also felt a profound sense of responsibility and debt to all the mothers in Argentina who had shared their personal stories with me. For nearly a decade I mentioned the documentary I was making to nearly everyone I met. I even met my husband, who is Argentine, through the process of making the film through mutual contact. At a dinner party in 2008, a friend of a friend lent me Alicia Partnoy’s book, The Little School about her time in a clandestine detention center as a desaparecida during the Argentine military regime. After reading, I was so inspired by Alicia’s story and her in-tact sense of humor in spite of the atrocities she’d faced, that I reached out to her via a Facebook message. And miracle of all miracles, she responded!

I asked if I could come to LA to interview her for the documentary I was still making. I spent a couple of magical days in 2009 interviewing her, her husband, Antonio (who had been a political prisoner in the same era), and their daughter Eva, a budding activist. And while I left that experience deeply moved, grateful and felt something had been healed within me, I still had no idea what I could make filmwise from all the pieces I had been gathering over so many years.

I felt I had nothing new to say about that tragic moment in world history.

Flash forward to inauguration weekend 2017, when my husband suggests I make a series of documentaries to help inspire and uplift people along the lines of a short episodic series I’d won an award for in Boulder in 2011. I then got a download from the universe that caused me to reach out to Alicia after many years and ask her to once again allow me the honor of sharing her story as a featured subject in the series. Miraculously, she is delighted to hear from me and agrees!

We picked up where we left off in 2009 and I found myself back in LA in the fall of 2018 spending a week filming her, her family and close friends. After nearly 20 years, I find a way to honor the memory of all the many people I had the privilege to interview over all those years. By now, all of the mothers I interviewed have passed away. I am able to fulfill what feels like one of my life’s purposes: to share the story of their sons, daughters, and grandchildren to a US audience who to this day knows little or nothing about what happened in a country so similar and so close to ours, not so long ago.

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

One of the most amazing interactions I ever had was with Orland Bishop after he delivered a keynote at a conference I was at in Denver. I had never heard of Orland before that day and he was introduced to the conference as the man who had once brokered a peace deal between the bloods and the crips, two warring gangs in LA in the 90s. In his presence, it became clear how he had done that. He lives and breathes beingness. He asked us to ask ourselves,“what did you have to agree to, to become yourself?” I got to sit down one on one after his keynote and it felt like being with an enlightened being. I have no idea what we talked about, but I remember how good it felt just to sit with him and be there together. I felt that there was so much communication beyond words. His very presence inspired me so tremendously that to this day, I ask audiences live and virtually to consider that question he posed to us all that first day I got to meet him.

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

My series of documentaries, “Belonging in the USA: Stories from Our Neighbors” is the most exciting multi-film, multi-year project I have ever worked on. We are about to release the second film, “The Story of Alicia & Antonio.” We are also nearing the post-production stage of the third film in the series, “The Story of the Tsuchiya” about the legacy of the WWII Japanese Incarceration on one multi-generational family.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Freedom Fighters are the people in history who most inspire me, and I include any and all people who have seen injustice, spoken up, and taken action to make the world a more humane, peaceful, and just place. Some of the people that make the top of my list are the Madres de la plaza de mayo who spent decades seeking truth and justice, building community and solidarity. I get a lot of inspiration from women in history whose stories may be little known but whose choices paved the way for me to follow my dreams.

And I have to say, Mr. Rogers is a huge inspiration to me. He made such a huge impact on my life and continues to even to this day. Mr. Rogers’ way of being in the world taught me that it was possible to be accepted and loved just the way I am. He also used his creativity and love to teach our generation what it means to truly be a neighbor, which is a concept that my work today is steeped in. Ultimately, it is because of him that I feel so strongly to this day a deep, spiritual connection with every single person who crosses my path. I feel deeply that we are all neighbors, regardless of where we actually reside. If we treated each other as such, this world would be a very different place. I learned that from Mr. Rogers.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

A wise teacher once told me to ask myself what breaks my heart and then work every day towards healing that brokenness. What breaks my heart the most right now is the way we as a society buy into the narrative of “us vs. them”, “Black vs. White”, “Republican vs. Democrat,” “police vs. communities”. I know that we have the capacity as humans to treat each other with respect, love, and basic decency in spite of our perceived differences. By simply sharing our stories and practicing revolutionary listening techniques (which requires suspending our judgement and beliefs momentarily), we can truly see one another one human to another. “Seek first to understand…”

My mantra is, “If you exist, you belong. Period.” I feel it is our basic human right to feel a sense of belonging at the deepest, most personal levels. We can trace most of the inequities and major social/political issues of our time to one group telling another group they do not belong or governments creating policies that place one group over another in the hierarchy of belonging and then pass this into law. To me feeling a sense of innate belonging as a human and being able to live from a sense of purpose go hand in hand. The stories in my Belonging series all trace freedom fighters who in one way or another were told they did not belong and yet found a sense of purpose and belonging on their journey.

Gandhi urged us to “be the change” we want to see in the world. Every day I do what I can to brighten up the energy of the spaces I inhabit, whether by smiling at a stranger, expressing my curiosity, or through my creative expressions. I identify as an empath which means I have the innate capacity to understand and feel what the people around me are feeling and experiencing. This makes me often feel like a sort of human experience translator. I can hold many povs and often conflicting povs and empathize with them all at once and by modeling this, hopefully start to help people who are not as naturally empathic learn to stretch themselves to do the same.

My films and the conversations I lead, remind people that we are all deeply interconnected and our stories interweave. We affect one another whether we notice or not. We have to move beyond tolerating one another to loving each other if we’re going to survive 2020 and beyond. We have to tackle our personal fears and programming in order to tune into our courage and love. Whether we look alike, pray alike, think alike, or come from the same cultural backgrounds, countries, or political groups, we have to have each other’s backs.

Ever since George Floyd’s murder I’ve committed even more to learn and study what it means to do anti-racist work and to lead the fellow white people in my communities to investigate their own whiteness, privilege, racist programming, and systemic racism. The pandemic has created the chance for new opportunities to connect and learn that people didn’t have time for before. I host virtual screenings and discussions of my films that focus on what we can learn from our own histories as they relate to the story of humanity. I help people tap into how they can build more empathy. I also host monthly FB lives I call “On Belonging” where I interview guests from varying cultures, backgrounds, and professions and demonstrate revolutionary listening in action.

It is both vulnerable and brave to tell your story. What I hope is that when people watch my films and participate in the conversations I host, they might be encouraged to share their stories or become more conscious and active in co-creating their story.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

It was kind of like death by a thousand paper cuts, but ultimately, it came out of the last election cycle because I was absolutely convinced that after the Obama years there was no way we would elect someone who was preaching hate and othering as his main rhetoric. I was so totally blindsided by the election results in 2016. Something inside me broke open. My husband, who voted for the first time as a US citizen in that election had followed the whole thing very closely and had told me many times that the results we got were likely. I was very condescending in hindsight, assuring him that there was no way that we, as a country would let that happen.

I had lost touch with just how broken and divided we’d allowed ourselves to become. After 11/9/2016, I began the slow and painful process of reckoning with my own ignorance that I know came directly out of my white privilege. I had been living in a bubble that encouraged me to ignore the many many injustices which had been growing steadily stronger even throughout the Obama era. The election of the current president, who I do not call by name, was the final trigger for me to take a big step back, reassess everything in my life, and start a whole new chapter in my education. The first order of business was to challenge so many of the assumptions and my own complacency/complicity. I then went in search of the teachers that had helped me at other painful crossroads in my life, two of these teachers were Michael D. McCarty and Alicia Partnoy who are featured in my documentary series.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

At every screening and throughout production, I have felt the impact that deep personal storytelling has on storytellers and audience alike. It’s hard to pick out just one particular individual, but one middle-aged white woman at a Chicago Public Library screening comes to mind. During the discussion, she stood up to share how she had been very reluctantly dragged to the screening by her boyfriend. She was going through a very rough patch in her life, feeling helpless, depressed, lost and lacking a sense of purpose. After watching Michael’s story, she said, she knew that she had been forever changed. She was inspired, restored, renewed, and most importantly reconnected to a sense of purpose and belonging.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Since governments and society are made up of individuals, I would say that the top three things individuals can do that will hopefully support the massive repair we need to undertake as a society that will then lead to government transformation are:

  1. Practice revolutionary listening. Suspend your judgement and identities to truly be present and hold space to hear the stories, painful or otherwise of those around you. Instead of being ready to refute another person’s lived experience, take the time to first listen deeply and understand where they’re coming from. Pay attention to what happens inside of you when you momentarily leave your own story behind and allow someone else’s story to truly penetrate you. As one of my wise teachers (Lisa Sokolov) used to repeat over and over, “Notice what you notice, feel what you feel”. And as Brene Brown reminds us, “People are hard to hate close up, lean in!”
  2. Question everything! Especially your habitual thoughts and actions. Einstein taught us that “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” And yet this is what we’ve been doing for decades. In order to repair what’s broken we first have to reckon with our own complicity.
  3. Practice sharing your stories and allow yourself to be heard and seen. For many this is one of the toughest because depending on how you identify, you may be part of a group that historically has been silenced, ignored, denied, or worse. It is vulnerable to be seen as we really are. It is vulnerable to stand in our power and speak our truths. It is vulnerable to share who we really are. Be courageous enough to trust that in telling your story you will not only be healing yourself, but that healing will have ripple effects that can change the world for the better.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

5 things I wish someone had told me when I first started:

  1. Good is good enough. That is my team’s mantra for this year. As someone who has struggled with perfectionism my whole life, embracing this idea has been totally transformative. Especially when it comes to films or creative endeavors, I could literally go on tweaking and changing and bettering them FOREVER! Perfectionism has been a recipe for burnout in my lifetime and time again. Now I set a date as to when something is good enough to be shown, I get some feedback from outside eyes, do a limited number of edits and then let it be good enough. Getting a film in front of an audience and seeing how it plays to a room and where the laughter, tears, or strongest reactions come from is key but to get to that point you have to release perfectionism.
  2. Don’t chase or push. While persistence, hard work and faith have all been key ingredients in my success, I’ve learned over time that the most amazing opportunities have come to me when I’m enjoying my life and letting myself be in flow. I have found that when I get anxious or insecure about something I tend to sort of buckle down and try to push or make things happen. While a certain level of grit is necessary in birthing any creative endeavor, an equal amount of letting go and trusting is necessary. Risk contacting the potential funder, interview subject, screening venue etc. Persist in following up when they don’t immediately respond. But at a certain point, recognize that what is truly meant for you will fall into place at the right time. Anything I’ve done that has been successful has always happened through allowing rather than chasing or pushing.
  3. Preaching to the choir has its merits. I remember when I started to show “The Story of Michael D. McCarty” and felt frustrated because it seemed like everyone who was interested in seeing the film or who came to the screenings were people who already agreed with the message of the film. I have come to see that there is power and purpose in showing my work to audience’s who resonate with it. Especially in regards to human rights and social justice issues that may not be solved in their entirety in one lifetime, I now recognize that providing a dose of inspiration, affirmation, and upliftment through my creative offerings can be treatment to communities who need an infusion.
  4. Pay yourself a living wage to prevent total burnout. By the end of the first year of making “Belonging in the USA,” I came to a crossroads that wasn’t pretty. I had poured my heart, soul, and savings into the project. I’d reached out and asked for help and money from my community near and far. I’d spent countless hours toiling and promoting the project. I had paid myself zero dollars. This led me to a “come to Jesus” moment with myself and in my marriage when we had to reckon with and remember that we couldn’t support our family without two incomes. I began to work The Artist’s Way for the third time in my life, and several months later received an unexpected and miraculous check in the mail from a friend that allowed me to both continue with the project and begin to pay myself something for all my work. While I still maintain an income from my Legacy work, just paying myself a small amount on a regular basis from this project, has made it sustainable and allowed it and me to thrive.
  5. Use project management software and a calendar scheduling app stat! I finally started using Asana and Calendly and they have made all the difference. I have saved so much time not going back and forth with my team over a million emails and with other people setting up meetings, that I have more time for the actual creative aspects of the work that I love. Documentary films are labors of love and they take a LOT longer and cost more than you think they will. At the end of 2019 after doing my first year of the festival circuit cross-crossing the country, I was totally burnt out. I know burnout is in some way a badge of honor in our culture, but for me, it was anything but. I have many daily soul care practices in place like morning meditation, workouts, and journaling, but this time they did not stop me from having nearly daily anxiety attacks. I began 2020 with a whole new outlook and regiment which included discovering Asana for project management and Calendly for scheduling. I also say no a lot more often so that I can say yes to what nurtures me.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I’d say that whether we realize it or not, we are all, always, and in all ways, making an impact on our environment and society. To consciously choose to make an impact has given more meaning and purpose to my life. Yes, we are all just single individuals amongst billions of people on the planet, but our actions, choices, thoughts, assumptions, and creative efforts have ripple effects. Also, I’d tell them that we each have a unique voice, lens, and story and that we all have an essential part to play in the way human history unfolds.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

It’s a tie between India Arie and Brené Brown! It would be literally a dream come true to get to interview both of them either together or individually in one of my “On Belonging” conversations. They are both huge influences, teachers, and inspirations in my life and work.

In my early 20s, my friend Candice and I used to drive around lower Manhattan listening to and belting out India Arie’s first album, “Acoustic Soul”. Her music has gotten me through life. I fulfilled a dream of seeing her in concert in Indiana in 2019 on her Worthy tour. On one of my darkest days in early motherhood, I stumbled across some essays she had written on her website and experienced her healing power literally reach through my phone screen and jolt me into a new era of my life. It felt divinely timed. I treasure her Song-versation podcast and her music as soul treatment. She is a healer who has brought me so much personal transformation through her music, writing, and story sharing.

I have gotten the chance to see Brené Brown speak live three times. Her books are like bibles to me. Her articulation of the concepts of shame, belonging, resilience, values, risk taking, and what it means to be human have shaped and inspired my life and work. And the podcast she started, “Unlocking Us” during this pandemic has literally been sanity-saving.

They both have a light and sense of humor that remind me why I am here.

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

I am big on life lesson quotes and in fact in 8th grade at a particularly low point in my life, my mother let my friend and I write all kinds of inspirational quotes all over my bedroom walls which become a tradition that continued on my walls all through high school. To this day I keep inspiration boards in my two offices filled with inspirational quotes that I glance at multiple times a day to keep my creative juices flowing. So it’s hard to pick just one…hmmm….

So one I often open my screening discussion with. It’s by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Also, two other quotes that continue to inspire me to choose to be an uplifter and to express my creativity for the greater good are “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” and the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Then there’s the quote by Malala, “Do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you. It’s you who can change the world.”

These wise words motivate me every day.

How can our readers follow you online? where they can also sign up for our newsletter/blog updates

Instagram @belonging_Series and @ariellenobile

FB @belongingintheusa

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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