Don’t compare your journey to others; it is very tempting to do, but we are all different people with different circumstances, so building your own path should be your main focus.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia Sparrow of August Pictures.
Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Claudia has been recognized as one of the ten prominent female filmmakers in Peru. Her AFI film EL AMERICANO won a 2009 Emmy Award in the drama category and she was a recipient of the 2009 Franklin J. Schaffner Fellow Award for directing EL AMERICANO.
Claudia’s first feature film I REMEMBER YOU, starring Stefanie Butler and Joe Egender, premiered at the 2015 Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles where it won the “Best Feature Length Dramatic Film” Award. I REMEMBER YOU had a theatrical release in 2016 and it’s currently available on all major SVOD platforms.
MAXIMA, her feature-length documentary film about Peruvian activist Máxima Acuña, recently premiered at HotDocs where it won the prestigious Audience Award. Claudia is a 2018 Film Independent Fellow.
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 was born and raised in Peru and fell in love with cinema at an early because my Dad was a cinephile. After I graduated from high school, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study film in the US, and that is when my journey to become a filmmaker started. I went to Bennington College, Vermont, and I got to experiment with photography and filmmaking and made my first short films then. After that I moved to California and was accepted into AFI’s Directing program. I won a student Emmy for my thesis film EL AMERICANO and directed my first feature film I REMEMBER YOU after that. I haven’t stopped trying to tell stories that I am absolutely moved by or fascinated by since then!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
My biggest lesson has been ‘never say never.’ Only a few years ago I would have sworn over my life that I would never direct a documentary film, simply because my focus was fiction filmmaking. But then I came across the story of Máxima Acuña in 2016 and that experience transformed me to such degree that I now cannot imagine not working on another documentary in the future.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I am extremely lucky because filmmaking has allowed me to interact not just with wonderful creatives, but also with remarkable people from all walks of life. The people that I find the most interesting are those who are passionate about their work, whatever it is that they do, and do it with integrity, compassion, and who are not afraid to fail or reinvent themselves if needed in service of their work and mission.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am actively involved in the release of my feature documentary MAXIMA which tells the story of an amazing woman who is standing up to the largest gold producer in the world. And what she has achieved in her journey for justice is mind-blowing. She is a wonderful human being, and it has not only been an honor to document her fight, but also to witness how many people she inspires on a daily basis all around the world!
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
The first person that comes to mind right now is RBG, but I am inspired by anyone who isn’t afraid to stand up for what is right at any given time. I am particularly moved by young activists from vulnerable and underrepresented communities who are fighting to advocate for their rights and to protect the environment. They inspire me because doing any kind of advocacy work requires an immense amount of work, courage and determination, and that is extra challenging when you are young, under-resourced and trying to forge a road against the establishment.
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?
In 2016, I decided to make a documentary feature film about Peruvian activist Máxima Acuña because I was extremely moved by her and her cause. For the last three years, I put my fiction work mostly on pause and I have been focused on supporting Máxima’s mission and give her voice a larger and worldwide platform through the film. Máxima is fighting to defend universal human rights and to protect the environment. Both are under major threat, so now is the time to do what we can to support those causes however we can.
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?
My personal trigger was realizing how deeply uninformed I was about the impact of gold mining on communities and the environment. I also was shocked to learn how a multi-national corporation had been getting away with committing human rights abuse and environmental crimes for over twenty years, and the involvement of the World Bank in it. As a filmmaker I felt that I couldn’t stay silent, that there was something that I could do to create awareness about these topics and help stop the abuse.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Fortunately, our documentary film MAXIMA has been successful so far in bringing awareness about Máxima Acuña’s story and her ongoing legal battle. She and her family have received support from people and organizations all over the world, and we are only getting started. Our goal is to create real impact and hopefully have Máxima’s story set precedent so that no one in a similar situation has to endure the abuse and harassment that she has experienced to date.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Yes, there are different ways in which anyone can take action; sign our petition, donate, host a screening of the film, educate yourself about clean gold sourcing, etc. They can visit our website https://www.standwithmaxima.com/get-involved and learn more.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
– To always follow your instinct no matter what.
– To make sure to put time and energy into networking and building professional relationships from the very beginning; no great relationship is built overnight.
– It is a marathon, not a sprint. At least when it comes to filmmaking, getting a project made can take a long time and you need to be prepared for that, especially financially when you are first getting started.
– Don’t compare your journey to others; it is very tempting to do, but we are all different people with different circumstances, so building your own path should be your main focus.
– Take care of yourself! You cannot really help anyone if you are not doing well physically, emotionally and financially.
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 would tell them that protecting the environment or supporting a cause that they believe in now will go towards building a healthier, fairer world for everyone. They basically have the chance to build the world that they want to live in in the future, so there is not time to waste or small action to take.
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. 🙂
I would honored and thrilled to collaborate however I can with anyone who is fighting for human rights and the environment, especially when it is relevant to vulnerable communities in Latin America.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I ran across the following quote from Erma Bombeck the other day that really resonated with me: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.” That is how I have lived my life ever since I decided to become a filmmaker, just trying my absolute best, almost to my own detriment, but I am that passionate about the craft of cinema and I would not change a thing.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am on Instagram @LittleSparrowFilms, and they can follow my film MAXIMA at @StandWithMaxima or visit the website at www.standwithmaxima.com