Kristin West: “Well behaved women seldom make history”

I have many favorite causes. My family was in the produce business for several generations. Feeding America and No Kid Hungry are causes close to my heart. My grandmother also suffered from dementia and she died on my birthday when I was in college. Inspired by her memory, legacy and her impact on my life, […]

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I have many favorite causes. My family was in the produce business for several generations. Feeding America and No Kid Hungry are causes close to my heart. My grandmother also suffered from dementia and she died on my birthday when I was in college. Inspired by her memory, legacy and her impact on my life, I am very devoted to eradicating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. I am also proudly feminist and love fostering dialogues among women about the issues we care about. Recently, I started a women’s mastermind group for strong women in entertainment to support each other.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristin West, an award-winning actress, producer, host and director. Her feature film directorial debut “The Central Authority” is soon to be released. West is strong advocate for many causes including childhood hunger and food scarcity, mental health issues, body positivity and women’s issues.

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 started acting at age seven in my community theater production of “Charlotte’s Web”, playing Fern. As I grew older, I was the quintessential theater nerd in school. I spent much of my teens competing in one-act play competitions in South Texas, where I grew up. At age 16, I asked one of the critic judges if he thought I might have a career in acting. He said yes! So I went for it. Years later, I am so grateful for the entertainment career I have. It’s been a fun ride.

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

Depending on who you talk to, people say I am brave or crazy (sometimes both). Armin Nasseri and I were remotely editing “The Central Authority” over video chat this past June. It was a tumultuous time. We both had some civil unrest occurring within a mile of us. The Citizen apps on our phones were beeping constantly. We kept telling each other that we’d get through this. It happened to be that we were editing one of the most technically challenging scenes of the whole movie. All the sudden, we both felt an earthquake. Let’s just say we had to get even more calm and even more centered. I will never forget that as long as I live. Freedom of speech, press and assembly are integral to a society that values the arts and I admire the protesters that were fighting for our right to do all of those things as were editing “The Central Authority”. I could have done without the earthquake, though. We were shaken — emotionally and literally!

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

A few years back, I had the privilege of emceeing the awards show for the Concrete Dream Film Festival, a true celebration of avant-garde, non-traditional filmmaking, founded by Rena Riffel (Mulholland Drive, Showgirls). Our guest of honor, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, was director Philippe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan, Howling II & III, Brother Can You Spare a Dime). He was joy to meet! You never know what to expect when you’re in the presence of a living legend. Philippe was playful and fun and even gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek after the ceremony. He exudes a love of life. If I were stranded on a desert island and could pick one filmmaker to hang out with, it would probably be Philippe Mora. I know I would have a joyous, exuberant time.

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

My team and I are currently in post-production for “The Central Authority” which is a fully-socially distanced feature horror comedy. It was a bold choice to make a dystopian horror comedy that comments on the pandemic and cancel culture, but I felt it was necessary and valuable in the times we’re living in. We’re winding up post and I am hoping for a fall release for this fun, yet deep feature film. We’ll also be bringing back “Horror Talk with Kristin West” this fall with great chats with your favorite horror stars.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

There’s a saying that “well behaved women seldom make history”. As a feminist, I am in the process of challenging what “rules” are helping me and what “rules” are hurting me. Rule-breaking women fascinate me. Women who don’t fit neatly into patriarchal boxes and narratives fascinate me. Women who didn’t need to ask for permission or apologize enthrall me. Women in religious and spiritual community also fascinate me. I am an avid student of Eastern philosophy and spiritual thought and I’ve been studying the life of Yeshe Tsogyal, considered the Mother of Tibetan Buddhism. I am very interested in what makes a woman holy, divine and connected to Source, outside of traditional Western ideas of women and women’s behavior. By studying Yeshe Tsogyal, I am discovering the parts of me that are divine and divinely-inspired.

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?

I have many favorite causes. My family was in the produce business for several generations. Feeding America and No Kid Hungry are causes close to my heart. My grandmother also suffered from dementia and she died on my birthday when I was in college. Inspired by her memory, legacy and her impact on my life, I am very devoted to eradicating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. I am also proudly feminist and love fostering dialogues among women about the issues we care about. Recently, I started a women’s mastermind group for strong women in entertainment to support each other.

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 grandmother died on my birthday when I was in college. It took me several years to really get a handle on the grief of that experience. The gift of that grief was that I now hold fundraisers each year in her memory for Alzheimer’s and dementia charities in her memory. It gives a greater meaning to my birthday. It’s not just a fun day for me. It’s a mission. It helps me heal and it helps me keep her memory alive.

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

I love advocating for indie filmmakers. I am honored to be a judge of the Quarantini Film Festival, spear-headed by award-winning screenwriter and comedian Dana Olita. Dana really stepped up when the pandemic hit the indie film community by creating an online film festival for filmmakers to showcase their COVID-safe productions. She’s creating an online community of filmmakers with global reach and I am so privileged to be part of this.

There are thousands of film festivals, literally. Many are struggling due to the issues with movie theaters. So many of these festivals are labors of love for the runners of these festivals. We hear about Cannes or Sundance in headlines, but there are many local film festivals that are struggling to give filmmakers a place and space to exhibit their work. Dana is pioneering the COVID-safe filmmaking movement through her festival and I am honored to support her and her team.

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

Show Up for Mother Earth — Besides the human toll of pandemic, we also had some hopeful climate news during lock down. Yet, we’ve also seen huge wildfires. We’ve seen wild temperature swings. If we don’t show up for our planet, it will not be able to sustain us. There’s no planet B available and if we are to have sustainable business and film making in California especially, climate change needs to be a top priority.

Take an honest look at what and how you consume, especial media products — Representation matters. As Americans, we have habituated ways at looking people of different ages, skin colors, abilities and body types. We need to encourage and support media that challenges our stereotypes or what we assume is true about others. As a plus size woman working in Hollywood, I can attest that though my body is large, I do work out. I enjoy challenging my body. My body is not a joke. Consumers need to demand more nuanced portrayals of all people, not just easy, familiar types.

Support the arts and artists and content creators — If you binge-watched a TV series, read a book, listened to a podcast or watched any YouTube videos to get yourself through the quarantine, an artist and/or content creator benefited your life. Please support us. Arts, especially live performing arts venues like theaters, will be among the last to recover as we journey through this pandemic recovery together. Make a charitable donation to a theater group or ballet troupe. Support a podcast or YouTube channel financially and write your representatives and let them know that arts funding absolutely should be part of any recovery bills going forward. The stereotype of the “starving artist” is becoming too real for too many in the arts community. Please demand more and better recovery for artists and media makers, many of whom are solo-preneurs, gig workers and/or self-employed.

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

Timelines are necessary, but don’t let them rule you. There are many people that think that if they don’t “make it” by a certain age, they won’t have an arts career. Yes, it’s important to have timelines and goals, but artistry in humans has no expiration date. Don’t fall into the trap of being ageist and/or sexist against yourself. Yes, we have problems, especially in the proportion of roles for more mature women, but there is a significant push for change within the film and TV community to combat this. Seize this cultural moment.

Take care of yourself as an artist. You are not just a face or a product or a type. Unfortunately, our culture values product over process. No one sees you learning your lines, struggling in dance practice or editing your script. After a time, I know I have fallen into the ruts because I was more focused on a “product” than the joy of a process. Artists live their lives in the context of arts. Take care of yourself during major life events too — deaths, breakups, moves, etc. You are your product and more importantly you are your process as well. As an artist, you are all you have. Treasure and take care of yourself. If you need help or support, get it.

Stay humble. At any moment, your life can change for better or worse. Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon for me to go out to several events a month — film festivals, fashion shows, premieres, et al. I had a glamorous life. It was fun, but once the pandemic hit, that literally went away overnight. The day before California shut down, I was attending a film festival screening. Besides having food, water, electricity and housing, everything else is extra. Stay humble and grateful. That’s what I’ve learned from this journey with COVID-19.

Being competitive is important. Being synergistic is paramount. The culture of Hollywood, like any business, skews towards competition. You compete for roles in auditions. Your script competes against other scripts to get a producers’ attention. You film competes at film festivals. Competition is good. It keeps you sharp. However, if you are strong competitor like I am, you must balance yourself out with a strong commitment to synergy. Ask yourself, “How can I add value to others?” and “How can help someone?” Compete in the short term and synergize in the long term. No one likes someone who’s only about themselves. Being entirely self-serving can be self-defeating.

Trust the process of your career. You’re not going to get every role or job, even when you’re the most talented, most qualified person. Some opportunities are not meant for you. You have a choice. You can be bitter and rack up resentments and what-ifs or you can be better and keep going. An entertainment career is a marathon. Some days, you’re running your personal career marathon in a temperate climate. Other days, it can feel stormy and gloomy. Ultimately, it’s up to you and how you perceive your situation. Trust that things can and will change. Even the most seemingly implacable difficulties do move at some point.

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?

What you give you will receive back. It may not be immediate, but no good deed and no kind word is ever wasted. The more love we share, the more we have. It’s easy to be very selfish, and I would dare say there are many people who think selfishness is some kind of twisted virtue. The fact is, we are all interdependent. We rise and fall together. Sometimes the smallest gestures are most helpful. Try to be kind every day. All our deeds have a ripple effect and the smallest deeds can have large ripples. So, ripple kindly! It’s okay to start small.

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 recently saw an interview that Seth Meyers did with Jane Fonda about how her activism and the focus of her activism has evolved over the decades. She is someone I would love to collaborate with. I would love to sit down with her and ask her about her life, her life choices and what wisdom she could share with me as I grow. That would be a privilege.

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

Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” In every crisis and setback there are opportunities to be found. The pandemic has challenged all of us. For me, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to clarify and redirect my actions towards my priorities. I’ve been co-directing and producing “The Central Authority” since late March. I’ve wanted to grow into directing and producing feature films and the pandemic woke me up to the fact it was now or never. Of course, my team and I did this safely and remotely, adhering to all laws and health protocols.

How can our readers follow you online?

Find me on Facebook at @kristinwestactress

Find me on Twitter at @thekristinwest

Check out my Instagram at @thekristinwest

Read my blog!

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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