What is your name, age, and location?
Kelly Anderson, 46, Brooklyn, NY, United States.
What is your profession?
Documentary producer/director, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Hunter College (CUNY).
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I studied journalism for two years at the University of New Hampshire, then Modern Culture and Media Studies at Brown University for two years. My only degree is a BA in Modern Culture and Media Studies from Brown.
What was your first job?
I worked at McDonald’s in Exeter, NH.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
I was inspired by several of my professors. A class on Central American politics at the University of New Hampshire in 1985 changed my life – I am truly indebted to Leigh Binford, the professor who taught it. The course taught me to question the way government, media and others in power frame and explain things. Another professor, Annie Goldson at Brown, taught me that video could be a powerful medium for education and engaging people in political activism. I also learned a lot canvassing door to door for the Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG) in Boston, during a year I took off between colleges. That taught me not to be afraid of talking to strangers, and that change happens by getting out there and making it happen.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
All my documentaries have been extremely rewarding, but two stand out in particular. OUT AT WORK followed the stories of three people who were fired from their jobs, or brutally harassed, because of their sexual orientation. EVERY MOTHER’S SON is about three women in New York City who lost sons at the hands of police officers and became activists for police reform. Spending time telling the stories of the protagonists in these films, connecting highly personal stories with larger social forces, was intense and an honor.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
I think there are times, when interviewing or filming, that people open up to me in ways they might not if I were a man. I sometimes think being a woman has helped me be a good collaborator, but that might just be my personality. I really enjoy working in a team and having a project reflect the best abilities of everybody involved.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
I don’t know that it has, honestly.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
Tami Gold, who I made several films with and is my partner in AndersonGold Films, taught me a lot about making documentaries on social issues. From Tami I learned how filmmaking is all about forming relationships with your subjects, and how to be present with them in their lives. There are many people in the generation before mine whose shoulders I feel I stand on all the time. They are people who carry the politics and beliefs of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and other struggles for social justice with them in their daily lives. My Mom and my grandmother taught me to be my own person and not rely on anybody else to support me or to do things for me.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Don’t think that other people know more just because they speak up more than you do. Trust your intellect and your instincts about things. Take leadership when you feel you can and should. And when you don’t need to lead, sit back and listen for a while.
Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellybklyn
– Photo by Fivel Rothberg
– Interview by Elena Rossini