Artist spotlight interviews and editing by Ebony English. Ebony is a writer of poetry and fiction. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.
Brittany Rafalak is a Philly-based filmmaker who likes writing and creating films about women of color encountering extraordinary things such as time travel, dystopian societies, and space travel. If Rafalak had to categorize her work into a specific genre it would be fantasy/pseudo-science fiction or speculative fiction. Within that genre, Rafalak finds herself writing with the themes of individualism and love. Learn more about her work through this month’s artist spotlight!
How did you get your start in filmmaking?
I attribute my filmmaking aspirations to my dad. When I was growing up, to watch movies, my dad projected them huge onto our basement wall and equipped the room with good speakers. So I had a chance to watch films the way they were meant to be watched. We watched movies all the time and they inspired me. I started making films in high school. I was lucky enough to go to a great public school in Denver, Colorado that provided a film class among other arts. My parents, friends, and family supported me when I decided to pursue a filmmaking education and career. I moved to Philadelphia to attend The University of the Arts, where I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film/Digital Video. I loved Philadelphia, so I stayed here… I got married here and obtained my Master of Arts in Media Studies from The New School in New York City while still living in Philadelphia.
What inspires you?
Good stories inspire me-whether they’re in film, television, or book form. Music inspires me too.
What does being an artist in Philadelphia mean to you?
To me, being an artist in Philadelphia means searching for and utilizing the city’s unique resources. That involves a bit of struggle, but a good payoff. It means that you are nurturing Philly’s growing art/film community just by working and making art here.
Who is your favorite artist? What are some of your favorite films?
It’s hard for me to name one artist, especially because the art I consume spans a lot of genres and mediums. My favorite films are Eve’s Bayou, Once Were Warriors, and School Daze. My favorite photographer is Mary Ellen Mark. My favorite writers are Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, and Marlon James.
What kind of creative routines and rituals do you have?
What advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker?
To someone just starting out, I’d say to always think of yourself as a writer so you can constantly improve your storytelling skills. Even if you want to direct or edit. Or even if you don’t plan on producing the story, still write it. Writing is the most important part of filmmaking. The image does matter, but not as much as the story. Look at the first few episodes of Awkward Black Girl. From a technical point of view, they weren’t great. But the web series got extremely popular because people loved the story. The characters were relatable and funny. After a while, the series’ production value went up and it got better technically. Same thing for a lot of low budget films. High production value can give a lot to your film, but it can be meaningless without a good story.
What are you working on currently?
A short film about Pilar, a heartbroken woman who travels back in time. You can view the teaser for this film here: https://vimeo.com/154392042
What resources (online or in the city) have you utilized and what resources do you believe are still needed for Philly-based creatives?
Some resources I’ve used to support my filmmaking career here are Reelblack, Videosmith, Filmtech School, Small But Mighty Arts, Phillyspacefinder.com, Delaware Valley Filmmaking Foundation, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, and the Mount Airy Moving Arts Studio. Some non-traditional resources I’ve used are High Point Café, Weavers Way CoOp, and Mt. Airy as a whole (great community that supports my filmmaking in lots of ways).
Something needed in Philly are grants that are obtainable for independent artists. It would also be great if there were an abundance of good jobs for artists where they could support themselves and fund their art-making simultaneously. In the filmmaking community, there’s a need for organizations that support independent filmmakers for the love of film and for the sake of incubating and nurturing Philly’s indie film scene.
How can people connect with you?