Kanchalee Wijakpaisarn: Connecting community & exploring the complexity of refugee kids’ lives


Filmmaker Kanchalee Wijakpaisarn, who interned with #DirectedbyWomen last summer in the run up to the first ever #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party, has an exciting new project: New Face of Buffalo, “a short-form documentary series demonstrating a cultural exchange within the diverse and evolving city of Buffalo, NY.”  #DirectedbyWomen conversed with Kanchalee this week to find out more about the project.

DBW: Making a documentary AND facilitating filmmaker training for kids AND exploring challenges refugees face – that’s a multi-faceted project. Tell us about this exciting process and how it got underway.

KW: How the New Face of Buffalo project started is a little complicated. My co-creator (Jesse Deganis Librera) and I have a friend who works at a refugee resettlement agency in Buffalo. Jesse is originally from there and he wanted to do something that would help connect the community and further our understanding of each other. I’m always interested in coming of age stories, and the idea came about of working with refugee youth. Having my own experience as an international student in NYC for five years, I can see the difficulty of living in a new place, with new cultures and alienation. So Jesse and I combined our thoughts and it became this project.

New Face of Buffalo

DBW: Who are you working with? What is your approach to collaboration?

KW: The project is co-created with Jesse Deganis Librera who I met from film school. When we came up with the idea, both of us lived in NYC so we had to take the Amtrak back and forth from the city to Buffalo. It was tough trying to have a meeting with someone who is six hundred miles away! We also collaborated with two other filmmakers. Brian Oh is our friend from NYC, and he gave us input and suggestions since the early stage of the project, while also helping us filming the project in Buffalo. We also had a chance to meet a young Syrian American filmmaker in Buffalo, Akram Shibly. He was the instructor during the film class and we worked together to create the lessons for the kids.

New Face of Buffalo Film Shoot

New Face of Buffalo Film Shoot

DBW: As filmmakers working with budding young filmmakers, you’ll be a role model for them. What do you hope they’ll learn as they watch you in action as a director?

KW: Even though I/ we want them to have fun filming, I hope they will learn that filmmaking is not just having a camera and going out.  You have to know your story and plan it out. Commitment is something that I hope the kids understand. Filmmaking is not about just one person but the crew too. It’s team work. You have to appreciate people who help you and you have to learn how to communicate with them.

DBW: I love the pitch video you created. The stop motion Lego sequences are a lot of fun! Can you share something about how you came up with this approach?

KW: Thank you! The original video we had was pretty serious, I would say it quite ‘dry’. Since we are dealing with kids, Jesse and I wanted something that was playful and can be a bridge for both kids and adults to relate to. Lego is a good fit for that. It was something Jesse and I both played as kids! Also, working on animation is always fun, it only just took forever to make!

DBW: What is your vision for sharing your film when it is complete? And what about the films the children make? Where will those be screened or streamed? What are your hopes and visions for the project?

KW: For our documentary, we hope that this project will make people understand the complexity of refugee kids’ lives. We also want the kids to learn more about Buffalo, their new home. We do not want to show the refugee story as only a sad story anymore. It definitely deals with a lot of struggle and heartache, but we want to show them as kids just trying to live their lives. This is a coming of age story in a way, growing up in a new place and trying to fit in. These kids are the newest wave of immigrants like any other countries and we want people to see that. We also want the kids to find their voice to express themselves through the strong tool of filmmaking. Our goal is to build a better community based on everybody starting to understand each other a little better. We had a great opportunity to partner with F.L.Y. After School Program to teach the kids as part of their summer camp, (big thank you to Bethany Ortquist, the director of the program!). At the end of the summer camp, the kids had a talent show and we already showed each student’s films there. However, we plan to screen the kids’ films in our documentary and we hope to finish our film in 2017.

New Face of Buffalo

New Face of Buffalo

DBW: Your film is a project of Fractured Atlas. Can you share about your decision to step into a Fiscal Sponsorship relationship? What does it allow you to do?

KW: Jesse and I agreed that we should set up a proper way for people to financially support this project. This was my first time dealing with Fractured Atlas, which I heard about through a friend of mine (Jennifer Dean). They have their own fundraising platform in which donations are tax deductible. But what’s really great is that having fiscal sponsorship allows us to apply for grants that we wouldn’t have an opportunity to do as individual artists.

Kanchalee Wijakpaisarn

Kanchalee Wijakpaisarn

DBW: How can people support your initiative?

KW: You can go to our website www.newfaceofbuffalo.com to check out our project and find more information about contribution. So far we have received support from Jericho Road Community Health Center, Western New York Book Arts Center, Homerun Creative Services, WNED-TV, and Delaware Camera. We really appreciate any help in spreading the word of the project through blogging, social media, etc., and, of course, we are still trying to raise funds to support all the work being done and to continue teaching kids about filmmaking.

DBW: Anything else you’d love to share about this project or other filmmaking projects you may be involved with?

KW: It is such a privilege for me to experience working with and talking to refugees in Buffalo. It makes me realize that I, and we, took our opportunity for granted. The struggles being between two worlds are harder when your parents don’t know English and you’re pretty much isolated and on your own. FLY After School Program really gives the kids the place they can feel comfortable with as refugees and their roots. Working on this project let me meet people who work not for themselves but for others, especially the teachers. They work hard everyday and you know middle school children are such complicated creatures! It’s totally mind blowing how much the teachers have to do to make things work. I’m glad that while we were in NYC, struggling to make a living, we still made this happen. We received support from friends and family in Buffalo where we had time to actually focus on the project with such a low budget and were actually able to give back to society. I could not be more happy (Well, I could if we have more donations!) Just kidding 🙂 Well, half joking half serious 😉 I also have another project called “It’s a Girl.” It is a series aimed towards girls, and is about women in professional careers talking about their experiences in their jobs as well as how they were when they were younger. I will show one of my work in progress film at the Directed by Women Event managed by Jennifer Dean, Leah Abrams and Eric Rice on September 12 at Ryan’s Daughter, NYC.

Thank you so much!

DBW: Thanks for taking time to share. Can’t wait to see your projects unfold. Have fun at the NYC #DirectedbyWomen screening. Take pictures so we can all dip in to the experience like we did last year.  And thanks again for being on the #DirectedbyWomen Action Team last summer. I’m so appreciative of all you’ve done to help move the celebration forward. 

Barbara Ann O'Leary

Inviting the world to fall madly in love with films #DirectedbyWomen.


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