What does it take to be named a STIPE fellow and what would you do with $4000 granted for your artistic talent and pursuits?
Leila Yavari 18C, a senior in the college, is this year’s film and media studies STIPE fellow. Self-described as an “intense libra and a positive person with a lot of creative energy,” Leila is highly empathetic and a keen observer of life’s little details. Her friends say these characteristics help her shape her artistic vision.
As I’m listening to her giddy, positive voice, her phone rings — it’s her prima. A beautiful flow of exotic words rushes out and I’m dying to know more about her background.
Leila’s family is Persian — her parents moved from Iran after the ’79 revolution that sent many into exile. As a result, she speaks Farsi. In addition, she attended an international school on a Spanish track, so Spanish comes naturally. Her prima, a cousin-like family member adopted from Nicaragua, speaks both.
Scientists believe that multilingualism and multiculturalism in a person lead to increased creativity. In Leila, that theory certainly rings true.
I ask her how Emory is treating her and what she hopes to do with her senior year. “My experience at Emory thus far has definitely grown me in a way I didn’t expect it to.” In her first year she felt alienated and had a hard time finding the right entourage, “probably because I found it hard to know who I was, among other things. […] Today, I wish I could just give my freshman self a hug and tell her not to stress so much, it’s fine.”
The following summer, she moved to Los Angeles to work for a documentary company — a key moment in which she realized she wanted to work in film production. As a sophomore, she got involved with The Emory Wheel, Emory’s student-run newspaper, leading its video team. This organization opened her eyes to the diversity on campus and helped her find a niche of creative friends. The seniors leading the Wheel at the time, a group of strong-willed, intelligent women, were her role-models and made her realize who she wanted to be by the time she graduated — A goal she’s been working on ever since.
As a junior, she built the foundation for an organization targeting women in film production, Femme Films. “This last year I hope I can make that more formalized, to make the group be an established networking and support resource for female producers on campus.” Her motivation to do so was strengthened by her trip to the Cannes Film Festival this summer — the patriarchal tone of the male producers there motivated her to be a part of bringing women producers to the forefront. She hopes she can use her STIPE grant toward achieving that goal on campus.
“As a young female filmmaker in Cannes, I was always taken to be an actress. When they would hear I work on the other side of the lens, it would be difficult to have them take me seriously.”
“I’m most inspired by really mundane, normal scenes in films. The act of people just doing everyday things is fascinating, because we all have our own way of doing something. It’s a glimpse of someone’s everyday life. I find people so interesting.”
She thinks that momentous events in a life, such as issues of injustice and personal struggle, are communicated on a micro level in people’s day-to-day living. Her films attempt to blend large scale, crucial moments with mundane, daily choices.
Her favorite project focused on the everyday life of someone she cares for deeply: her grandmother. Leila created the documentary for a film class — she narrated the story of her grandmother’s life and the displacement she experienced 40 years ago as a refugee having to leave her country. Leila’s dad is a photographer and was passionate about documenting moments in the family’s history — the family collection hosts over 1,300 home videos. She sifted through all of the archival footage to find clips from her grandma’s past. “I got to know my grandmother on a whole different level.”
Following graduation, Lelia will turn again to unearthing gold in archived material. As a member of the Baha’i faith founded in the 1860s, she is interested in joining the governing body at the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel in its efforts to analyze and organize decades of footage and photographs documenting the life of the son of prophet Bahá’u’lláh. “They need human resources to help them organize this information, create documentaries.”
She hopes to go to Israel for a year, but Leila will not forget her love for Atlanta. “Even if I won’t necessarily be living here for a while, I know I’ll return eventually. I’m a big believer that wherever you are, that’s exactly where you need to be at that time.”
By Loli Lucaciu