BDC Spotlight: Tânia Cypriano
For this month’s BDC Spotlight, we spoke with Tânia Cypriano, Director of the BDC Films Fellowship Program to learn more about her experience working with our Fellows, her inspirations, her filmmaking advice, and more.
Cypriano has been working between the United States and her native Brazil for over thirty years. Her films and videos have won international awards including Best Documentary at the Joseph Papp’s Festival Latino in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and Fespaco in Burkina Faso. Tânia has also been a grant recipient of the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Soros Documentary Fund, the Jerome Foundation, Experimental Television, and the National Latino Communication Center. Follow Cypriano @backlands and taniacypriano.com.
Q: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
A combination of things contributed to my interest in filmmaking. But maybe the one thing that stands out the most was the way cinema allowed me to build my own language, in a new country where I had lost the ability to communicate as freely as I did in my native Brazil.
I believe in global citizenship, the need to work with underrepresented communities in order to achieve change and progress in our society, and I cherish the power of the arts to reflect diversity, equality and inclusion. My own work is centered on issues of healthcare, human rights, immigration, underserved communities, and social change.
Q: Can you tell us about one of your favorite experiences at the BDC?
One of my favorite experiences at BDC was watching our Fellows put their ideas onto paper at a story development workshop. They were all so engaged and focused on applying what they were learning! The session was very interactive and questions like: "Why do you want to tell this story?" and "What do you want people to know after they've finished watching your film?" Inspired great discussions among our group. It was a real treat to witness their potential as unique creators.
Q: How do you develop your ideas for your films?
I always have more ideas than time and financial support allow me to turn into actual films. Sometimes one story leads me to the next. Other times, people come to me asking for help to develop their ideas into film. I love collaborating with people; that's actually one of the things I appreciate most about what I do. While researching a story, first I make sure I can be granted full access to places and events. Then I see if I have a film or not by the people I meet, specially those who can be possible participants.
I invite and share control of the film with everyone I work with. With those involved in the film, I feel there needs to be a true commitment, a common goal, and a trust. Some filmmakers don't feel they need to build a relationship with their protagonists. With me, it's important to build full relationships since I view the process as a collaborative effort. In my latest film, Born to Be, I was in love with every single person in the film, and gained a larger family in my life. So from an initial idea, that feeling of love, wonder, sharing and respect hopefully radiates outward from the movie screen.
Q: How do you work with editors to shape your films?
Editing is such an important part of making a film, and I usually look for editors that I know can contribute in very specific ways to the story I want to tell. Once I hired an editor with a background on horror movies to edit an experimental documentary. Sometimes, I'm making a film about a specific community but I want to reach a larger audience, and for that, I'll choose to hire someone outside of the community but with enough empathy thar they are appropriate for the job. Most of my time with editors is spent on conversations or discussions, and similar to the way I work with a cinematographer, I then give that person the room and freedom to create on their own. There is a reason why I hire a specific person to help shape the film, and many times it's because I believe they can do something I don't know how to do. So if we spend enough time in conversation and storyboarding, once we understand and agree with each other, I hope that person has what they need to shape the film I want to make.
Q: Could you tell us about a project you’re working on now?
Right now, I'm in the early stages of developing two new documentaries. One of them, Birth Mothers (working title) will be a feature-length documentary that follows the work of a social worker and a group of her clients– birth mothers in the process of giving up their children for adoption.
In 2021, I had a transformative experience with adoption and with social workers that led me to the idea for this film. That experience helped give me insight into both the logistics of the adoption process and the complicated emotional terrain and ethical issues involved.
Q: How has working at the BDC impacted you or your own work?
Working for the BDC is giving me a chance to give back something I received in my early years when I was learning to make films. For many years, as an immigrant with limited knowledge of the language, I worked as a nanny and a cleaning lady; I worked on farms and in restaurants. I wasn’t able to go to college, but once I moved to New York, I applied for and took several film and video workshops in places very similar to the Bronx Documentary Center, such as the Collective for Living Cinema, The Millennium, DCTV and Film and Video Arts. I feel very honored to share what I’ve learned throughout the career I've built, and to introduce people who are part of my film community in New York to a group of young filmmakers who come from underrepresented communities and who I believe represent the future of an industry that for too long has excluded their voices.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter your field?
Creativity is key to making films, but it is important that someone who wants to enter the field understands that the work we do as filmmakers involves a lot more than that. Sometimes it feels like 99% of what we do is about solving problems. So my advice is: discipline, courage and resilience.
Image: © Vanessa Vandoni