Director Jason DaSilva was an early participant and mentor at AMES. Now an established filmmaker in New York, here Jason reflects on his time at AMES.

In anticipation of our upcoming 20th Anniversary we wanted to take a look at the long term impact AMES may have had on some of its past participants. We found and interviewed individuals who have experienced our programs to find out what they are up to now. Excitingly, we found some past participants stretched out across the continent who are doing great things.

Among them is Jason Dasilva–an early participant and mentor, who is now an established filmmaker in New York.

Jason DaSilva, director of When I Walk

Jason_currentDirector Jason DaSilva has been a prolific filmmaker for the past 10 years. He has directed four short films (OLIVIA’S PUZZLE, A SONG FOR DANIEL, TWINS OF MANKALA, and FIRST STEPS) and two feature-length documentary films (LEST WE FORGET and WHEN I WALK). Many of his films have won awards; OLIVIA’S PUZZLE premiered at the 2003 Sundance Festival and qualified for an Academy Award. Three of his films have had national broadcasts on PBS, HBO, and CBC. He also produced Shocking and Awful, a film installation on the anti-Iraq war movement, exhibited at the 2006 Whitney Biennial. DaSilva’s latest film, WHEN I WALK, was an Official Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won Best Canadian Feature at HotDocs 2013. Following the film’s theatrical release this fall, it will air on POV on PBS in 2014. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

AMES board member, and past YouthMADE facilitator Peter Wanyenya caught up with Jason Dasilva by phone from his home in New York. Here are some excerpts from Peter’s interview with Jason about his experiences with AMES:

Interview with Peter Wanyenya

Peter: Good morning Jason! It’s an absolute pleasure to finally meet you!

Jason: Yeah you too!

Peter: How has AMES impacted you?

Jason: It really impacted me because it was the first time that I ever used video for a reason. I was going to Emily Carr at the time, but it was the first… mentorship program with video for a purpose. So it really did affect me–from then on—to use video as a tool for social change.

Peter: Has engagement with AMES influenced your current personal professional activities in any way?

Jason: Early on it politicized me, as a young person. It made me realize I could use film and video as a craft to get across my points of view on certain things. I did that throughout my career. After AMES I worked on my first film and that film did really well. It got into the Sundance Film Festival and it took me off on a career path. I work a lot with PBS in the States, you can see the film that I just finished on the PBS website. It’s called When I Walk.

Peter: Fantastic. I saw the trailer and I was so blown away. I would love to see the full documentary… So what stands out most for you when you think about your experience with AMES?

Jason: I think the people that I met… the mentorship that I received and the friends that I met. It was the relationships that influenced me the most.

Peter: What do you believe was the most enduring take away from your experience with AMES?

Jason: It made me realize that …video and artistic merit could fuel your political stance. Even the film When I Walk is all influenced by that. The politics is informed by the creative.

Peter: I think that’s a fascinating point. I’m interested in exploring this notion of the politicization of oneself and one’s art. Can you speak a bit more to how you’ve taken up a political stance within your art, and if there are any themes that have emerged over the years.

Jason: A big theme of mine at that time–and it went on for another seven or eight years in my work–was the idea of ethnic identity retention. How you relate to ethnic identity as part of the second generation. How you relate to your homeland. I think I first got that idea from some of the work I did at AMES.

Peter: Has that become a common thread now throughout all of your work?

Jason: Not the most recent one but before that yes. I’m working on a new film and that one is influenced by that idea.

Peter: What are you doing now personally, creatively, professionally and what are you passionate about?

Jason: Next I am working on a narrative script…it’s kind of like my passion because I’ve never done that before. I’m also working on the next film that follows When I Walk, so the next segment of our lives. I’m probably passionate about the same things as I was before: the political alongside the artistic and how they both inform each other.

Peter: Has your participation in AMES projects had any influence on your ongoing engagement with key social issues and concerns?

Jason: Yes …as an academic or artist you hear a lot of these things through books or films you watch but you never get the one on one personal interaction with other like-minded people or mentors around these issues. So in that way it was really great to go to AMES because these people existed. At the time I was a little kid from suburbia, so I didn’t have a lot of people of colour around me. It was nice just to see that there was a whole community out there.

Peter: Do you think there’s value in media production programs for youth? If so what do you think that value is?

Jason: Yes. Two things: one is teaching us the technical [aspects of filmmaking], but also having us meet each other and learning about politics as well. The technical was good, but keep in mind the AMES programs were just a week. But it’s more the latter that really fueled my fire. Finding like minded, political people. Meeting with them and talking with them about the issues and just being friends.

Peter: What are some things that you would like to see AMES accomplish in the future?

Jason: Does it still exist?

Peter: Yes! It does and it’s thriving.

Jason: I would like to see them extend their reach. I would like to see them expand to other cities, even other countries. I know that they’re small so I don’t know how they could do this. Like, imagine if there was something for people living in Oakland or living in parts of Africa, wherever. It would be nice for them to partner with the Canadian government for funding to make things like that happen.

Peter: Any final thoughts you want to say to anyone?

Jason: Deblekha is a really hard worker. I wish that she had more support because I think that AMES could really do well and fly a lot further. I would like there to be, four of her so that things can move faster.

Peter: Yes, I think we all wish there were four more Deb’s in this world. It’d be a mighty world wouldn’t it?

Jason: Yes, that’s right.

Peter: Thank you so much and I hope we find more ways to be in touch.

Jason: Sorry you had to get up so early.