“Cross My Heart” Talks with Sontenish Myers

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Written by Sontenish Myers

Edited by Mel Williams

“I’m addicted to creating images. To capturing and recreating life. I naturally, gravitate towards the holes in cinema and enjoy collaborating with brilliant minds to tell a story that helps fill that hole. My work is an extension of self, and when I’m sharing that work with other passionate people, it’s an incredible, challenging, vulnerable and meaningful experience.”

– Sontenish Myers

Cross My Heart is a story that touches on the reality of sexual assault within a family. In this captivating tale, a young cousin is reuniting with family and stumbles upon a heartbreaking truth. Raw statistics still reflect that 2 out of every 3 cases the perpetrator(s) will walk free. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the estimated 69% of cases that remain unreported. TALENTS reached out to get the creator’s thoughts on the topic and her why behind creating this story.

TALENTS MAGAZINE (TM): Please share, what inspired you to create Cross My Heart? Where did the idea/influences come from?

SONTENISH (SM): I wrote Cross My Heart during Summer 2016, at a time where I was filled to the brim with secrets and rediscovering how many people, especially women of color, carry these sorts of secrets as well.

I’m Jamaican-American, and it felt natural to me to tell a story that involved that experience. I’ve grown up always feeling like I had two homes, and wanted to explore my Jamaican home in my work. I wanted Cross My Heart to be a sensory experience, so I drew from my memories growing up to make the scenes come alive, like swimming with my cousins in Portland or that feeling you have when you first arrive at the airport in Kingston.

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Sontenish Myers (Writer-Director) directing Jhada Ann Walker.

 

TM: What message do you want viewers to walk away with?

SM: The answer/solution is never simple. It’s always complicated. But the right thing to do is always act and advocate for the survivors you love (or don’t even know), and not participate in the normalization of violence or silence.

TM: Where are you originally from? How did you get started in film? Why do you love it?

SM: My mom is from Princess Anne, Maryland, and my dad is from Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. I grew up in (Money Earnin’) Mount Vernon, New York. The culture in my house growing up was definitely a medley of those regions.

I was living in Beijing, China when I decided to become a filmmaker. I was watching the verdict of the trial against the murderer of Trayvon Martin where he was found not guilty. In that moment I felt invisible and wanted to create images and tell stories that elevate and explore the humanity and survival of women and people of color. So I moved back to New York where I interned at New York Women in Film and Television. That organization catalyzed all the opportunities I’ve been afforded today. It put me in the same space with action-oriented women in film who truly believe in seeing us all win, and connected me with my first mentor, Rachel Watanabe-Batton. She was really one of the first women in the industry to believe in my voice. Something I’m always grateful for.

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Tech Scout for Waterfall Scene
Left to Right: Brian Ray Moore (2nd AD), Sontenish Myers (Writer-Director), Zamarin Wahdat (Cinematographer), Dominica Eriksen (AC)

TM: What shows/actors/movies inspire you? Which/who are some of your favorites?

SM: Show: Random Acts of Flyness. I feel my mind expanding every time I watch an episode. I’m so excited by the specificity in their sketches/scenes and feel extremely seen. I grow from observing their less traditional form of storytelling.

Movie: I just watched Border directed by Ali Abbasi and my mind was blown. The emotional arc is seamless. The plot just has a dash of fantasy and it’s so imaginatively done. The acting was so powerful. I left the theater so hype and inspired.

TM: Why do you feel women are silent about this issue (rape/being sexually assaulted)? What do you feel it will take for victim’s voices to be heard more?

SM: I mean, this country does not protect women. This country was built on violence. Personally, I believe that rape should be treated as seriously as murder in the justice system.

We do not feel safe or confident that we will be protected or believed and (we) are weighing the consequences of sharing. We are socialized to question the validity of a woman telling her experience.

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“Generally speaking, sexual violence is perceived as a women’s issue. Though it is majorly committed by men. I think that is a fundamental flaw. It is up to men to educate and teach men. Not rely on survivors and women to do all the labor. Or solely care about the issue.”

TM: This film was written, directed, produced, edited and shot by women of color. Was this important to you? What message would you like to share on using a crew mostly made of women of color?

SM: It was both intentional and unintentional. It’s not difficult to find talented women of color (WoC) filmmakers. We’re everywhere. Luckily, I’ve come in contact with quite a few at NYU. I was gravitating towards talented individuals who I knew would be an asset in telling this story. All the departments’ heads are WoC, and the crew is almost entirely people of color (PoC). If you think there’s a shortage of women/WoC and PoC collaborators that’s a reflection of you and your network, not reality.

TM: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers just starting out? Share the hardest lesson learned and how you overcame the challenge.

SM: Don’t seek permission. Do you. Aim high and see where you land. Gravitate towards what you like and what energizes you. What excites you. Then investigate it. What thing(s) do they have in common? Most likely, that “thing” is who you are. That’s your voice. Those who gravitate toward that voice are your tribe. “Build it and they will come.” I am still learning and relearning this.

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TM: Please list any awards/recognitions Cross My Heart has received to date.

SM: The Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker at Palm Springs International Shortfest for Cross My Heart, which was also included in Refinery29’s list of The Most Exciting Woman-Directed Films at 2018’s Palm Springs Shortfest. At the Hampton International Film Festival, Cross My Heart was awarded the Vimeo Staff Pick Award.

You should definitely check out Cross My Heart on the Vimeo platform. You can find the link via Sontenish’s social media accounts listed below.

Handles for all social media: @sontenish

Website Link: http://www.sontenishmyers.com

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