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Finding Her Voice Through Film

Posted 09/25/2019

Growing up in Hyde Park, Little Sister Arleth often did not feel heard or understood. Her mother worked long hours and her father had a new family dividing his attention. Arleth spent much of her time with her grandmother, who spoke mostly in Spanish, which was not Arleth’s first language. As a child, Arleth would escape into drawing. She loved cartoons and animated movies. She learned to draw the characters from tutorials on the DVDs she watched. Art was where Arleth felt confident and comfortable.

Arleth’s life outside of her home was also inconsistent. She attended several different schools, and by 8th grade, she felt like school had become unmanageably stressful. That was the year that we matched her with Big Sister Ann Marie Antolini. At first Ann Marie worried that perhaps she was “too old” to become a Big Sister, but she said: “My daughter had gone off to college and I felt like I still had more to offer a young person.” Arleth was excited about the prospect of having a Big Sister and said she wanted someone a little older. The two connected quickly, and, knowing of Arleth’s love of art ahead of time, they visited the Museum of Fine Arts together for their first activity. Being with Ann Marie gave Arleth a break from the pressure of school and pressure she sometimes felt at home to act or be a certain way. “It was helpful to have someone like Ann Marie to go out with because otherwise it was all ‘study, study, study, sit at home’,” said Arleth.

Arleth found out about the AT&T Fresh Films Lab through the newsletter sent by our Teen Coordinator, a staff member who connects our older Little Sisters with career and post-secondary education support. She was ecstatic about the opportunity to go to Los Angeles for ten days and help produce a film about women in Hollywood. “I told myself: ‘I need to do this. I need to at least try’,” said Arleth. She filmed her submission and hoped that she would be chosen to fill one of just 20 slots for girls from across the country.

When Arleth received the call from the Fresh Films Lab team that she had been selected and that she would need an adult chaperone for the trip, she knew just who to ask: her Big Sister Ann Marie. Arleth’s mom agreed that Ann Marie’s supportive presence as a cheerleader and champion, not a parent, would be most helpful to her daughter.

In mid-July, Ann Marie and Arleth packed their bags and headed West. During the ten-day film camp, Arleth not only made many new friends, she learned the ins and outs of lighting, sound, and production. She met and interviewed several influential women in Hollywood, including actress and producer Reese Witherspoon; Codie Oliver, creator of the docu-series Black Love; and Pam Lifford, president of Warner Bros. Global Brands and Experiences, including the Marvel comics brand. As Ann Marie said: “The experience was all about empowering young women to get into the film industry.” Arleth returned to Hyde Park more inspired than ever to pursue a career in film and animation and an increased confidence in her own abilities.