Elena Rossini recounts an anecdote she read about one of her inspirations, Helen Keller. Both blind and hearing impaired, Keller routinely asked her friends to tell them about what kind of magic they had experienced each day, reminding people that there is something extraordinary to be found in the routines of our ordinary lives. This has become a guiding principle and practice for Elena who, in addition to making film, is also an avid photographer: “I try to make everyday special, to be creative each day, to find the magic,” she says. Right now, Elena’s finding the magic through the marriage of film and social activism with her documentary, The Illusionists. This film takes a compelling and powerful look at the way unattainable beauty ideals are marketed to women around the world. Elena says, “I like to show people how beautiful they really are.” And that might be the most magical thing of all.
If you could describe yourself in one hashtag, what would it be?
Tell us about a girl in your life who rocks.
There are just so many! That's one of the reasons why I started my website No Country for Young Women (http://nocountryforyoungwomen.com). I felt that mass media, with their obsession over young singers, models and actresses, would invariably ignore stories of inspiring women in other fields, outside of entertainment. Thus my interview series. Two girls that stand out (from the 120+ interviews) are the youngest people featured on the site: Emily-Anne Rigal and Julie Zeilinger, who were both seventeen years old at the time of my interview and who have gone on to accomplish so much more in between then and now. Emily-Anne is the founder of WeStopHate, a non-profit whose goal is to fight bullying and raise the self-esteem of teens. Julie Zeilinger is the founder and editor of the feminist blog The FBomb (which she started when she was 16 years old) and has already published two books… while still in college! Both Emily-Anne and Julie are a constant source of inspiration for their vision, tenacity and incredible drive.
What are your dreams/goals/ambitions?
To be an agent of change, creating media projects that challenge the status quo. The activist in me takes a lot of pleasure in "speaking truth to power."
I also love being involved in creative projects that improve people's self-esteem. I recently started doing more photography work, focusing on portraiture. People would be initially intimidated by the idea of posing, invariably saying "but I'm not photogenic." My reaction, "just wait and see." The best feeling in the world? Seeing their faces light up when I show them the results of our photo shoot. It's amazing.
Once I'm more established in my career, I'd like to focus my energies on helping budding female filmmakers and photographers. These past few years I have often thought: "It doesn't have to be this hard. What if I had someone from the inside, championing my work?" I would like to be in a position to be that special someone for young female artists.
What are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of my documentary The Illusionists (http://theillusionists.org/film/teaser/), a 90 minute film about the marketing of unattainable beauty ideals around the world. I shot the film in eight countries, across four continents, to show how corporations and mass media exacerbate people's insecurities about their bodies… and then profit from them.
I did virtually everything on my own, from fundraising to producing, directing, cinematography, archival research, editing… even motion graphics! Aside from the audio, I am responsible for everything that you see on screen. This was a truly Herculean task as most films, even those with microbudgets, have crews of at least 3-4 people.
Ultimately, with this film I would like to kickstart a conversation about mass media, advertising and “visual pollution,” which is so detrimental to the self-esteem of women, men and children the world over.
What piece of advice changed your life?
"Just say yes and figure it out along the way."
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Work-wise, I see myself still being involved in film and photography projects that empower women and girls. Nothing makes me happier.
On a personal note, I would like to travel more and spend time with my friends who are scattered around the world. I'm not a fan of routines and I'm truly in my element when I have a suitcase in my hand and a camera hanging from my shoulder.
What is the number one item on your bucket list?
To become fluent in Japanese. I've had a love affair with Japan since I was a teenager. I would very much like to find a way to spend a month there every year. Reading and speaking Japanese would be terrific for that.
Who has been the biggest female influence in your life and why?
My mom! She is incredibly strong and tenacious and at the same time she's one of the most humble and most generous people I know. Plus, she has a heart of gold. I love her mix of strength and kindness.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and what did you learn from it?
One of my mantras is this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: "Do one thing every day that scares you." I think that's a really good way to build up your character. So, I try my best to take bold steps each and every day.
The biggest risk I have taken is to turn down offers by TV networks for The Illusionists. Two French TV stations were interested in financing the film, but on the condition that I removed all the experts that I wanted to interview and that I put myself in the documentary "receiving beauty treatments" as a sort of guinea pig. Needless to say, I felt that this would have diluted the message, dumbing it down, and alienating the public I wanted to reach. I followed my gut, didn't cave in and ultimately decided to make the film on my own. It has been a very long and arduous process, but I am happy that the final film is as profound and piercing as I wanted it to be.
Why are you THAT GIRL?
I AM THAT GIRL because once I set a goal, I'm pretty much unstoppable until I achieve it. Rejections and setbacks don't discourage me… on the contrary, I turn them into fuel for my motivation.
*Interview conducted and compiled by Sheila Moeschen, IATG Senior Editor