We had the good fortune of connecting with Kaela Waldstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kaela, what do you attribute your success to?
I attribute a lot of my success to my ability to wear so many hats at once. For 95% of my projects, I am the director, producer, shooter, sound person, editor, color grader, motion graphics person. And my work stands up to what most documentary production teams can accomplish in the same amount of time. In fact, I often work more quickly. There is no one to slow me down and it keeps the artistic integrity of the project. It also allows me to be competitive with how I price out projects. The only thing I outsource is post-sound and original music compositions, to my frequent collaborator Jason Goodyear. He has one of the most sophisticated skill sets in those areas of anyone I know.

Also, I bring my whole self to the work. 

But it’s key to not make the work about me. I’ve seen in grant or film fest applications: “Why is this your story to tell?” And I’m like: What kind of a question is that? No matter how closely tied you are to a story, unless you’re doing something autobiographical, it is not yours. Our job as documentarians is to set our egos aside, what we think we know, and be of service to that story. Not to diminish my own creative role – I am a finely tuned instrument of transmission, relying on my intuition and instincts, using sophisticated skill sets to distill the messages coming through. Sounds metaphysical. And the creative process is. Trusting that process has allowed me to collaborate with complete strangers in meaningful ways. The result has always been compelling stories of substance. Each project reflects the unique personality and spirit of the subject matter, and often has a message of shared humanity.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I do a lot of short documentaries and promotional pieces, mostly in the Arts, but in the process of building this niche I’ve done almost everything under the sun. One thing that’s pretty unique is that I’m self taught. My background in writing, visual arts, Sociology, a lifetime of learning to be an extrovert, and my inherent curiosity in people has set me up to be a good documentarian. Learning the technical aspects of filmmaking was just a final step.

In the very beginning, when it was a hobby, film friends let me borrow their camera equipment and editing software, and I watched Youtube tutorials to learn enough to get me started. Then, right before I moved to Santa Fe, NM, I was let go from  my “safe” corporate job, after voicing higher aspirations that the company had no avenue for me to achieve. I saw losing my job as my chance to pursue my creative dreams. I would never have done it on my own, it was too risky. But at that point I had nothing to lose, and I figured it was “now or never.” The greatest challenge was not letting my anxiety drive me off course. But I heard Dori’s voice from Finding Nemo in my head, singing “just keep swimming just keep swimming just keep swimming,” and that’s what I chose to listen to.

I had about a year’s worth of savings to pay for basic living expenses and invest in equipment, and I made a promise to myself that I would work as hard as I could to establish myself in Santa Fe before the money ran out. At the very least, I could live without regret for having not tried. I established my own one-person production company Mountain Mover Media, did lots of passion projects at my own pace, said yes to every paid opportunity, learned to market my skills, and  networked like crazy. All of that led me to where I am today, making an honest living doing the work I love. I’m always and forever learning.

Another pretty unique thing is that I’m a non-Native (Jewish) filmmaker working extensively with Indigenous communities. While I know the Native community is super welcoming, I’ve heard it’s not common for the them to be so embracing of a filmmaker from outside their community. Understandably so. There’s a long history of outsiders with cameras stepping into communities that are not their own, and having an extractive approach to documenting different cultures. Often when they are done with their projects, these communities never hear from them again. And these documentarians own agendas have sometimes led to harmful and/or  inaccurate representations of these communities. So it’s kind of a marvel that I’ve been given the kind of access I’ve had, given this history. How did that happen? Put simply, many in the Native community here liked my storytelling. I was given a chance, and when it turned out well, I was invited back again and again to document artists, events, and the efforts of Native-led organizations.

What I’m most proud of at the moment is a half hour documentary I recently completed on Native American contemporary fine art photographer Cara Romero (Chemehuevi). It’s called “Cara Romero: Following the Light.” I produced it in partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts, an incredibly rich tribal college here in Santa Fe. The film has has a powerful original music score by my frequent collaborator Jason Goodyear and was executive produced by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Siksika Nation) and Lara Evans (Cherokee). To date the film gotten into 33 film festivals, is set to air on PBS SoCal stations this November 2023, and will be publicly available nationally on the PBS app. The project profoundly deepened my appreciation for California Indian history, and has also led to treasured friendships with Cara, and her family and friends.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Santa Fe, NM is called the Land of Enchantment for its crazy gorgeous sunsets, sunny days, the world’s best green and red chile, and it’s the third largest art capital in the country! Where to start? I’d tell my friend to come in late August. We’d go to SWAIA’s Santa Fe Indian Market (the world’s largest Indigenous arts festival), buy tickets to the Indigenous Fashion Show, go on a hike at Aspen Vista trail near the top of the ski hill, eat enchiladas at La Choza restaurant, and go to 2-3 arts openings that are happening any given week. I could go on and on. This place is truly special.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to recognize so many in the Native arts community of Santa Fe, NM for their trust and friendship, and for inviting me back again and again to make content together. And also my parents, who are my biggest cheerleaders!

Website: https://mountainmovermedia.com/

Instagram: @mountainmovermedia

Facebook: Kaela Waldstein

Other: https://vimeo.com/user17765411 https://www.cararomerodoc.com/

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