Lyka Sethi, Independent Documentary Filmmaker
We first met Lyka when she interviewed us for Nooklyn Stories. However, she’s more than just your local writer and editor. She’s a badass film-maker with an important story to share. Moving in Place uncovers the everyday experiences of young Puerto Ricans and their unique situations in the wake of Hurricane Maria. We are so impressed on how Lyka uses her creativity to educate and spread awareness to issues that need more attention. Read on to see how she got started and how she plans to keep moving forward.
You are premiering a film called Moving In Place. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Moving In Place is a documentary featuring Puerto Ricans in their 20s and 30s and their experiences relating to the island’s diaspora. They unpack the complexities of Puerto Rican identity, and the difficult decision of whether to stay or leave, especially in the devastating wake of Hurricane María.
My co-producer Geoff Iwata and I started developing this project in early 2017, well before last year’s hurricanes hit. Our original idea was to explore issues surrounding identity and migration. We knew about Puerto Rico’s complex colonial relationship with the United States, and we also knew that not many people really talked about it or acknowledged what the island has gone through as a result. Meanwhile, we kept hearing stories about young people who had to leave Puerto Rico in order to pursue graduate school or to start their careers, because they just couldn’t make it work on the island. For us, this launched an exploration of the island’s history and a series of conversations with people in the Puerto Rican diaspora.
When the hurricane hit, we were in the middle of production. We were in Orlando, Florida, two days before it was set to make landfall and we were scheduled to fly out to San Juan the next day. We made the last minute decision to return to New York and wait things out, but at that moment we knew that this would have a major impact on millions of lives, and would undoubtedly alter the course of the project.
We finished the film in August of this year and had an advanced screening and discussion at Videology in Williamsburg (which is unfortunately closing down next week! We were lucky to be squeezed in as one of their last events). Next up, we will hold a screening + spoken word performance by poet Noel Quiñones on November 10 at 3 PM at The Tank in Manhattan. Here’s the official event page and the Facebook event page!
Out of everything going on in the world, why this specific cause?
As a first-generation American and person of color, I’ve always identified with a feeling of otherness.
As soon as Geoff, who is also first-gen, and I started hearing and learning about Puerto Rican experiences, we discovered commonalities that enabled us to empathize (and that we thought many people living in the U.S. right now might also empathize with). But we also felt frustrated about the lack of conversation around Puerto Rico. So ultimately, we concluded that by showing a slice of the Puerto Rican perspective, this film could be an opportunity to help fill that gap in understanding and representation -- particularly geared toward a young American audience that is poised to make change. But despite this narrow focus, as the project unfolded we realized that it touches on big picture issues ranging from climate change to colonialism to the cultural impacts of migration.
We also felt that it was really important to create something that wasn’t “ours” -- while Geoff, myself, and our team acted as facilitators, the project is for, about, and by the people who shared their stories. We very intentionally took a humanistic approach rather than a didactic one.
What you’re doing is positive and rewarding, especially the education aspect of it. However, the subject itself is so negative. Did you ride an emotional roller coaster while filming this piece?
Absolutely, though I don’t know if I would call it purely negative. While we present complex and emotional issues in the film, there is a path forward. Instead of adding to the list of things to feel helpless about, we can all join in solidarity -- not to decide the future of Puerto Rico, but to listen to Puerto Rican voices and help ensure that they can decide for themselves. It’s also so important to use our voices right now, as the island continues on its post-hurricane recovery and as a dangerous form of conservatism takes hold in this country. Corporate and political interests are gearing up to rebuild the island in a way that works for them, rather than in the best interest of the island’s people. But we can make a difference if if we educate ourselves and our networks about the importance of self-determination and a sustainable, equitable recovery for Puerto Rico.
So ideally, if viewers feel moved after the film, they will take action, whether it’s reading more about the issues, voting, or volunteering with an organization like UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community organization. We actually donated all of our proceeds from the first screening to UPROSE.
After the premieres, what's next for you Lyka?
We’re screening again in NYC on Saturday, November 10th at The Tank, and at the International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival on November 16th. We also hope to plan a university tour, screening the film at educational institutions in the States and in Puerto Rico. (If you think your university/alma mater/student group might be interested, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!) And last, we plan to have the film available to stream online next year.
In terms of upcoming projects, I’m currently developing a short documentary that has to do with my family’s history in India. More on that soon!
Interview by Emily