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Meet Gena Riess – Filmmaker, editor and uni graduate.

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Gena Riess is a Melbourne based filmmaker who has jumped into the spotlight for her thought-provoking documentary, “Creating a Monster”, which explores the morality behind reality TV and the psychological impact it may have on its contestants.

We managed to sit down with Gena for a quick chat about her film and future projects, why she entered the film industry and the challenges she faced.

Delisa: Before we get started, could you give us a brief introduction on who you are and what you do?
Gena: My name is Gena Lida Riess, I’m a documentary filmmaker. I am currently working as an editor for a social impact documentary production company, making documentaries for charities and not for profit organisations. Additionally, in my spare time, I direct and produce documentaries.

Delisa: Were you hesitant at first to enter this industry?

Gena: I was surprisingly not. It was mostly my naivety as to how difficult it actually is to break through. This career path is challenging at times and I think one of the biggest challenges is simply keeping up the motivation and perseverance when there are constant knock backs.  

Delisa: What drew you to to film-making?

Gena: When I finished high school I was very lost as to which direction to take, so it was a very slow transition into the documentary filmmaking industry. I initially was drawn to anthropology and took film history and media as electives. As time went on I found myself focusing more on the creative disciplines and decided to solely study Creative Arts. My journey to documentary filmmaking is, I believe a concoction of my interest in anthropology, psychology and philosophy through a creative and accessible lens. By making films I have the opportunity to explore various interests but also scratch that creative itch.

Delisa: What’s the first thing you ever learnt when you started studying film?

Gena: Something that has stuck with me, that was a solid piece of advice was the question: why should you be making this film? Not only why should this film be made, but why you specifically should make it? I believe films that are close to us and mean something to us, are always going to be more successful and translate to a wider audience.

Delisa: What have been your biggest struggles? How did you overcome these?

Gena: It sounds lame but my biggest struggle is my own confidence. I have had to have some serious reflection throughout my filmmaking career. It’s difficult to believe in yourself when you are still trying to prove yourself in the industry. I still struggle with this, however minor successes and affirmation from teachers and peers, has helped a great deal.

Delisa: And what about your greatest achievement? Tell us about it!

Gena: My greatest achievement would have to be my last short film called Creating a Monster on the topic of the construction of reality tv. It was my graduating film at film school. It did extremely well in terms of film festivals and has recently been bought by at distribution company. This achievement is quite unusual for films made at film school, however it definitely can be done! The film also lead me to write for the ABC News, be interviewed on radio stations around the country and have an appearance on Channel 7 Morning Show.

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Delisa: As someone who’s been fairly successful in their career, is there anything specific that helped you get to this point?

Gena: I would never have made it this far if I didn’t meet people who also had the same drive and interests as me. Before going to film school I always wanted to make films but felt stuck as I had no support or encouragement. Now that I have connections in the industry, who I primarily met at film school, I can make the work I have been so desperate to make.

Delisa: Do you have any other projects coming up?

Gena: I am currently working on a feature length documentary about women in male dominated sports. I also am writing a series following my last short film about reality television.

Delisa: Have you ever studied abroad or has work taken you overseas?

Gena: I have been lucky enough to be accepted into various festivals overseas. I was fortunate enough to attend and be flown out to festivals in New York, London and Munich last year. Additionally due to my current documentary work I travel to film women performing in sporting competitions interstate and overseas.

Delisa: Would you say that experience had an impact on you as a person or your work ethic?

Gena: I would say the experience was extremely transformative for me. To be able to experience filmmaking abroad has contributed to me creative practice and ideas.

Delisa: What’s one thing you wish you had done when you were a student?

Gena: I regret not applying to do some sort of exchange program when I was studying. Even though I have travelled due to my work; I believe that studying overseas and meeting like minded people in an educational environment would have been an unforgettable experience. On top of that, to make connections overseas is something that aids your career later on in life.

Delisa: Looking at the YMCA Global Study website, is there a program that particularly interests you?

Gena: If I had the opportunity to do any of the programs I honestly would. However the Lights, Camera, Action Film Program would be up my alley.

Delisa: Finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for film students following our page?

Gena: My advice would be, at the beginning of your career, take every opportunity. You really never know what is going to come out of it. That has always been my approach and there have been certain experiences I’ve had that if I did not take them, I would not be in the position I am today.

Thank you, Gena, for taking the time out to speak with us today.

If you are interested in viewing Gena’s film, “Creating a Monster” (which we highly recommend!), you can purchase it here.

If you’re a film student or are interested in studying film, check out YMCA Global Study’s short course, “LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!”, offered at Michigan State University and led by Troy Hale – an Emmy award-winning television journalist.

For more information on Michigan State University and what to expect, click here!


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