We interviewed our new colleague, Erica Deiparine-Sugars, who has just joined us as Director of Programs for AFS’s Filmmaker and Community Media Resources Department. Erica most recently worked in the public media system at ITVS, where she spent nine years collaborating with filmmakers as the Managing Director of Programming and Production. Erica’s new role will encompass artist services, education and community media programming out of Austin Public, our community media center and the home of the public access television stations for the City of Austin.
AFS Viewfinders: Tell us more about your background, and some of the highlights of your over 20 years working in media.
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: My background is in film and TV production. As a student in production, I had the opportunity to intern with a few television stations, mostly in the areas of live news or current affairs programs. While I found more opportunities in broadcast TV, I always tried to work on short films and independent projects where I could. I worked at KXAN in Austin in the mid-1990’s, first on the floor crew then as a director for the morning news broadcast. I have a lot of fond memories from that time.
I got interested in media literacy education later while I was in my grad program in documentary production. I started working with a local youth media organization in Chicago called CTVN (Community Television Network) that had a long-running youth-produced program on Chicago Access Network TV (CAN-TV). The show is over 30-years old! That experience really had an impact on my career and my desire to support more storytelling by and for communities that are underrepresented or ignored by mainstream media.
For the last nine years, I worked for ITVS, a non-profit organization that funds, co-produces and presents independent documentary films for public television. I headed up the team that selected the content to fund and worked with independent producers through development and/or production. I was so fortunate to work with and learn from some amazing independent filmmakers. I am very proud to mention the organization just received an Institutional Peabody Award this past Spring and is the recipient of the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences 2017 Governors Award.
AFS Viewfinders: What excites you most about this move? Both about Austin, and career-wise?
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: I have always been interested in working with mission-driven media organizations that are dedicated to supporting diversity of voices and making media accessible to all people. AFS’ origin story and mission really resonates with me.
I have been working specifically with documentary filmmakers and public media over these last nine years so I am looking forward to the ability to expand my experiences with narrative filmmakers and community media makers. AFS also has a very dedicated and talented staff. There is an excitement and optimism about the new opportunities and possibilities on the horizon with Austin Public and now, the AFS Cinema. It’s hard not to want to be a part of it.
And I love Austin. I moved to Austin in 1994 after I finished college. Like most people entering the film/TV industry, you hustle and try to jump into a lot of things. The people I met and worked with were really supportive. It is the place I feel that I got my start. I know that much has changed both with the city and the industry since I left Austin in 1997. Like many major cities, there has been a lot of growth and with it cultural shifts. But what I admire is that Austin has always been rich in creative talent and innovative thinking yet strives to stay unique and independent. I also grew up in the South (New Orleans) so Austin’s friendly, laidback cultural vibe suites me.
AFS Viewfinders: What is your take on why media literacy is important to our community?
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: Ohh—this is a juicy question and one that I could discuss in length. So I will try to be brief. But I am encouraged by AFS commitment to media literacy and hope there are more opportunities to engage with the community around this.
I have always believed media literacy to be a basic skill in the digital age. The definition of media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in various forms. I know most people think that “media literacy” seems overly academic but it is really a critical component for being an active and informed member of society. Many of us have likely used some part of these skills as we interact with media and communicate daily; watching TV, searching the internet, listening to music, posting a photo on Instagram, etc. These daily images, sounds and words have an affect on our behaviors, feelings and thoughts and those of our peers whether or not we are fully aware of it. Media literacy is about being active and conscious. It is the ability to really step back and think critically about what is going on.
The mastery of these skills can actually level the power dynamic that exists in current “mass” commercial media. In addition to being a 21st century learning skill, media literacy is also one that supports social justice and equity as more people, people from different communities and socioeconomic backgrounds can access, understand and create their own media. They can start to control their own images.
AFS Viewfinders: As a storyteller, what inspires you in your work? What drives you to help people tell their own stories?
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: Like many of my peers, I grew up watching my fair share of television and going to movies. What struck me was that a lot of people on TV and in the films I saw didn’t look like me or have experiences that I could really identify with. Additionally, there was often a lot of homogeneity or generalities in the ways that women and people of color were portrayed. They weren’t always prominent or important characters in the storytelling. I remember being amazed and excited when I did see stories about women and communities of color particularly if it showed me something new or gave me a different perspective. I wanted more and knew there were so many stories out there that weren’t being told.
AFS Viewfinders: Now for the required AFS Viewfinders question-- what are some of the films that have most strongly influenced you?
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: My favorite movies list is growing long and varied. So I’ll just list a few older ones (in no particular order) that have stuck with me.