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SHOOTING FOR THE STARS WITH EUNICE LEVIS

BY MO MOSHATY, JANUARY 3, 2024

First generation Dominican-American writer/director Eunice Levis isn't afraid to push boundaries. Her stories seek to disrupt and challenge dominant narratives around technology, race, gender, history, and diaspora identity by altering the stories we tell about them...and we're all ears. 

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MM: I always feel so incredibly lucky to sit down with a 13 Minutes of Horror alum and watching you soar has been incredible. Can you tell me where your journey into film began?

 

EL: My first film was “InVade” an environmental sci-fi horror short. It was a standalone short but also served as a proof of concept for a series. Prior to InVade, I worked as a journalist, proposal writer and wrote/directed public service announcements (PSAs).  I knew years before I ever got behind the camera that motion pictures is my preferred creative format.  

It took some time to get there because making films is a collaborative art and it is expensive! I decided to go the grants and lab route - meaning I applied to several grants and lab incubators hoping that acquiring funding would allow me to produce a quality piece that can help move the needle.

MM: The long road to challenging disproportionality. Were there any film greats that instilled that want to create films?

EL:  So many directors and screenwriters have inspired me; Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Karyn Kusama, Misha Green, Quentin Tarantino, Mira Nair, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jeymes Samuel.  Each has such a distinct point of view, Mira Nair in particular - in my work, I try to replicate her ability to dive into universal/human themes without sacrificing cultural nuances.

MM: Oh I think you've definitely been able to add your own particular and wonderful flavor to your stories. What angle or theme is important for you to show in your work?

EL: I embrace unconventional leads, and bilingual content.  Thematically I tend to explore identity, belonging and second chances. 

MM: I think identity is such a strong watch word. Especially as a creative of color in this industry. There's "room" but it very seldom feels that way. Belonging is difficult as a full grown adult let alone asking the character to do that heavy lifting. In a diversity sense as well, getting the chance to get our stories out there and creating that project that is relatable because we're sharing our background is so hard won. Tell me about 13 Minutes of Horror film, Fell Ends and the idea of using La Ciguapa. 

EL: I found Nyx Horror Collective through other horror creatives.  Shortly after I followed the collective the 13 Minutes of Horror initiative was announced. The competition was truly a gift.  When do you ever get a chance to dream up 1 minute of horror and be offered a platform to share it!?  The inaugural theme was “folklore horror” my family is from the Dominican Republic and one of the most well known folktale is that of “La Ciguapa” a mythological creature described as having human female form with brown or dark blue skin, backward facing feet.  The purpose of La Ciguapa is to entice bad men and/or to protect wooded areas.  I chose the latter.  My one minute short Fell Ends tells the story of a teen who is running late to meet friends and decides to take a shortcut through the woods despite warnings about La Ciguapa, a forest dwelling demon. We shot the short overnight, in the rain, right outside of Philadelphia.  We encountered the police, onlookers and a snake.  You know, typical set issues! Once done, we had about a week or two for post production.  My film was runner up, and Megan Llewellyn’s gorgeous animated film Tailypo won top honors.  Then came the incredible outcome - all final films streamed on Shudder. I still can’t believe that happened!

 

MM: Absolutely so well deserved! Just incredible storytelling and we were so blessed to have open our line-up. Essentially 13 Minutes kicked off with your art. That'll always be amazing to me. Now, your most recent film Ro and the Stardust is making incredible grounds! Take me through the intense and emotional thematic of Ro.

EL: Ro & the Stardust tells the story of a free spirited teen and her terminally ill grandmother who build a rocket ship they plan to launch into outer space. The story was inspired by my experience with my father’s end of life. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and deteriorated quickly.  All the hopes and plans he had for his life were put on hold while he fought his battle. Most people don’t realize that age and illness does not omit desires and dreams. People are people no matter where they are on their life journey. I made this film to honor my father and to inspire anyone who ever had a dream or calling that felt impossible. In the case of Ro & the Stardust, the grandmother wants to fly into outer space before dying. Themes of identity and second chances explored in Ro have a true life parallel as Yolanda Nolasco, the actor who played the grandmother was a first time actress at the age of 75.

 

MM: That's so beautiful that you've used your art to honor him. Was the process cathartic for you?

EL: The process was definitely cathartic. I inserted pieces of him throughout the film. For example, the mechanic at the opening of the film worked at a place called “Obvidio’s Repairs”.  My father’s name was Obvidio Levis.  The recipe used in the soup Ro made is my dad’s favorite, the book on the nightstand listed the author as Roda Well - she is my paternal grandmother.

 

It’s funny, although the process was cathartic I realize that honoring my family in my work will be never-ending.  When I work on a project, they come with me. There is no separation, they are always with me.  

MM: Pushing through grief, as a creative, can take our stories places we need them to. Just awe inspiring? Speaking of awe, tell me about your brush with the Oscars.

EL: Yes! On December 21st we found out that Ro & the Stardust" was not shortlisted.  The whole Oscar qualification process was such an education.  As an independent filmmaker, there was nothing to prepare me for what an Oscar run truly requires.

Team Ro did our very best, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished. We competed in the same category as Wes Anderson and Pedro Almodovar! A little piece of me loves the idea of Academy voters having to scroll past my name to watch their films!  

 

MM: Nothing to sneeze at and an fantastic accomplishment! But you're always in the midst of something spectacular. You've been a fixture on NYWINFT and AfroTaino, as a creative of color as a first-generation Dominican-American, how has the journey been to garner support for your work?

EL: There’s a popular assumption that artists can survive and thrive in a vacuum.  However, everyone successfully working in the industry understands it is all about relationships and collaboration.  I have found that seeking my “tribe” is the only way to grow.  So joining NYWIFT, NALIP, WIF, NewFilmmakersLA, AWD and a handful of other organizations has become an essential part of my career trajectory. The championing and advocacy I’ve received being part of these organizations has been invaluable.

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"Most people don’t realize that age and illness does not omit desires and dreams. People are people no matter where they are on their life journey."

MM: Accessibility really is free and key. The championing of work needs to not just come from your own corner and I'm so glad you've seen that support excel your projects. Your latest film, Affordable Housing pulls you into a lot of horror fun - what can you tell us about the film?

EL: Yes! Affordable Housing is a mix media campy horror short, about two women who have to slay a monster in order to keep their affordable apartment. The film features live action, animation, stunts, gore, a monster and kick ass women. I mean, it has everything!  Plus, I've gotten to collaborate with fellow 13 Minutes of Horror Alum, Megan Llewellyn. Megan is working on the animated components of the film. The film was written by Wi-Moto Nyoka and produced by Okema Moore. We just kicked off post production and will be on the festival circuit later in 2024.

MM: Coming back to creating a horror work, what can you say about the genre that's been helpful to you creatively and personally? 

EL:  Horror has allowed me to dissect and reimagine history, life, womanhood and humanity.  I get to peel back the layer of  joy, pain and fear and amplify it through a horror lens. Aside from that, horror is just fun!  The stories, concepts and world do not need to be rooted in reality. There is so much freedom working in a genre that allows you to belong in all spaces.

MM: What would you tell your younger creative self?

EL: Own your weird.  Embrace all the quirky things that make you different.  It will be what you lean on to make your art resonate.

Writer and director, Eunice Levis is a first-generation Dominican American from the Bronx, New York. Eunice's work focuses on genre-bending stories that combine her love of horror, sci-fi, thriller and fantasy through a diasporic lens. 

Her work seeks to disrupt and challenge dominant narratives around technology, race, gender, history, and diaspora identity by altering the stories we tell about them. She is a two-time Sundance Lab Second Rounder, a Stowe Story Lab Fellow, and a Netflix/NALIP Women of Color Short Film Incubator fellow. Eunice’s folklore horror micro short FELL ENDS was an extraordinary selection at NYX’s 13 minutes of horror film festival and streamed on Shudder. Her film, RO & THE STARDUST, a space fantasy short was selected for inclusion in the 2021 NALIP Latino Lens Women of Color Short Film Incubator, sponsored by Netflix. The film won Best Narrative Short at the 25th Annual Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival, making it an Oscar® qualified Narrative Short Film. In addition to writing and directing, Eunice teaches and cohosts Café Negro con Genre, a podcast that promotes creatives working in the genre space.

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