Arts At Work: Francesca Andre

Earlier this summer, filmmaker Francesca Andre’s “Charcoal” caught YAJI student Mellody Massaquoi’s eye as it rolled into the New Haven Documentary Film Festival (NH Docs). It was the film’s second time in New Haven: Andre brought the film here last year, at the Nasty Women Film Fest. 

Andre is a longtime photographer and filmmaker, now working on pieces that directly engage with colorism, race, and female identity. In this special version of our “Arts At Work” series, Massaquoi speaks with Andre about that festival, and what she focuses on in her work. 

How long have you been a photographer and filmmaker?

I started by doing news photography eight years ago than ventured into portrait, beauty and some lifestyle. My goal this year is to do more portrait and photo documentary work that focuses on women, immigrants and social issues. 

In 2009, I produced my first short film “Zulie” which tells the story of a young woman  in a desperate search of direction and -inner and outer- self through her sexuality. I also produced and directed a web series 3L ( Live , Laugh, Love” in 2014. 

Did you face discrimination growing up? If you did how did you combat it?

I was the only child in a traditional Haitian household so I have learned to use my voice even when It was  challenged/repressed at times  by adults. As a young child, I have experienced colorism and gender discrimination but that was the norm.  I am grateful for strong womanists such as my grandmother Inocia Lefranc, [and for] my Godmother, Marie Antoine Andre, who helped me develop my voice.

Did you face any form of discrimination while pursuing your dreams? If you had, how hard was it to deal with? How did you fight back against discrimination that you faced?

As a woman storyteller, i have dealt with micro-aggression, gender discrimination and at times racial discrimination whether in the classroom or at work. Even in women centric circles, I feel excluded as a woman of color. It is discouraging but my vision as a storyteller keeps me going. I also know that in order for me to tell my stories, i have to pick my battles carefully and create safe spaces for myself and my art. The challenge is to not lose my spirit and my voice while surviving and looking for opportunities. 

Growing up, did you want to be a filmmaker or a photographer? Or did you have another passion?

I always liked stories. When I attended College Classique Feminin ( CCF) in Haiti, I used to stand in front of the class and tell stories. I never got in trouble because my classmates were very supportive lol. I knew then that I was going to be doing something in the arts field. 

It has been a long journey for me to fully accept the desires of my heart. I used to resent myself for not doing nursing or one of  the safe professions. Well, I tried but storytelling kept on showing up in different ways and to be honest, photography/storytelling saved me from losing myself. That’s the only time that I feel truly alive when an idea comes to life. 

What specific challenges came along while pursuing your dreams?

I am now a full time freelancer and not knowing when the next gig is coming could be very challenging.  And also, opportunities are more limited for women and even more for women of color so I am constantly worried . 

Will you continue to make films? 

I have worked on several projects but i have directed/produced three films and one web series. I am getting ready to produce my fourth film which is about depression.  

I have made peace with life and my heart and I am always going to create by the grace of God but will focus on films that explore issues within communities of color, women and identity .

What life experiences inspired you to produce Charcoal?

Growing up in Haiti, I learned about colorism before I knew about racism. I was made aware of skin tones at a very young age. Colorism is embedded in Haitian culture so  Charcoal was definitely  based on some of these experiences that I have encountered as a child and even as an adult.

What would you have done differently if you were to reflect back on your [still-young] career?

I wish I started sooner. I wish I listened to my voice and followed my dreams sooner but I guess everything happens in due time. I have allowed fear to take too much space in my life for a long time. I now feel free. I still get anxious at times but I am free.

What experiences and do you think shaped you into the person you are today?

Many experiences have contributed to the person that I am today. Some personal and some professional but my core has a lot to do with being raised by very strong , compassionate and hard working women. Hard work and compassion are two strong values that were instilled in me at a very young age.

How exactly did you film career start and how did your early career look like?

I started in photography and fell naturally in love with filmmaking. Charcoal is my first released project although I have worked on two other films and a web series in addition to being crew on other people's projects

What's next for your career?

A photo essay, a video project and a short film. Not sure which one will be ready first but I am excited to create the type of work that I always want to see.