Womenlines is delighted to share a guest contribution from a talented contributor Maiye Waller from North Carolina, United States. Maiye is sharing her conversation with Theresa Fortune, a producer, writer, actress, maternal mental health activist and founder of Communion Community. In her conversation with Maiye, Theresa shared about her journey while making the film “From the Ashes” which she self-directed and produced. Through the use of photography, video sequences, sound design, dance and interactive panel-to-audience discussions, From the Ashes brings forth the gritty reality of gender inequity for women in their parenting roles that often leads to hopelessness, loss of self and potentially, loss of life. Maiye is sharing-
I had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with this amazing woman. We talked about her journey and went on to discuss her film “From the Ashes” which she self-directed and produced. Fortune has made a name for herself in the community of San Francisco, California and helps advocate the importance of maternal mental health for all moms. I am pleased to share this exclusive interview with our readers of Womenlines all over the world. Check out our conversation below.
- In three words, Who is Theresa Fortune?
Faith-based, Audacious, and Unapologetic.
2. What was your inspiration behind your film “From the Ashes”?
What inspired my film was the question that I posed to God. My ask was for God to “Show and tell. Prove to me that my mind can be preserved.” At that time I had no belief system at the moment I contemplated taking my life which had everything to do with having undiagnosed postpartum depression while also going through a divorce. So at that time, all I had was my voice and the audacity to challenge God. I promised God that I would share my story if my mind could be preserved, which then prompted me to document my journey so that I could share my blueprint.
3. How did you come up with the title?
I thought about the Rising Phoenix. The Rising Phoenix reminded me of the spiritual death that I experienced and the rebirth. Rising up is what the story is all about. I had to gather myself to get back up again. I also often think of Maya Angelou’s poem, And Still, I Rise, and merge it with my story; “From the ashes and still I rise”; which really embodies the essence and strength of the rising Phoenix.
4. What roadblocks did you face when you were starting out(making the film)?
Quite a few roadblocks actually! Some of my original footage was taken from me, which is now a legal matter. Due to that, I was forced to rise above and start all the way over from scratch without any formal knowledge of how to make a film.I was scheduled to do a sneak peek of the film at a local gallery and I did not have any footage prepared for the screening. So, I called my sister and told her “ I know we have never in our life made a film, but we have to learn how to do this ASAP!.” I ended up spending my last bit of money to get an iPhone 12, even though I didn’t have enough money to cut the service on. Ya know, you just have to muster up the audacity and faith and just flow into it. I was determined to get this story out. The timing felt perfect because the world was at a standstill due to Covid 19, so this was the perfect time for me to capitalize on the stillness around me and take a deep dive into what I thought was going to be impossible. Also, Covid 19 has heavily contributed to this mental health crisis and I felt like producing this film was timely and would appeal to every market. As we all know, pain is a universal space no matter what causes it. All of our stories are dynamic, but when we arrive in a painful space within our bodies and worlds, we all land in the same chemical imbalances that we have to learn how to regulate.
5. Do you think it’s essential to go to film school in order to be a successful filmmaker?
No. Honestly, I haven’t watched television like that for 20 years due to having synesthesia. So my mind and body don’t prefer too much-digitized content, because it over-stimulates me, especially if it doesn’t feel nutritious to my soul. Despite my difference with digitized content, what I love about the film that I was able to produce is that it is a pure and it’s an authentic expression of my story because I wasn’t aware of what I should or should not do- I didn’t anyone to correct my edits or narrative. Actually, I didn’t complete the narration for the film until about two weeks before the public premiere. So, you know… I used my grant money to buy a refurbished Apple desktop that had editing software built within it. I had to teach myself how to use iMovie through Youtube and Google. As a woman who barely graduated high school and who has completed one class in college, I’ve always had to teach myself how to navigate the world by being a hands-on learner. I believe that when you are living within your purpose, you’re gifted with everything you need. You just need to identify your “why” first and then the tools will be made available to you. The impossible is often untried.
6. Was there a specific reason why you did the documentary over the course of 7 years?
Yeah, it goes back to knowing that I was going to tell my story at some point, so I knew that I had to track my progress. But while documenting, I really didn’t think about a film. I was documenting and having conversations with myself in hopes to pull myself out of dark moments by affirming myself. I would talk myself up in the mirror or document the process on my little Apple laptop. I also knew that if I wanted to manifest my dreams; I had to say it. I had to see myself say it, and I had to believe it. The video messaging to myself and my future self was my self-medication, and talk therapy.
7. How was it working with your mom to remake certain scenes?
It was therapeutic! I don’t proclaim to be an actress, I like to see my work as drama therapy which allows me to pull any emotion out of my body on demand. In all of the reenacted scenes, you’ll notice that there wasn’t a script, just the use of my body language. My mom didn’t know how I was going to use our film- she didn’t have any idea as to what the narration would be. As a woman and as her daughter, I felt like I needed to have that moment with her. She needed to know that I still needed her- to be held and to cry with. At one point in my journey with depression, I remember wanting to go back into my mother’s womb because she is my original home and I knew that I would be safe there. I really love and appreciate my mom and I pray that I have my mom for as long as possible. I just desire time with life and the people that I love because I now know what it means to actually be alive now. The love that my mother had for me is of the same foundation of love that I have for my daughter. My mom is like my ocean and my soil and God is my light. With her by my side, I can harvest anything I need here on earth and the same for my daughter- I am here to help her grow upright!
8. What was the hardest part of the process of creating “From the Ashes”?
EDITING! I was like oh my goodness, I have to edit. I didn’t know how to do that. My neighbour, Michelle Zheng, actually helped me with the editing. She had a different software than me so I had to have her make edits from what I produced and vice versa. The technical side of everything was really complex. I love being a student and learning hands-on so I knew I had to get this film done because this was God’s plan and my promise. I am serving millions of people, and I say that confidently because it’s going to continue to grow and I’m going to be an international speaker, so I was prepared to do whatever it was going to take to become a filmmaker. I bought a microphone and this desktop instead of paying my rent because it wasn’t enough to pay my rent anyway. I had to pitch myself to myself and I was convinced that it was time for me to bet on myself- I had to become my first investor. My partner was also very helpful. He built a desk for me, so I was ready to get to it. To be honest with you, I knew my film was going to be incredible and perfect before I even started. I saw the outcome before acting a single scene out because all I could focus on was serving my community. I am wise enough to know that when the nucleus of your work is service, the byproduct will always be a success.
9. How do you feel about parenthood these days?
It’s very important that we stick to the basics. It’s important that we allow room to fortify ourselves and our children. I feel like we have advanced the process with all of this technology. Technology creates too much convenience and is actually not always good for us because we miss so much in between that we miss all of the important lessons along the way. I also think that cultivating joy and playing is really important. You can do this by investing time in your baby and creating memorable memories together. I love that at 10 years old, my child still enjoys playing with dolls, and talking to me, she enjoys riding her bike with me and making mud pies and we also love picking up our guitars from time to time. I feel like if I don’t fortify her, she will crash when she gets out into the world as a young lady. I think parenthood is complex because our generation is dealing with new problems and are aware of new solutions. So, It’s important for us to reset the pace of life. Subscribe to time, trust the process and do what is best for you by not comparing yourself to others. You know your baby better than anyone else does, you got this!
10. What do you feel contributed to your depression after giving birth and the years after?
Undiagnosed postpartum depression and lack of support and resources and financial hardships. There was a time I didn’t have running water or electricity. That was so stressful that it actually caused my milk to dry up. I ended up crashing mentally and emotionally as a result. I remember thinking to myself “I don’t even have the financial means nor milk for my baby. So why am I a mother? This feels like an epic failure on my part. I am already disappointing my child.” I believe that socioeconomic disparities really heightened the undiagnosed postpartum. The biggest issue was, why was it undiagnosed. Where was the check-in to see how I was actually doing vs just how my baby was doing? Let me swing this back to my film: The goal of this film is to fortify the data by providing my story. The healthcare system has metrics that are created by physicians and scientists who are supposedly trying to come up with solutions. But how can they do this if they don’t understand us or if they keep dismissing our voices? If they don’t know what’s causing the breakdown, there is no way for them to repair the problem. Again, my goal is to fortify the data through storytelling so that we can re-work these old metrics that do not serve women who look like me.
11. What is your take on the disparity that exists between single Black moms versus other races?
The system is not broken because it was designed to keep black mothers and our families down. The goal is to rewrite and rework the system so that the design isn’t up against people like us. I think the dynamics of the Black family have always been compromised since the beginning of time or when we got to this country. If we allow the system to keep us oppressed by suppressing our needs and robbing us of equitable experiences within the healthcare system, then our community will continue to suffer, our babies will continue to die at an alarming rate and our families will continue to suffer in the long run.
12. What practices do you recommend moms should try in order to keep their mental health intact?
I think that we are all having a very similar experience, so we have to collectively get back to the basics. The first thing is to know that you have permission to lift your hand up to say I’m down and that you need help. Like we talked about earlier with my neighbour Michelle, I needed her help and she came to the rescue. And the film talked about Ms Jackie, when I needed tissue I knocked on her door and she gave me a whole bag of tissue. Sometimes I didn’t have enough food and I would ask for that too. My point is that this crisis requires us to humanize this experience and give each other permission to say it’s okay to not be okay. Those are the basics.
Also, nutrition is very important. I think that our bodies are not only manifesting the chemicals in processed foods, but it’s manifesting stress. Listen to your body, and pay attention to it. You know even the content that we listen to. Our brain is made up of the same tissue as our stomach, so what we absorb through our mouths and ears really does matter. So feeding your mind, body and spirit with proper nutrition is very important. You don’t have to be on social media all day, or listen to certain music that isn’t uplifting. Also, meditation, prayer, therapy, gravitating to gratitude and community are everything.
13. What tools are you currently using to maintain a state of balance?
I love that you used the word balance. My goal is not to be happy all day or live in sadness. My goal is to be regulated. When you stay in a regulated state of being you realize that we are only experiencing these emotions. I’m not “sad”. I’m not “happy”. I’m only experiencing them and I don’t have to take on the identity of these emotions when I experience them. I’m so desperate to not be depressed anymore that I will do whatever it takes to hold onto my joy and laughter, to remember my smile, and to understand that, “I’m not the mind, the body or the emotion. I am not of this world, I am just here to experience it.” This life is just a story, you can always pick up your pen and change your story. You have to do what it takes to be a part of that book. Prayer, meditation, exercise, nutritious content for the mind and the spirit; but most important purpose.
14. What is the impact you wish to make with your film “From the Ashes”?
What is and what will continue to happen is that I plan to work with policymakers. I also have a curriculum coming out this year to provide a more black-and-white explanation of the experience so that physicians, scientists and policy writers have the opportunity to fortify and rework their data and metrics to serve women who look like me.
15. Are there any new and upcoming projects that you’d like to share with our readers?
My book “Compost to Harvest”, a woman’s retreat and collage series is coming out in October of 2022. You can learn more about these projects by visiting my website. I am doing a virtual screening of “From the Ashes” with The Mace Anthony Williamson Foundation on October 21st, 2022 at 7 pm and I have a lot more screenings with other screening partners in the very near future, too! Looks like October is my season of harvest!
16. Where can we find more information on the film and how can we find you on Social Media?
You can find more information on the film and where to screen it at:
Contact Theresa Fortune to schedule your in-person or virtual screening of “From the Ashes.”
The Mace Anthony Williamson Foundation
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