Emanuele Sesta brings us a documentary about two different experiences of moving to New York City in pursuit of a better chance.
It’s possible that we’ve all felt out of our element at one point in our lives. Perhaps you moved from your childhood home to a new town when you were young. Maybe you found yourself leaving to study in a different state or country. There’s also the chance that as an adult you realized that you needed to leave where you were to find your calling or live out your dream. It sounds so sweet when hear the word dream. But reaching your goals often comes with challenges and obstacles along the way. There are dark moments when you might feel like you’ll never be able to see the end of it. Not all of us have been immigrants, but we’ve all shared the realization that getting to where we want to be is not easy.
Emanuele Sesta is a filmmaker who’s created a documentary about two different experiences of moving to New York City in pursuit of a better chance. If I Can Make It There is the story of Emily and Veronica, two women with different backgrounds and stories who share the fact that they relocated to this city in order to find more opportunities in developing and reaching their career goals. We had the chance to talk to Sesta about his inspiration behind the film, as well as the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding people who leave their homes for a new life in NYC.
“Five years ago, I moved from my native country, Italy, to NYC in order to build a new life here. As I was trying to figure out things when I first moved – I started to ask myself the following question a lot: 'How can I have an impact in the most diverse, unique, exciting but also competitive city in the world?' I was feeling a bit lost and intimidated by this challenge. Until I realized that probably millions of other people before me –whether they be immigrants or Americans moving to New York from other parts of the country had gone through a very similar challenge.”
If I Can Make It There explores the realities, both the high points as well as the hardships, that come with finding yourself and your passion in the mythical land that is NYC. There are so many books, movies, and songs about the city. There are millions of stories of artists and random characters who got off the train or bus, who drove across the continent, or even landed after a journey by plane or boat, and made their mark. But real life isn’t a story. New York City is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. So living the dream is more difficult than it might seem.
“Some people have this glamorous idea of what it’s like to live here and I wanted to emphasize that it’s not always like that. I’m more interested in the struggles because that’s what most of the people are facing. It’s not like Sex and the City. I’m not saying that there’s not a good amount of people that might lead that lifestyle. But there’s also many regular people who just want to build a new life and when they come here they might start a family. The misconceptions are about the lifestyle or even thinking that everyone who comes here is obsessed with their career or want to make a lot of money. That’s not always the case.”
The documentary has been receiving several accolades, including the Silver Palm Award at the 2017 Mexico International Film Festival and Best Short Documentary at the New York Film Week 2017. This has led Sesta to creating a documentary series titled What If You Make It? that is currently being produced. Like the film, the series will feature stories about different people speaking about what it means to “make it” in the city as well as the meaning of success.
“When you move to New York City you feel like an immigrant whether you’re an American or not. But of course the challenges faced by immigrants are very specific like not having connections or being familiar with the local culture or language can definitely make things difficult. It’s hard sometimes finding a balance between keeping yourself connected to your own culture or place of origin and embracing the immense variety that the city offers. Americans who move here might be able to get a better understanding of the specific struggles faced by immigrants. On the other hand, immigrants can learn from Americans the best strategies to develop their cultural awareness.”
When I think of the way people used to talk about immigrants and how they’re referred to by politicians, and consequently by the media and many people around the world, I can’t help but think that there’s a strange shift in how our current environment chooses to single them out rather than include them. European immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were seen as people who were looking for a new chance at life. However, it’s not strange at all to hear them be referred to as problematic or even dangerous. Is it because the current immigrants, several of which are escaping wars and instability, are from different places than before? What makes them so different from ourselves who also struggle to find our place on the planet where we can make the most out of our gifts?
“I think NYC itself not only represents the diversity of the world but also the complexity of reality that comes with all these contradictions. Living here encourages to be open minded and to take risks so when you take reality as it is, it means you’re trying to live life without being in a state of denial. This has nothing to do with giving up your ideals or the things that you want to change. It’s actually quite the opposite. You’re acknowledging what’s in front of you and you’re trying to develop the tools to deal with it. People love New York because of that. It’s more than just a physical place. It has an existential meaning, because you feel free to be yourself and take risks. Things might not work out the way you were anticipating but that’s life.”
Image by Annie Ling