Looking Forward to Sisterly: An Interview with Nina Vallado
Name: Nina Vallado
Major: Documentary Film
Interviewed by Ruth Barn
What's your short life story?
I was born in Brazil and moved to California when I was six years old. Film was an early passion of mine and I made short films as a child with my neighborhood friends. Since then, I found my niche in documentary filmmaking and chose to attend Andrews University for their Documentary Film program. I got into filmmaking because it was a way for me to understand different points of view and connect with people. Film gave me access and permission to explore different worlds and personalities. I fell in love with storytelling, and specifically nonfiction narratives. I highly encourage filmmakers to continue filmmaking! Andrews has the best program when it comes to focusing on narratives and nonfiction films.
What gave you the idea for this film? Especially considering that it is more personal (I'm assuming) than other films you have made in the past?
Initially, I was convinced I had to tell this story because my sister is an incredible human being who has overcome difficult obstacles throughout her life. Her whole story is inspirational and relevant to current events and issues. So, I felt telling Lisa's story was the perfect project. As I began production, I realized I didn't know my sister like I wanted to. Lisa had never been able to verbally communicate or express her thoughts. It was straining on our relationship to have no communication between us. I expressed these concerns to my professor and he helped me realize that this story has to be about the both of us. I cannot objectively tell Lisa's story, or remain out of it, because I am part of her narrative. Half-way through the project, the story changed, and it became about sisterhood, and less of a profile piece on an individual. I think I have been able to still tell Lisa's story, but humanize it more by bringing it to a level that people who know about autism and those who do not can relate to it at a personal level. Siblings have such an unique type of relationship that is more complex than others. Lines are drawn and expectations are set for relationships between child and parent, romantic relationships and even professional relationships. Siblings vary from culture to culture and family to family. But themes of misunderstanding and wanting connection are universal. We all seek to be understood, accepted and loved. That's what I hoped my film would be able to do in terms of sisterhood and autism.
What does your sister think of the movie? Would you tell us a little more about her?
My sister is excited to share our story. When my mom asked Lisa if it was OK to tell our story, Lisa said that it was because she believed it could make a difference in the world. In terms of how to describe Lisa, I would say that you wouldn't know that she has autism by just looking at her. She has done a lot of behavioral therapy that controls many of the visible symptoms of autism. If you were to approach her and ask her a question about how she feels about a particular subject, she would just stare silently. Lisa's speech therapies have only taught her to give trained responses, such as, “How are you?” “What's your name?” and other common everyday phrases. Conversations based on personal feelings and opinions are answered with silence. Lisa's autism affects her verbal speech more than anything else. Lisa is a very active person; she loves running, surfing and anything involving the outdoors. She is on a special needs hockey team back home in Maryland and she gets to practice on the Washington Capitals practice rink each week.
Lisa does not like to be defined as “autistic.” Autism varies from person to person and it impacts each individual differently. Many within the autism community embrace their identity as an autistic. Lisa, however, sees herself more as an individual who has autism, rather than someone who is autism.
What would be your advice to people who have friends or relatives with autism? How can they be a good friend to them? Or even for people who don't know anyone with autism; how would you advise them to relate to people on the spectrum? How can they respect, support, appreciate, and so forth?
I feel like although autism makes individuals act differently than the rest of society, most of them still want to be included into society. I see a lot of people “baby” my sister. They speak in simpler words, and in a slower, higher-pitched voice. My sister is 21 years old and wants be treated as such. It's difficult to look past the physical aspect of her autism, but she wants to be seen for more than her diagnosis. I think for individuals with autism, inclusion is more important than awareness. We all know autism, but we as a society have a difficult time including people with autism in it. So I would advise people with friends or family on the spectrum to treat them their age, even if they can't respond like their age ought to. I think making efforts to include them in family activities and outings, and not to leave them out of the group is the best way to meet them where they are at.
What are you looking forwards to most about the first showing of the film?
I am looking forward to sharing this story with my family for the first time. It's been hard keeping it secret from them, and I am so lucky to have them at the screening on Sunday (At the Newbold Auditorium at 7 p.m.). I am excited to show them the film for the first time as well as for all my friends and the world! I am just so ready to get the film out there and break free from my editing suite!