How a Car Crash Birthed a Film Festival

by October 9, 2017
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Ingrid Jean-Baptiste is a French journalist and actor living in New York, U.S.A. She’s also the co-founder of the Chelsea Film Festival – which she founded after being in a car accident. FLURT’s Becca Clarkson chatted with Ingrid over email about finding inspiration through pain, the difference between American and European self care and her close relationship with her business partner – her mom.

Becca: I’m sorry to hear that you were in a car accident in 2012, but I read that you attribute this event as the catalyst for Chelsea Film Festival’s creation. I feel like most people would be exhausted/discouraged/bitter about their career being put on hold because of an accident. What about your hospitalization and injuries made you want to start a film festival?
Ingrid: I went through many different emotions during my recovery. It wasn’t obvious to me at first what I was going to do with my life. I came out of the hospital in a wheelchair with 7 broken ribs, a fractured spine and concussions. It was chaos! My life was falling apart a year after I graduated from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York, right when I was building my acting career. One morning I woke up with this crazy idea of wanting to create an international platform for emerging artists that would raise awareness about global issues and change the world one film at a time. Since I live in Chelsea, I thought why not call it Chelsea Film Festival? It took me a month to find the name though. I asked my mother to collaborate with me on this project (she was also in the car accident among seven other injured people). She thought I was crazy, but after a couple of hours of discussion, she agreed to help. Today, she’s the co-founder of the festival.

B: The tagline of the festival is ‘Making the World a Better Place by Giving a Voice to the Unheard.’ For the upcoming Chelsea Film Festival this October, are there specific unheard voices you wish to illuminate?
I: We hope to continue to showcase films made by female artists, content from the LGBTQ community and certainly more voices from black and latinx filmmakers.

B: I understand that you were born in Paris and raised between there and London. How, if at all, has your experience as a foreign person of color living in New York changed since The Trump administration came into power? Have your visions for The Chelsea Film Festival changed at all in light of this?
I: My vision for the Chelsea Film Festival has always been to make this world a better place through the powerful medium of film. Yes, film can raise awareness and resonate into people’s lives. We’re living in a Manichean world, where you have the good and bad people. That’s not how I see the world. What’s happening in America isn’t in any way different than what we experience in Europe. Being a foreign person of color living in New York and running a film festival was a challenge before Trump came into power. I want to remain optimistic and hope for the best – I believe in this country and its people, that’s why I chose to live here.

B: What made you move from Paris to New York to pursue acting when your past career was as a journalist? Can you describe your trajectory between these two careers for our readers?
I: I’ve always fought for social justice in my life – hence the reason that I wanted to become a journalist or lawyer. I decided to study history at La Sorbonne University in Paris and then worked as a journalist for a few years, which was a way for me to give voice to the unheard through my writing. Acting had never been a passion of mine – but I took acting classes when I was young to open me up, because I was a very shy kid. It was also a way for me to become more comfortable in front of the camera if I wanted to become a broadcast journalist. In 2010, I moved from Paris to study acting in New York and it was the best present I’ve ever offered myself. It totally changed my life and my persona. I wanted to move to America, and my mom, who’s my mentor, suggested that I sign up for proper acting training in New York, which I did!

To me, a journalist and an actor have a lot in common – specifically the idea of being a voice for someone else who might not have been heard in their lifetime. Embracing their life, becoming that person – that’s huge, isn’t it? It’s a big responsibility and that’s what’s amazing about these two careers. Think of Oprah, she’s a professional journalist and an amazing actress.

B: What’s it like to co-found and co-organize The Chelsea Film Festival with your mother? How do you two separate your business relationship from your personal one?
I: She’s the best person I could do business with! I know I can trust her – we always have each other’s back. She’s my mom for God’s sake! I know she wants the best of the best for me. We’ve actually worked together in the past, when she was running an advertising business. I used to spend my weekends helping her with intense deadlines. Sonia has been my mentor for many years. She’s a businesswoman, but also an actress, which was the perfect combination to become my partner. Of course we fight, but that’s because we love each other and we’re not afraid to defend our positions. We’re both true to ourselves, that’s what works in our business. We actually don’t think of separating our business relationship from our personal one, it just comes naturally. Every year after the festival, we look back on what worked and what didn’t, and we learn how to make the festival better. I’m very proud of having my mom as my partner and I’m where I am today in part because of her tremendous resilience and support. She’s been my strength.

B: What has been the biggest challenge of putting on a film festival?
I: Since 2013, we showcased 220 official NY premieres – not bad for a young film festival. My mom, my team and I work day and night to support emerging filmmakers. We’re grateful to have welcomed the Fashion Institute of Technology as our Educational Partner since 2015. We receive support from the City Council, Corey Johnson, the Department of Cultural Affairs and many other Institutions and worldwide brands. My biggest challenge is being a young French woman of color. I never admitted this in the past, but after four years now, I can honestly say that it has been challenging for sponsors to trust me and my capabilities of putting on a film festival.

“My biggest challenge is being a young French woman of color.”

B: What is your relationship with self care as such a busy, successful woman?
I: I have some breathing rituals I do every morning to make sure I stay grounded and connected to Mother Earth. I do yoga and spinning at least three or four times a week when I am not traveling for work. I cook my meals every night for dinner, which is very therapeutic – take out food is really not my thing! I also hate being in a routine, so I try to change up my schedule every week, adding some spice to it. This ranges anywhere from going out to watch a Dominican indie documentary at a film festival to dining in a new vegan restaurant in the Lower East Side or checking out an art exhibition in Brooklyn. Basically, I like adventure— that’s really how I take care of myself and cope with my busy New York life.

B: How, if at all, does American and European self-care culture differ?
I: That’s a great question – it actually does differ in many ways. The French way of living is much more mellow and relaxed. For instance, if you work in France you get an hour lunch break! That seems luxurious to me, however it reminds me that one must take a break while eating, which I do every evening. The attitude on weekends differs too – French people really disconnect from Friday night until Sunday. Talking business on weekends is almost a sin. Because I love my job I don’t mentally disconnect, but I certainly try not to answer my emails, otherwise I miss time with my loved ones.

B: Do you ever anticipate moving back to Paris and working in film there?
I: I don’t have any plans of moving back to Paris, but I travel to Europe very often, so I don’t miss it for too long at a time. I do, however, have plans to work in film there as an actress and want to organize a Chelsea Film Festival in Paris!

Ingrid Jean-Baptiste recently received the Audience Award for The Trophies of the French People Living Abroad by Le Petit Journal. If you’re in New York in October 2017, make sure not to miss the Chelsea Film Festival. And find Ingrid on twitter @IngridjbCFF.

Published in the Fall 2017 issue. Read the rest of the issue and buy a print copy here.

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