Short film ‘Play Pretend’ works to make diversity and equality a reality in the film industry

Andrea Tinning

Going up against sexism in the film industry might feel like a monster too big for one person to tackle, but one radio-television-film alumna is preparing for a battle of cinematic proportions, while also fighting racism.

Radio-television-film graduate Madeline Dimayuga wrote and directed “Play Pretend,” a film completed last July, which was accepted into the inaugural Austin Under the Stars film festival with a nomination for best narrative short.

Dimayuga said she drew from personal experience when writing the story, which centers around an Asian-American girl who confronts racism in her elementary school with the help of her teddy bear.

“I really wanted to make something different, and the only way I could make something different is if I pulled from my own experience,” Dimayuga said.

Although the story’s message tackles a complex subject, Dimayuga wrote it with children in mind.

“I think that adults understand the nuance of it a lot more, but I’d really love for kids to watch it and ask questions because the most important part of the film is starting a conversation,” Dimayuga said.

Though not finished until later on, radio-telvision-film professor Nancy Schiesari said she encouraged Dimayuga to pursue production of “Play Pretend” after she first pitched it in Schiesari’s intro to narrative production class.

“I really encouraged her to make it as an independent project,” Schiesari said. “The way she presented the film was so visual, and she had everything that she needed to make a really good film.”

Along with creating a film to combat racial discrimination, Dimayuga made a point in hiring a mostly female crew in the film’s production not only to increase the authenticity of the film’s female characters, but also to create more opportunities for women in the film industry.

“If you’re in a position where you can provide opportunities to other people, it’s more about really wanting to see the change you would like to see in the industry and making it yourself,” Dimayuga said.

After putting in over a year of work, “Play Pretend” will bring its message to screen in front of an audience of filmmakers at the Austin Under the Stars film festival on Saturday, Oct. 21 alongside 27 other films.

Festival director Ali Alkhafaji said the motto of the festival is to “make film festivals fun again” in comparison to the chaotic feel of festivals like Austin City Limits or SXSW. The venue will showcase live music before and after the films and local food.

“This event is more about bringing things back to the community, getting more people involved with the film school and up-and-coming filmmakers,” Alkhafaji said. “The idea of making film festivals fun again is really just focusing on the networking aspect of it.”

Though the film festival is new, it has managed to draw international attention with over 200 submissions from across the globe.

“It was nice to be able to select the best of the best, and it was a testament to some of the filmmakers of Austin that got in because they were going up against the best of the world, people from Sweden, China, Japan, Australia and Russia,” Alkhafaji said.

For Dimayuga, the festival’s prominence makes her spot on the rundown an even bigger honor.

“I looked at all the other people that got accepted and these are all Tribeca film nominees, people from China, filmmakers from New York. This is an international film festival and my film got chosen which is mind-blowing to me,” Dimayuga said. “I’m really lucky that I even got accepted into
this festival.”