Learning to listen to and work with others
By Christopher Goudreau
When Mei Fujimori-Henderson began her first year at Mount Holyoke College, a career in filmmaking wasn’t something she envisioned for herself. But an introductory screenwriting class with MHC visiting lecturer Elliot Montague awakened her passion to find her own creative voice in film.
“I had never shared my own work with anybody before and gotten praised for it,” she explained. “I never truly believed that I could pursue it. I think that’s when my obsession with film started to soar. And I realized that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
While Fujimori-Henderson’s parents were initially skeptical of her pursuit of filmmaking as a career, they saw her dedication to the craft firsthand when she returned to her childhood home in Bremerton, Washington, to study remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was there that she wrote, edited and shot her first short film, “Come Home.”
Her mother was so impressed with it that she took part in the project.
“My mother actually did a voiceover for it,” she said. “That was a really great experience and really the first time that I felt like I could do this.”
The abstract film was inspired by “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and follows the protagonist on her journey to send a letter to her estranged mother. While on her way to mail the letter, she falls and is knocked unconscious, entering into a surreal dream world.
During her junior year, Fujimori-Henderson spent a semester at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic, from August to December 2021, where she shot a short comedy film, “After Noon,” on 16 mm film stock.
She described shooting on film as a “lost art,” made rarer because of the cost when compared to digital video. While the shooting itself was challenging, the experience was more than just a technical feat: It also allowed her to grow as a filmmaker by learning how to manage tensions between creative personalities.
“I learned how everything can go wrong for a film,” she said. “I was co-directing with someone with whom I had some personality differences. Now I know how to work with people that I maybe don’t always get along with. I know that’s going to happen a lot once I get into the field.”
Fujimori-Henderson said her films focus on themes of identity, imbued with a sense of magic realism that presents the fantastical as commonplace.
“I really gravitate toward magical realism and twisting already-known fairy tales into something abstract,” she said. “My goals have always been to write about identity and what that means to different people. I’m really interested in other people’s views and struggles in the world.”
Her directorial influences include legendary, decade-spanning Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (“Ikiru,” “Seven Samauri,” “High and Low”) as well as American surrealist filmmaker David Lynch (“Twin Peaks,” “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet”).
Fujimori-Henderson will also be serving as a student director for the first Mount Holyoke Student Film Festival on May 1, 2022. Since January, she’s taken part in producing and organizing the festival alongside Montague, coordinating submissions, deadlines and film selections.
“The goal is to showcase all of the talent and all of the works that Mount Holyoke students have made from 2021 until now,” she said. “This is the first ever, and we’re hoping that it will be annual. This is everyone coming together and just watching and enjoying everything, not [making it a] competition.”
She credits Mount Holyoke College and its community for teaching her film theory and production as well as how to uplift the voices of marginalized peoples through film, ultimately leading to her growth as a filmmaker.
Her hope after graduation is to find a position as an assistant director to further hone her craft in filmmaking.
“Mount Holyoke taught me a lot about how important it is to listen to and work with others. Going forward, that’s what I would like to do with my career — to definitely make work but also help others make their work meaningful.”