Meet Esy Casey: Artist and Cinematographer

August 10, 2011

Artist and 2009–10 AAUW Career Development Grantee Esy Casey was working in book design when her best friend, Sarah Friedland, asked her to help film a documentary on Zulu women’s experiences with HIV and AIDS. Though she had never worked a camera in a documentary context, Casey quit her job and began taking intensive classes to prepare for filming Thing with No Name. The documentary follows the journeys of two Zulu women through treatment for the deadly virus, which infects one in four people in South Africa. It was nominated for the Haskell Wexler Award for best cinematography at the Woodstock Film Festival and for best documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

It was Casey’s experience filming Thing with No Name and the ensuing conversations with international audiences that motivated her to go back to school. “It was a great way to interact with the world,” she said. “I feel really blessed to have been a part of that. Getting to know those two women and share in the last part of their lives was really special.” AAUW’s Career Development Grant supported Casey’s pursuit of a master’s degree in integrated media arts at Hunter College, where she is working on her next documentary, Jeepney. “The Career Development Grant helped me enormously in terms of allowing me to study. I was able to do it much faster and more intensively with much more attention and love given to my work,” Casey said.

Jeepney is inspired by Casey’s childhood memories of riding in the art-adorned, decommissioned military vehicles from which the documentary takes its name. After World War II, when much of the infrastructure of the Philippines was destroyed, locals began customizing abandoned jeeps to reflect indigenous culture and to serve as mass transportation between rural areas and the crowded capital city of Manila.

Casey hopes to investigate these vibrant relics’ potential as a metaphor for the social and cultural changes occurring in the Philippines. In an increasingly global economy, people are leaving the country to work abroad, and few can afford to decorate and maintain the jeepneys, which are subject to heightened governmental regulation in efforts to modernize. “If the jeepney service goes away, then all these people who have lived in remote mountain areas for generations are forced to move into the slums of Manila,” warned Casey. Furthermore, an important part of heritage of the Philippines’ diverse Spanish, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, and Arabic populations will be lost.

Casey plans to keep working with film and eventually hopes to teach. She upholds AAUW’s mission of breaking through barriers for women and girls through her artwork’s commitment to social justice. She encourages readers not to be daunted by rejection. “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you no. Just make sure you do something you’re really excited about.”

A longtime Jeep enthusiast and customizer myself, I’ll be closely following Casey’s project in anticipation of its release next year. Learn how you can support Jeepney by visiting its website.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Melissa Rogers.

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