Maya Peters' love of storytelling is evident in her filmmaking, which pivots around exploring stories of identity, togetherness, childhood and community; themes all prevalent in her latest body of work, Camp Isaboko, screened at New York's Video Art and Experimental Film Festival (VAEFF) last month.
Intrigued by Peters' commitment to fashion in film and highlighting diverse perspectives, we spoke to her about her collaborative film Camp Isaboko and her thoughts on fashion film festivals, including her time at VAEFF, to find out more.
SHOWstudio: Can you talk to me a bit about the film's concept and how it came about?
Maya Peters: The film spotlights designer Isabella Kostrzewa's brand Camp Isaboko, which fuses contemporary fashion with nostalgia. The film is inspired by Isabella's childhood at a Lake Michigan summer camp, memories that came flooding back while working as a craft house specialist, and unearthing vintage camp covers. These relics of the past, dating back to the 1970s or earlier, were then transformed into rain jackets that birthed Camp Isaboko's latest collection. I met Isabella last January, and her imagination captivated me from the beginning. I found the concept of an American summer camp foreign yet enchanting - particularly as a European - so I found a new muse in Isabella, who offered a window into a uniquely American experience. The opportunity to voyeuristically - and creatively - transform this fuzzy idea of childhood 'Americana' piqued my interest.
SHOWstudio: What was a highlight for you over the weekend during VAEFF?
MP: The sense of community is a vital element, especially in an industry where directors often operate as lone wolves. VAEFF managed to foster an environment where collaboration and interaction thrived. It was truly rewarding to connect with fellow filmmakers who were eager to engage and exchange knowledge. I'm genuinely thrilled to have had the opportunity to socialise with such a talented and passionate group of individuals at the event. It served as a poignant reminder that we are all part of one large and interconnected creative community.
SHOWstudio: What role does the fashion play in the film?
MP: Everything starts with the fashion. In our film, fashion isn't just a detail; it's the driving point of the narrative. Every outfit in the Isaboko collection is not merely a costume but a living, breathing character. These unique pieces inspire the archetypes within our story, shaping the very souls of our characters. We chose actors who could become these sartorial personas, embodying the spirit woven into each garment.
For instance, there’s a long rainbow patchwork dress and mask from Isabella's collection, which was envisioned as a swamp monster dwelling in the camp's lake. I wanted to preserve the spirit of the character and transform this idea into a formidable 'defender of the flag,' a pivotal adversary in our hero's journey that she battles at the end. Even our 'kid villains' that chase our hero dons a cohesive theme with their crocheted attire, reflecting the distinct personalities of each design. It's through these one-of-a-kind fashion statements that our characters express their inner identities, weaving a tapestry of unity in diversity; a main theme of the work.
SHOWstudio: What separates the brand Isaboko from other sustainable fashion brands?
MP: Isaboko stands distinct in the sustainable fashion landscape, guided by a trio of revolutionary principles that redefine our bond with clothing. The first pillar is an unwavering commitment to using solely waste materials. This practice not only breathes new life into what was once considered waste but also staunchly opposes the industry's throwaway culture.
The second principle is the brand's dedication to zero waste patterns. Every design is meticulously crafted to ensure no scrap is left unused. This approach not only minimises their environmental impact but also challenges the norms of traditional fashion design, showcasing that creativity need not be wasteful.
The third and equally pivotal aspect is its focus on gender-free design. In doing so, it’s not just crafting clothes; Isaboko fosters inclusivity while encouraging freedom of expression. This principle transcends the binary norms and invites individuals to find pieces that resonate with their identity, irrespective of societal labels. The brand acts as a call to reimagine, not just reuse; to rebuild, not just recycle. It is a beacon for a future where sustainability is not an option but the essence of fashion itself.
SHOWstudio: What is it about the medium of film that attracts you as a creative?
MP: The allure of film for me lies in its boundless potential to craft entire universes. As a visual director, I thrive on sculpting scenes that transcend reality. Film has this unique ability to merge human imagination with tangible visuals, creating a powerful conduit for both reality and fantasy. It's this interplay between the mundane and the magical that captivates me; the ordinary world often seems too constricted in comparison.
As filmmakers, our task is to breathe life into the unreal, a process steeped in relentless dedication and emotional investment. This journey, demanding as it is in its physical, mental, and spiritual toll, is profoundly rewarding. The fulfillment lies in pouring every ounce of ourselves into our vision, crafting something extraordinary out of the ordinary.
SHOWstudio: Why do you think fashion film festivals are important?
MP: Fashion films, in their essence, represent a captivating fusion of two distinct and powerful forms of artistic expression. They exist in a realm where the elegance of couture and the magic of cinematic storytelling converge with undeniable charm. For me, a fashion film festival serves as a doorway into this extraordinary world where fashion and film coalesce in harmony. It offers a chance to engage with fellow creatives and exchange ideas. Ultimately, I see it as a place where we can celebrate what we do and why we do it.
SHOWstudio: How do you feel the film's narrative of 'unearthing the nostalgic memories of childhood summer' aligns with Isaboko's brand values?
MP: At its core, Isaboko is about reimagining and repurposing, turning the old into something new and meaningful. This mirrors our film's journey into the past, where we rediscover and celebrate the simplicity and wonder of childhood summers. Just as Isaboko uses waste materials to create unique, sustainable fashion, our film recycles forgotten memories and emotions. The brand's commitment to sustainability and transformative design is echoed in the film's exploration of summer camp experiences that shape identities and leave lasting impressions. It's all about creating a space where everyone feels included, whether it's in fashion or in the stories we tell. In a way, we're both about mixing the past with the present to make something special that everyone can enjoy.
SHOWstudio: What do you think film offers the viewer that other artistic mediums don't? (ie, literary, painting etc)
MP: Film has the great ability to engage multiple senses simultaneously, as well as being pretty accessible. You’re not just imagining a scene from a book or gazing at a painting; a film actually drops you right into the middle of the action. I believe film is the closest thing we have to actual magic in our modern world. It's a craft that transforms mere ideas into vivid realities, teleporting viewers to distant lands, different times, or even into the depths of the human mind. Every time we press play, we're not just watching a movie; we're stepping into a spellbinding world where the magic of storytelling comes to life.
SHOWstudio: You highlighted in your introduction you have a 'diverse cultural background'; why do you think this is important and how has this experience helped shape your view of filmmaking?
MP: As a London-born, Irish-Indonesian filmmaker living in New York, I can seem like a bit of an anomaly to some. It allows me to have a multi-faceted viewpoint on how I experience the world and how I craft my work because it’s the perspective that I live in. For Camp Isaboko, diversity wasn't just a goal; it was our reality. We ensured our cast and crew reflected a spectrum of identities, embracing POC, queer, and trans representation. This wasn't about ticking boxes; it was about creating a world that mirrors the one we aspire to see.
I will say that currently, there's a charitable push for diversity in the industry, which leaves it feeling forced. My standpoint is that filmmakers like myself, who naturally inhabit these diverse realities, can bring this inclusivity to the screen effortlessly and without challenge. We don’t have to overthink, search or research to bring this into action. It’s not just about effort; it’s about authenticity; our film is an ode to this way of thinking and process.
SHOWstudio: What is it about VAEFF that's different to other fashion film festivals?
MP: It all comes down to the festival's remarkable commitment to artist engagement. This is a crucial aspect that I feel often gets overlooked, making VAEFF stand out by offering artists a genuine platform to articulate their creative processes and unique approaches. It's a festival that recognises the individuals behind the films, making sure that we aren't mere faceless contributors hiding behind art. VAEFF's genuine empathy and keen interest in its creators make the film festival a standout experience, where the spotlight was not only on the work itself but also on the passionate individuals who brought it to life, their journey and their minds.