Portrait of an Artist: Christina Joy Antonakos-Wallace


Published: November 8, 2007

To wrap up the Q & A session on the documentary film, “with WINGS and ROOTS”, director Christina Joy Antonakos-Wallace asked if I had a question about her film. Being a film major, I simply asked her if she could give me advice. Antonakos-Wallace went on to explain, “You need to know ‘what can a film do?’…you need to know what medium you’re using and know what you can do with it.”

It’s safe to say that Antonakos-Wallace has answered this question with “with WINGS and ROOTS”. She explained that “film is good at communicating human story and empathy.” Rather than a story with a beginning, middle and end, Antonakos-Wallace’s story has “the purpose of raising a question.” Even though the audience will be entertained with her film, she wanted a film that would challenge her audience rather than ease their mind. According to her Web site, “The film…is the product of years of self-reflection and exploration.” What began as a thesis topic at the New School has developed into a multi-national project.

Antonakos-Wallace showed the audience two short documentary pieces which make up her “with WINGS and ROOTS” project. Her first piece, which takes place in New York, follows different individuals who are children of immigrants and explores their experience with “assimilation.” Each of the people that she interviews in this piece discuss how their culture has merged with the American culture, how they struggle to identify with the American culture, and also how they struggle to find identity with their own heritage. The purpose of the first short piece, which was part of her thesis work at The New School, was to “challenge the idea that assimilation is good or bad.”

Although Antonakos-Wallace is herself a fourth-generation Greek, she examines second-generation descendants in her film. She feels that there is a point within generations where a person can decide whether they can “assimilate” or not. She believes that a second-generation descendant will essentially have the least amount of choice. Through her interviews with the second-generation descendants, the identity struggle for a person with an immigrant background becomes apparent.

Many of the people interviewed in the film found it difficult to understand the categories in which people are placed in the United States. One man explains that there are many different colors of skin in Mexico, but in America they are labeled as “white” and “black.” His questions “What is white?” and “What is black?” act not only as personal introspection, but they give rise to the greater questions which Antonakos-Wallace attempts to answer with her film.

As Antonakos-Wallace grew, so did her project. The second piece in “with WINGS and ROOTS” reflects the later part of her project which was filmed in Berlin, Germany. This piece brings her whole project together, comparing the ideas of assimilation in her first piece, with the ideas of integration in Berlin. She uses Berlin to explain that issues of immigration and national identity are not just an American idea, but rather bring about a global question: “How do we live together in today’s globalized and increasingly multicultural society?” Since the second half had noticeably more funding, Antonakos-Wallace was allowed to express herself more artistically. The second documentary piece was beautiful, setting her interviews with Berliners against imagery of their cityscape. As a person who appreciates cinematography, Antonakos-Wallace was able to create a documentary short that is very intimate and engaging.

The two pieces collectively show how the individuals have evolved or adapted to their society. Although Berlin and New York are very different, the issues of immigration are present in both places. One New Yorker states that his music, dance and speech have all changed, but his character has not. Another of the film’s interviewees states that “culture doesn’t define who I am…It’s my experience.” These are the ideas in which Antonakos-Wallace wants to preserve in her work.

Antonakos-Wallace’s documentary is far from being finished, and yet it still has the impact of a finalized film. Antonakos-Wallace estimates that her film will take at least another five years to be completed, and she plans to focus the film on three individuals in each location and be of feature length. The Berlin piece is currently being used as funding for the completion of her project. She plans to start an internet campaign and, if all goes well, to bring her film to television.

For more on Christina Joy Antonakos-Wallace and her film, visit www.withwingsandroots.com.