Meet Filmmaking Duo: Julia & Shelby


Happy Feminist Wednesday! This week we chatted with Julia & Shelby from Summer Reading- a documentary about two young women traveling across America receiving psychic readings. They share how they got started in their filmmaking journeys, why it's better to uplift than compete with their peers, and how they are smashing the patriarchy with their new film. 

Hi! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. Can you tell our Betty's who you are and what you do?

Julia: I’m Julia! I’m twenty-two. ‘Grew up in New Jersey, but moved to New York four years ago to study photography and video at School of Visual Arts… if moving into a college dorm can be called moving to New York. That dorm is where I met Shelby, though! I live in Ridgewood now.

Shelby: My name is Shelby Hougui and I am a film editor and documentarian, who studied film at School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Through college, I edited twenty-six short films and was part of post-production on the Animal Planet docu-series Ocean Warriors. Upon graduation in May, I will be releasing my first feature-length documentary Bread Machine. Julia and I are currently working on our next film, Summer Reading.

Tell us how you got started making documentaries?

Julia: Last year I shot Shelby’s short film, Creatures. That was scary. I’d never done anything like that, but she trusted me. And then she trusted me again with her thesis film, a feature-length documentary called Bread Machine.

Shelby: I began making documentaries in high school through National History Day, where I fell in love with the ability to tell stories through film. As a young woman, documentary had given me the opportunity to speak with some of the most incredible women around the world, Sibongile Mkhabela, a student participator in the South African Soweto Uprising of 1976, Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, a young boy who was banned from school after contracting the HIV/AIDS virus through a blood transfusion, and Suzanne Massie, President Reagan's behind-the-scenes cultural advisor on Russian affairs. This medium has allowed me not only to be inspired by, but also to work with awe-inspiring women, and going forward, to dream about one day becoming one.

Tell us why feminism is important to you and how it influences your work?

Julia: The film that we’re trying to get funding for right now, Summer Reading, will be a document of our traveling across America meeting with psychics… And in our eyes it is a feminist film! One about blazing our own trails, and looking to the future… but we’re also exploring possible regionalisms in divination.

For example, how might a love forecast in New York City, where the average age of first marriage is one of the highest in the country—30—differ from one given in Boise, Idaho, where the average age of marriage is the lowest—23? In other words, how—based on political regionalisms—might our readings fluctuate based upon what the reader thinks that two young women might want to hear? Everyone we talk to is excited about this project, and most have a story or idea to share!

Shelby: Feminism as a concept is important for everyone, in that it redefines the way the genders see themselves with the intention of establishing greater harmony and kindness. For me specifically, though, a lot of it stems from watching my mom work to get her business out in the world, and simultaneously try to find her place in all of it. As an ideology one would refer to as influential, I must say that most of it comes through in my desire to both have a voice and to allow the voices of others to shine. The way that women tell stories is undeniably different, and giving them (us) the ability to tell those stories is important, powerful, and influential in every way.  

What do you do to avoid feminist burnout? Whats your favorite self care practice?

Julia: Self-care is so important to me. I get burnt out pretty quickly when I’m forced to break with my routines. I’m a little rigid. I’ll admit it. I’m just that way! I think Shelby and I are quite good for each other in that sense! Sometimes she needs someone to tell her to stop for a moment and take care of herself, and I sometimes need a model for how to keep forging ahead.

Most of my self-care practices revolve around my body, and ensuring that I feel comfortable in my body. I’m very attached to cooking for myself, and I eat quite healthily—lots (!) but healthily.

Shelby: Self-care is an interesting creature for me, as I am still trying to master it and learn when to stop and slow down for a moment.

It's always hard to gauge whether or not it's okay to just breathe. That being said, in those moments that I do breathe, self-care transforms into silence and a scented candle. It's about lessening the busyness of the world, if just for a minute.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in your field?

Julia: I think my advice would be—and I learned this in part from Shelby—is to be generous with others! Bring people who are deserving up with you! I was so used to competing with my friends—socially; academically; artistically, and had adopted this idea that furthering someone else meant demoting myself somehow. That’s just not true! Do what you can to empower those around you, whether that means suggesting a friend for a job, or simply bragging about them to others.

Shelby: The biggest piece of advice I can give is to both know your limits and to know what you're worth. Work hard and give it everything you've got, but never let people take advantage of your talent or your kindness. There is nothing like having a group of brilliant and badass ladies (or gentlemen) to stand beside you and help your art thrive.

Define the art that you want to make. Know who you want to enter the future with. And find your partner-in-crime–I am honored to say that Julia is mine.

Any links or social media accounts you want to plug?

Julia: We have an Instagram for Summer Reading that began as a platform for getting the word out about our project, and quickly evolved into an inlet for us into this really warm community of our real-life friends and peers, practitioners of magic, artists, filmmakers, and feminists of all genders and walks of life.

Click here to support Summer Reading on Seed & Spark!