Becoming An Award Winning Film Maker at 50

I was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, the only child to the two most supportive and loving parents who were both school teachers.  I was a happy kid who excelled in school, played sports and was fortunate enough to travel extensively with my mom and dad.  I attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and majored in biology.  Afterwards, I applied to medical school but did not gain acceptance on the first try.  Rather than try again the next round, I moved to NYC and made the decision to work in research in nuclear medicine with the plan of reapplying to medical school.  Well, I lost the nerve to reapply and I ended up in NYC with a degree in biology and no idea of what I was going to with my life. After stumbling a bit I found a way to use my science background, pharmaceutical sales. I became a sales representative for SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals.

Tracey Anarella_Film maker
Shooting “Not Black Enough”

While working at SmithKline Beecham, I found the courage to reapply to medical school, and low and behold, I was accepted. Unfortunately, I made a decision that has affected and plagued me to this day. I listened to my fiancé who DISCOURAGED me from acting on my acceptance because it would put a strain on our relationship due to how much I would have to pay back in loans after med school. Basically, my fiancé, who was a podiatrist, did not want me to become an MD as he felt that I would outshine him in the end. Nonetheless, one can’t blame others for the choices made on one’s own. My career at SmithKline Beecham was cut short as I was struck and injured by a car driven by a drunk driver.  I suffered a fractured knee which led to a long recovery and ultimately termination from the company. During this time, I was married and had my first child. After being terminated, I made the choice to leave the workforce and stay home with my son, Justin.  Two years after Justin, my daughter Chandler was born. The time I spent with my two great kids were some of the best years of my life.

Unfortunately, my marriage ended in divorce after 16 years. While licking my wounds from the divorce I went back to school at Fordham University and got my MBA with a concentration in marketing. During my time in grad school, I met a wonderful man named Peter Fish. Outside of the moments when Justin and Chandler were born, meeting and falling in love with Peter was one of the brightest points in my life. I was also fortunate that my children took very well to Peter’s caring and gentle manner.

Well, I am the queen of bad timing. I graduated from b-school in 2011 right after the collapse of the economy in 2008, and I struggled to find a job. I became very depressed. Peter, who is an Emmy-award winning composer for film and TV, suggested that I work with him and help with marketing of his studio in addition to doing sync licensing and talent wrangling. I loved all that he threw at me, and I was good at it. I immediately fell in love with all that the TV/film industry has to offer. I was drawn to the pace, the energy, the access to unlimited creativity and the ability to practice my craft and be my own boss.  The only problem was that I hadn’t developed a craft.  Being the ever-supportive partner that he is, Peter suggested that I find a skill that could be applied in the TV and Film business and hone that skill.  He only had to tell me once; I learned how to edit videos and took to it very quickly.  I edited for Peter and other clients, but I soon grew disenchanted with the environment in which an editor works, alone and in a dark room.  However, I realized what intrigued me about this business was documentary film making. I took a workshop on documentary film making, and I was bitten by the bug.

The workshop required a final project of a 15-minute or less short documentary.  I chose to do my final project on a young man by the name of Jesse Cohen.  At the time, Jesse was a busker (street musician) in the NYC subway.  He had recently experienced a painful divorce. Jesse left everything behind in Oklahoma and decided come to NYC and perform in the subways for his food and rent.  The film’s title was “Jesse and the Fountain of Youth”. The short doc focused on who Jesse was and why he chose busking as a way of making a living. This 11-minute film became the start of my documentary film career. I remember coming home from a long day of work and in the mail was a letter requesting my immediate attention to RSVP the VIP party at the McMinnville, Oregon Short Film Festival.  I was floored!  My little film was accepted to a film festival in Oregon!  Well, I went on to win “Best Emerging Artist”.  “Jesse and The Fountain of Youth” went on to screen in the official selection of 25 festivals and won 9 various awards such as “Best Short Doc”, “Best Short Film” and many more.

Stressed that I wouldn’t be able to make another doc, Peter stated, “Find an interesting topic and do it again.” My next film, Brooklyn United, a film about an inner-city marching band in Crown Heights, NY, was accepted to multiple festivals, won many awards and was part of the Cannes Film Festival Short Corner.  After doing one more doc, I felt that it was time to do a feature doc. To quote Peter again, “Making a feature is like making 8 little docs pieced together.  You can do this!” And I did!

Tracey Anarella_Film maker
At the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

That film is “Not Black Enough” an 83-minute doc about a phenomenon in the black culture where people work harder at preventing progress rather than motivating each other, for fear of alienation or other various reasons discussed in the film.  “Not Black Enough” features, singer/actress Vanessa Williams, PBS anchor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., rapper Petey Pablo and Grammy Award-winning singer Florence LaRue of the 5th Dimension. The film has won Best Documentary at the Women of the World Festival in Dubai, Best Documentary at The Austin Revolution Film Festival, Best Documentary at the Laughlin International Film Festival, Audience Award at the SENE Film and Music Festival, and a few more. I am also fortunate that “Not Black Enough’ has been picked up for distribution.

I just completed a documentary titled, “Livingston Taylor-Life Is Good” about singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor, brother of James Taylor.  My next documentary is called, “N”, a film about the casualization of the use of the word, ‘nigger’ in society, pop-culture, etc.

If someone were to ask what my formula for success is, my only advice is to trudge forward with a passion, pass go and do not stop. Many people along the way tried to discourage me, but I continued to stay true to what I wanted and needed to do without looking back.  I am also blessed to be in a relationship with someone who supports me in all that I do.  One cannot do this alone. To steal Nike’s motto, ‘Just do it!’.  I did and I’m never stopping!


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11 Responses

    1. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the film. This was one of my hopes in making the film that the message would become viral and that viewers would share with as many people as possible. Thank you for watching the film.

  1. I am truly inspired by your story that resonates deeply. Awaking my soul, inspiring me to continue to believe, trust my journey and know my desires and possibilities are endless and worth the struggle. Thank you for sharing your experience. Continued Blessings and Favor ☝?.
    Sylvia PM

    1. Thank you Sylvia. One thing that I have learned is that being met with challenges in life something that never goes away. However, as you say, trust your journey and your desires and possibilities are endless. Works for me!

  2. Tracey, I just watched Not Black Enough. I throughly enjoyed it. There is so much within our culture that needs healing. “Colorism” is such a BIG and unfortunate problem. Especially within your own family.
    I could remember as a 4-5 year old and all my life as a child how my father would tell me I was too black and ugly. I look at photos of us together as a child and I look visibly uncomfortable standing or sitting next to him. Those photos are a constant reminder that I wasn’t accepted. Later on in life as a performer It didn’t occur to me and I didn’t even realize that I wore makeup that was too dark. Someone at a store asked me was I purchasing the makeup for someone else because it was definitely too dark for me. I find myself getting upset if someone tells me that I am light skinned.
    It would be great if you did a piece about “Colorism” within the family, etc. and the psychological affect it has on an individual. Thank you again for the film and the closing song.

    1. Thank you Sylvia. One thing that I have learned is that being met with challenges in life something that never goes away. However, as you say, trust your journey and your desires and possibilities are endless. Works for me!

    2. Thank you for your kind words and watching Not Black Enough. Your story and other stories have generated a dialogue about this craziness of measuring “blackness ” or deciding degrees of acceptable levels or shades of blackness . I hope thst back getting my film out there and pushing people to see how limiting this is, we can at least put a minor dent in ultimately diminishing the issue all together. I will take your idea for the topic of colirism into consideration. Once again, many thanks for your comments and watching my film.

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