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Meet Tiffany Kontoyiannis of WELCOME BACK – SHORT FILM in Downtown LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tiffany Kontoyiannis.

Tiffany, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m originally from New York but spent almost half my childhood in Miami. I’m the daughter of two immigrants: A Venezuelan mother, and a Greek father. They sacrificed everything for me, which really altered my perspective on how I not only view the world but how I work within it.

My journey in filmmaking really began when I was 14 years old. As most children, I had experienced severe bullying as a young girl. Now, this was at a time where bullying was brushed under the rug, so the school, unfortunately, didn’t know how to handle it at the time. About a year after the worst of it, I was watching a news report about a girl who had been bullied, and ended up committing suicide. I remember feeling the rage and hurt I had felt those years before, and did the only thing I knew to do—I wrote. My pain fueled my creative energy and led me to write a few monologues about my experiences with bullying. I was a theatre nerd, and for some reason, the stage seemed like the perfect place to express my emotion.

The next day I brought it to the counselor at my school and persuaded her to let me present it. After each performance, parents, teachers, and students were finally discussing a topic that desperately needed attention. As time went on, I had written enough material to turn it into a play. Fast forward a few years, I was able to tour my community with the piece, started an anti-bullying organization, won The Miami Herald’s Silver Knight Award, and went on to be published by Dramatic Publishing.

It was a crazy whirlwind experience that brought me to realize that I could use my voice, particularly through the arts, to spark change. So here I am, years later, with the same mission: to create and tell stories that are socially conscious and can serve as vehicles for change.

Since then I have transitioned to film, and have written, directed and produced quite a few films. My most recent film, Welcome Back, is about a mother and her daughter, who after being deported back to dangerous and communist Venezuela, must find a way to escape to a nearby town in Colombia. The film explores not only what happens to immigrants when we send them back, but explores the terrible situation of a country I deeply care for–Venezuela. And it has been recently nominated for a student Emmy! 

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As a Latina filmmaker, I obviously have had to work very hard to not only find my place within this industry but to stay true to my voice. That is why making this film (Welcome Back) was so important for me. Not only did it explore the extremely heartbreaking situation happening in Venezuela and immigration (a topic I’m very passionate about), but it conveyed the unique love between a mother and her daughter, a theme I truly am fascinated by. Telling this story was something I truly fought for.

For years I wanted to tell the story of Venezuela. My mother is Venezuelan and she gave me a very Venezuelan upbringing. She would take me to Venezuela to visit our family 2-3 times a year, and as a result, it became my second home.

Having lived in the US with immigrant parents, I often think about how my destiny has been impacted by immigration. Seeing my family struggle to stay in their own land, which they had no desire to leave, has been hard to watch. They want to stay there, they love their home, but if things don’t get better, they may not have any other option but to leave.

Having my family there has been very hard for me, and I feel very helpless with the situation going on there. So I ultimately decided I needed to do something, and I would do it through the medium I knew best—film. The idea was ultimately inspired by my relationship with my mother, and how she, along with my father, always made sacrifices for me. The story itself, especially in regards to the parts about deportation, was my way of making this story global. We all have a responsibility when it comes to countries like Venezuela, and having compassion for others who are forced to flee their homes is a huge first step.

Because of all of this, I knew I had to make this movie. However, shooting in a foreign country brings a whole set of other challenges you aren’t used to as a filmmaker. I was completely out of my comfort zone. It was by far the most difficult, yet rewarding thing I have ever done. Luckily I had the most incredible producers: Roy Arwas, and Karly Perez-Arevalo, who helped make this whole production possible.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I am a writer, director, and producer. Most of my work as an artist and activist is deeply rooted within filmmaking. We live in a world right now where there is an excess amount of hate. I personally believe that hate is a symptom of fear, and the only cure to fear is understanding. That is why I think film is so powerful. It is arguably one of the most powerful ways to allow an audience to spend a certain period of time in someone else’s shoes.

My work thus far has been heavily focused on telling stories of underrepresented communities, and voices. My hope is to not only to contribute to this wonderful movement of diversification in the industry but to share stories that can help others. All in all, I hope my movies can help people understand, and can help others feel understood.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
In addition to working on Welcome Back’s upcoming festival run, I am continuing to write, direct and produce content. I am also writing my feature film that I hope to direct in the near future!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Sebastian Hernandez (Fine Living Studios)

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