We Are Upstate NY With Film Professor & Filmmaker Megan Sperry
Inside+Out Upstate NY is a proud sponsor of one of our favorite annual events–The Woodstock Film Festival, now in its 23rd year. We are celebrating this event with a series of interviews showcasing Hudson Valley filmmakers participating in this year’s festival. We will also share stories and shine a spotlight on the festival’s staff with a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce a festival.
We launch this series with local filmmaker and a true dynamo–Megan Sperry.
Megan is an educator, documentary filmmaker & advocate who lives in the Hudson Valley. She is a tenure-track assistant professor of Digital Media Production at SUNY New Paltz. Her creative projects range from documentary films to published news articles, still photography, and multimedia installations, all with a focus on social change. She was elected to Ulster County Legislature for District 17 and is serving her first term (since January of 2022.)
INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and what is your connection to the Hudson Valley?
Megan Sperry: I’m originally from Lake George. I moved to the Hudson Valley about 9 years ago after living in the city for many years. I always knew I wanted to move back upstate, and I liked the proximity that the Hudson Valley offered to both my family and the city. I also really enjoy cycling and hiking so it was a no-brainer.
What inspired you to choose a career in the film business and what was your journey?
I chose a career in filmmaking because I loved connecting with people and hearing their stories. As an advocate for social issues, I wanted to use filmmaking as a platform to share real stories to start conversations and impact change.
How long have you been a Professor at SUNY New Paltz, and tell us about your work with the Youth Film Lab Program.
I have been teaching at SUNY New Paltz since 2015. I started working with the WFF in 2018 as the Program Director for the Youth Film Lab. We designed a program that would be a three-week intensive for local teens, where they would learn the entire filmmaking process from conception through distribution. And now here we are, five years, a pandemic, 24 short films and 50+ students later. It’s been a journey, but I love it!
What are the most rewarding experiences as a teacher?
Seeing the smiles on my student’s faces after their first public screening when they get feedback from the audience. This goes for my college students, teens and alumni. Filmmaking is hard. But it’s totally worth it when your work is appreciated. I love bearing witness to that for my students.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about what you do?
The biggest misconception is that filmmaking is easy or that teaching filmmaking is easy. It’s not! You have to be a good multitasker, a fundraiser, a Director of Photography, craft services, a mentor and an advocate all at the same time. As for the teaching part, I’m always learning from my students, it’s a very symbiotic relationship and I’m grateful to have many creative teachers.
You are also involved in politics – what is your mission and can you tell us about your accomplishments?
I’m currently serving as Ulster County Legislator in District 17. I’ve always been involved with my community through volunteering, nonprofits and advocacy work. Being a legislator is an extension of this. I’m currently serving on two committees (ARPA + Economic Development, Planning, Education, Employment, Arts & Agriculture Committee) that are very interesting to me because the issues often overlap with my creative work. I’m also the legislative representative on the Cornell Cooperative Extension Board.
What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
I’m currently finishing a feature-length documentary about affordable housing options for formerly incarcerated mothers. And I have two new projects that I’m doing research on – both documentaries. Politically, I’m excited about our upcoming elections, and to continue working on some great projects that will help our community members and small businesses.
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The 23rd Annual Woodstock Film Festival
Tickets for in-person and virtual events are available online and at the box office
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About the Woodstock Film Festival
Founded in 2000, the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that nurtures and supports emerging and established filmmakers, sharing their creative voices through an annual festival and year-round programming to promote culture, diversity, community, educational opportunities and economic growth. WFF provides innovative mentoring and inspired educational programs benefitting filmmakers, students and diverse audiences while serving as a powerful cultural and economic engine for New York’s Hudson Valley and beyond. Such efforts have consistently resulted in the festival being hailed as one of the top regional film festivals worldwide. The Woodstock Film Festival is an Oscar®-qualifying festival in the short film categories – Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film, and Documentary Short Film.