Alumni Spotlight: Evie Symington ’06

By: Matt Hintsa ’06, Director of Alumni Relations

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How do you go from picking up a video camera in your basement at age 11, to casting Vietnamese villagers (and a buffalo) for a short film in rural Southeast Asia? Evie Symington ’06 can lend some insight.

Ever since first holding that camera, Evie has pursued her passion for filmmaking. While a student at GFA, she developed her skills in Paul Shapiro’s video production classes, capping off her GFA career with a 22-minute film that wowed her fellow students. During her junior year, Evie participated in the School Year Abroad (SYA) program in France. Looking back, she says “SYA was the turning point in my life.” The challenges of taking all classes in French, constantly thinking in a new language, and learning to live with a host family all helped her develop an independence that she’s carried forth in her subsequent experiences.

While attending Columbia University where she majored in Film Studies, Evie had taken some African Studies classes to fulfill core requirements. She gained an interest in the continent and consequently spent a semester studying in Senegal, where she produced a documentary about women artists. During one summer in college, Evie embarked on a solo backpacking trip through Eastern Europe, Italy, Egypt and Jordan. Following graduation, she once again trekked solo, this time through Southeast Asia.

During her time backpacking in Southeast Asia, Evie applied to and was later accepted to New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia, an outpost of NYU based in Singapore that provides her with an opportunity to tell new, interesting, global stories while she earns her master’s degree in film. Reflecting on her decision to apply to Tisch Asia, Evie explains, “I really want to make films about cross-cultural connections, or films that give you insight into worlds you aren’t familiar with.”

Now in the second year of the program, Evie and her classmates are tasked with producing a series of short films in locations of their choice throughout Asia. She is producing her film, The Long Drum, in Vietnam with the help of her classmates, and in turn, she will work as a crewmember on their film projects in Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.

After seven weeks of writing and rewriting, and then pre-production, Evie and her crew arrived in Vietnam earlier this fall, and since then, it’s been a hectic, exhilarating experience. Evie had originally planned to shoot her film in a village near Hanoi with an ethnic minority population, but she determined it would be “logistically insane” after taking a three-hour dirt bike trip and pulling herself across a river on a raft to arrive at the beautiful village where she discovered that nearly everyone was celebrating wedding season, and were, as a result, inebriated. Scouting out another location that was “exactly what I dreamed for this script,” Evie learned that the principal actor was unwilling to participate after learning that the script included the death of the character’s son; he feared that he and his son would be cursed as a result of his participation.

Left without options near Hanoi, she and her crew moved to Ho Chi Minh City where they finally found a suitable location in Long An, about one hour outside of the city. Evie is currently producing the film and was lucky enough to have GFA classmate Natalie Birinyi ’06 join as a crewmember as she was traveling in Southeast Asia.

When asked what her advice would be to GFA students looking to follow her path, Evie shared some insights. With regards to travel, “the biggest thing is if you have an idea for a trip you want to go on, you can.” She worked as a waitress and bartender for months to save enough in order to embark on her backpacking trips. With regards to filmmaking, she recalls someone once telling her, “If you can think of anything else you want to do, do it.” She explains, “you have to be totally passionate and totally devoted to it because it’s going to be an uphill struggle for everything.” But it’s all worth it, she says, when you can experience “the rush of production.”

Visit The Long Drum Kickstarter page to learn more about Evie’s film and to support its production.

Alumni Spotlight: Evie Symington ’06