(New York, NY) Arisleyda (Aris) Dilone is an up and coming artistic entrepreneur with a passion for sharing stories. She left her work as a community organizer in New York to pursue her interests in writing and storytelling. Aris is currently working on her first feature length documentary entitled, In Between, about her experience as an intersex Dominican American woman. Her drive and determination are evident through her tireless commitment to her art, and Au’loni was fortunate enough to speak with her about her current project.
AM: Tell us little bit about yourself, and your background.
AD: I was born in the Dominican Republic, and lived there until I was seven before my family moved to Long Island, New York where I was raised with five siblings. Now, I’m working on a documentary about being a Dominican American growing up in a gender nonconforming body. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Italian Languages and Civilizations, and a Master’s in International Relations. I lived in Rome for 3 years and speak 4 languages. I was a consultant for the United Nations for awhile during my time in Europe.
AM: How did you come up with the idea for this documentary?
AD: I used to work in local politics in New York, in community organizing. After realizing that I didn’t want to do that. I left and began writing. I took time to think about what story I wanted to tell about my family. I entered a competition, and became a documentary fellow for the National Organization of Latino Independent Producers.
I originally wanted to make a documentary about Dominicans in the U.S. who return to the Dominican Republic to find their roots, and soon realized that’s a very American thing to do! While pondering my work and the voice that I wanted to give to the world, I was encouraged to tell my personal story about being an intersex female, having to go through surgeries – breast implants and hysterectomy- at a very young. I was encouraged to explore the construction of femininity and gender. It is a massive undertaking, that has been three years in the making, but I enjoy it!
How does previous work experience inform this work?
AD: I’m really interested in the immigrant experience in the US. That’s the group I’m most interested in attracting, and that’s probably the hardest group, because it’s difficult to get them to sit down and watch documentaries.This style of film is fairly new, and the following is not very mainstream. You won’t find them playing in big theatres.
Being a community organizer and constantly being in contact with that part of the population, I know the tricks and strategies for how to reach out to them and find them. This will help when it’s time for screening and distribution, so my experience in community organizing helps a lot.
AM: What do you hope to gain from this work? What do you hope for others to gain?
AD: This is a personal project. For me, it’s all a process. I’m gaining a lot of insight into who I am, and how I identify myself… how I perceive myself, and how I want others to perceive me. I’m enjoying this opportunity to be very introspective.
Through this work, I wish to offer others hope, if they feel out of place and don’t really believe they can overcome it. There is a lot of loneliness, in terms of being intersex and being queer, and being a Latino and an immigrant. I hope that they connect with my family story, and that, in part, I tell their story, or their struggle.
What if any hardships have you faced in this process?
AD: I’ve encountered a lot! The hardest thing is coming to terms with the fact that it’s about me and not about my family. I’m dealing with the general theme of intersexuality. Most importantly, it’s about how I identify as an intersex female, and what I want others to see.
Another difficult aspect has been money. Anyone trying to create anything artistic has struggled with money, and how to keep it coming. It’s a very self-motivated process, which can sometimes be daunting.
AM: How have you been able to overcome these challenges?
AD: I’ve been very fortunate to have people who love and support me, and cheerleaders who help me stay motivated and give me words of encouragement to continue with the project. I’ve been very lucky in finding gigs to pay the bills. I have people who watch footage and ask the questions that get me thinking about what I want to communicate with this project.
This support and guidance keeps me motivated. I have 2-3 mentors who have a lot of say in, and care about how I proceed, which is very encouraging. I won a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant to return to the Dominican Republic and seek out intersex females like myself. I’m applying monthly to different grants. I just became a fellow for Queer Mentorship Program, and have been provided with mentorship for a year with successful queer filmmakers.
AM: What advice for other interested in your line of work?
I would say, be prepared to not have as much money as you may want for awhile, and find ways to be okay with that. If you’re not okay with that, then it’s probably not for you.
AM: What are your short term and long term goals?
AD: Right now, I’m in the process of organizing and logging footage. I have hundreds of hours of footage and most of it needs to be organized, transcribed, and dissected. After this feature length film, I want to do some shorts. I have a lot of stories in my family. I want all of my work to be personal. Most of my family is here, but I have uncles and aunts and grandparents in Santiago. My uncle is a farmer down there, with an interesting trajectory of living the fast life in New York, but he was deported, and is now taking care of the land. I’d like to capture his story in a short.
I also have one aunt who lives on a hill, and has never left. All of her sisters and daughters are in the US, and she is by herself. With her, I’d like to capture a story about where home is, and what kind of person develops in that situation, once everyone has left.
Au’loni enjoyed speaking with Aris, and listening to her experiences and vision for the future of her work. She is definitely one to watch! Her hard work and independent spirit have been recognized by various organizations through her fellowships, grants, and mentorships. To keep up with Aris and support her efforts, you may connect with her using the information below.
Email address: Arisleydadilone@gmail.com