Richie Shazam and Paloma
Elsesser Have a Post-Tribeca Kiki

By Ernesto Macias

In a moment when basic human rights are under attack and violence seems to lurk just around the corner, family—found or given—can offer a crucial, even lifesaving, antidote. It’s work like Savitree, Richie Shazam’s directorial debut, that reminds us just how true this can be. In just eight minutes, Shazam’s short film, which was presented at the Tribeca Film Festival and created in partnership with Converse as part of their annual Pride campaign, captures the ecstasy (and the agony) of coming into one’s own, and the beauty of finding the people who support that process. Ultimately, Savitree is an ode to the filmmaker‘s late mother who, despite her husband’s wishes, surreptitiously brought Shazam to the dance lessons she desperately wanted to attend as a little kid. Shazam’s chosen family, like the film itself, is full of larger-than-life characters who have celebrated the model, photographer, and writer in all of her creative pursuits. The actor Julia Fox and the stylist Briana Andalore, longtime friends who leant Shazam the first pair of heels she ever wore, feature prominently in Savitree—and also made appearances at the film’s premiere last Thursday evening at Spring Studios in Manhattan. In addition to Fox and Andalore, Raul Lopez of LUAR, Ella Emhoff, and Paloma Elsesser, also friends and supporters of Shazam’s work, were in attendance. After the screening, and before the Papi Juice-hosted after party, Shazam caught up with Elsesser in the green room for a chat about finding your chosen family, embracing the haters, and calling out your friends.

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RICHIE SHAZAM: We are at the screening of my directorial debut, Savitree, at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is a project I have been working on tirelessly for the past two months with the love and support of my found family, which happens to be the backdrop of the film and the reason that I’m able to be who and where I am today. It’s all because of their love, support, and unconditional everything.

PALOMA ELSESSER: We’re backstage, we’re in a green room, and we’re eating Cheetos. As fabulous as it is out there, the reality is we’re sisters and we’re in the back changing. How are you feeling after literally just premiering your first short film to the world?

SHAZAM: I feel very raw and very exposed, but not in the normal way. I think it’s the stress and anxiety of being so vulnerable in a public place and feeling that response. I realized that I love criticism—knowing what people think ultimately makes you a stronger artist. Having all of my close friends and family members come up to me afterwards and say “Wow, you did it and you did it really well!” makes me feel amazing. It makes me feel like I’m ready to celebrate and enjoy Pride. To be honest, I have not enjoyed it thus far, because I’ve spent all my time thinking about this fucking film. 

ELSESSER: It’s really vulnerable. Having experienced intimately the months of blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating this eight-minute story of your life and your journey. What drives you? 

SHAZAM: My priority has always been my sisters, showing up, and being present. We had a beautiful trip for your birthday—we were literally in paradise in Jamaica and we were always finding ways to support and amplify one another. I had to put the pedal to the metal because I was feeling so much anxiety and pressure around executing this project, and I had to be okay with letting my sisters know I was working and needed help and support. Everyone showed the fuck up. It’s a film about found family, made with found family. I’m not doing it alone.

ELSESSER: I feel like the girls don’t understand how regular we are. The intimacy and the depth of our friendships is literally chilling out at one of our friend’s houses. 

SHAZAM: It’s textbook safe space. We feed off each other, but we also help each other out. A lot of those moments are heavy and we’re walking through things that the world doesn’t get to see.  

ELSESSER: You were sitting on my bed a week ago—this shit is not casual. You’re one of my best friends in the whole world. You literally just premiered a fucking movie at Tribeca! This shit is not fucking regular. 

SHAZAM: It’s not casual, but what makes it easy is us holding each other down, and keeping it real. Also, being open to criticism. I love that my girls call me out. It’s easy sometimes to create a wall, but you need those people to break that wall and help build you up. I can’t sleep unless I’m working and creating, and this film was a manifestation of that. 

ELSESSER: I’m so proud of you. You’re such a gift to this world. This film has made me so emotional. You are one of one. 

SHAZAM: I’m beyond grateful for you because  we’ve been through so much. You show up for me with such force and I feel very lucky to call you a sister. 

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