Being ‘The Victorias’
Aspen Shortsfest award-winner now on Vimeo
‘The Victorias’ is streaming for free at vimeo.com
The Aspen Shortsfest 2022 Vimeo Staff Pick Award hit the video site this week, sharing the standout documentary “The Victorias” with the world.
The 15-minute film, which profiles seven young women who have performed as the young immigrant Victoria Confino at the Tenement Museum in New York, had its world premiere during Shortsfest at the Wheeler Opera House on April 6. While other award-winners from the Oscar-qualifying festival will be hard to find and watch anywhere but the festival circuit for awhile, the Vimeo prize serves up the winner to a global audience immediately.
Vimeo curator Megan Orestky cited the film for presenting “a compelling parallel between how history has changed for immigrant families since the early 20th century, and how it has unfortunately stayed the same. From a unique angle, it demonstrates the value of placing ourselves in the shoes of our neighbor and the power of empathy and understanding in trying times.”
The real Victoria was a Sephardic immigrant who lived in a tenement house on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when she was 14 years old in 1916. The museum has performers interact with guests – 15 at a time in the cramped space – from that moment in her life.
With “The Victorias,” writer, director and co-editor Ethan Fuirst has made a funny, quirky and poignant short that then packs a surprising emotional wallop as it nears its conclusion.
A former Victoria herself, Fuirst started filming when all of the Victorias were laid off during the pandemic. Without turning preachy, the film powerfully illustrates how little has changed in more than a century for immigrants and for laborers in the U.S.
“The Vickies are some of the most impressive oral storytellers I’ve ever met,” she says in supplemental materials that accompany the film on the Vimeo Staff Pick site. “I knew that if I just let them speak, without distracting the audience with outside voiceover or title cards, we would have an engaging film.”
The actresses talk about bringing in elements of themselves and their experiences to the role, using improv experience and research and their own moods to bring Victoria to life.
“There is really no ownership over Victoria,” one of the Victorias says in the film. “It feels like this collective shared story.”
They all take pride in and find meaningful connection to their work.
“Imagine that you could go back to 100 years ago, knock on someone’s door and ask them how their day is going,” one of the Victorias says.
Visiting the musuem and meeting Victoria has been a memorable experience for generations of young people. A trip to the museum is a rite of passage for school kids in the tri-state area (at my New Jersey public high school, a visit there was paired with reading Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: Girl of the Streets”).
As one actress recounts in the film, that creates an odd celebrity status, as she recalls meeting people at a party who exclaim, “Oh my god, are you Victoria Confino?”
Fuirst, the director, compares making the film to her interpretative work as Victoria.
“We all presented someone else’s story and wanted to do right by that person and wanted to do right by the audience,” she says. “I was lucky to work with subjects who share my belief that preserving stories is never perfect but always worthwhile.”
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.