When we picture acts of courage, perhaps the first scenarios that scroll through our minds involve men and women who brave skin-melting heat to pull children from flame-ravaged buildings or who throw themselves into the path of oncoming bullets to drag unconscious soldiers to safety. But courage takes many forms and faces.

Storytellers, for instance, commit feats of valor too. Take the Bay Area film festival, production company, and film collective BraveMaker. “At our heart,” says Founder and Executive Director Tony Gapastione, “we really exist to elevate brave stories for justice, diversity, and inclusion.” He leans forward, elbows on knees, revealing a lens shutter tattooed on one forearm. “[We] talk about things that we know in culture are necessary to talk about… Let’s get better at having hard conversations!”

This idea, further explored on the BraveMaker website, states, “Artists and storytellers are prophets, creative forces in our world that speak to our need for justice, beauty, diversity, equality, and spirituality. This is a painstakingly difficult calling… We not only want to entertain, but to incite dialogue, [promote] awareness, and bravely shape our culture.”

There’s another quieter act of bravery Gapastione understands well: the act of reconciling with one’s past. Many of us have encountered seasons when we’d prefer to curl up somewhere rather than address past pain we’ve experienced — those times when forging forward feels a little like battling a blizzard and every step in the healing process feels like an act of audacity. For Tony, that situation was his grandmother’s suicide and the calloused remarks he received while mourning her loss.

“Let’s get better at having hard conversations!”

Rather than burying these dark moments, he coaxed them to the surface through one of BraveMaker’s latest projects: a feature-length film called The Thorns We Live With. “[It discusses] what I wish I’d done different. What I wish I would have said. Or how I wish I would have responded when people confronted me,” he shares.

This film (currently seeking investors) tells the story of a family who, according to the logline, “put[s] the fun in dysfunction.” It’s a dramedy in which “sometimes the characters weep in fetal position… [and] then, like any other (ab)normal family, there are times when they can’t stop laughing hysterically.” Because what better way to swallow the medicine of a tough theme than a little sweetener?

“We need to have stories that explore the realities of what people are experiencing today,” Gapastione notes, praising Black Panther and The Farewell for their efforts to help underrepresented communities feel seen. He’s also a fan of Fruitvale Station, a movie based on a young man shot by a police officer on the BART system in Oakland. “When I saw it, that’s when I knew. I need to make movies like this,” he recalls.

Facing rather than avoiding discomfort also helps Gapastione lead boldly on set. Like weddings, video production contains so many moving parts that something inevitably goes wrong — whether that be a filming location falling through, a prop breaking, a camera malfunctioning, or a crew member melting down. “I love problem-solving in the moment,” Gapastione explains, “because things never go the way you want them to go, and that’s part of the excitement of filmmaking.”

This head-on approach has steered him through many sticky situations, especially when diffusing disagreements among clashing crew members. “So you pull someone into the trailer, you have a hard talk, and you get through it,” he says simply, adding that he never publicly shames his cast or crew.
Not only does rolling with the punches get him through the rough patches, but it actually improves the end product. Once, after mediating between two crew members in a time-sucking disagreement, Gapastione was forced to cut four pages from filming the following day. “But it ended up being the best cut because it made the story better,” he smiles.

Which brings up yet another act of brave storytelling: courageous editing. It’s tied to Gapastione’s favorite advice for writers (one repeated often since he teaches a scriptwriting class to empower fellow filmmakers). “Write your first draft (people call it a vomit draft or the trash draft) — and then go back and challenge yourself to cut everything in half,” he counsels. “…Say it better, say it quicker, say it shorter!”

As Gapastione and the BraveMaker team continue to produce daring videos and embolden storytellers young and old, it reminds the rest of us that heroics happen in the everyday. Acts of courage are reserved not only for battlefields but for bookstores. They’re carried out not only in operating rooms but in auditoriums. So don’t look for them only in the streets but in the scripts and on the sets of our local moviemakers.


Vimeo: bravemaker

IG: bravemakerorg

Photos and artwork provided by BraveMaker