An Interview With Shaya Mercer

Writer and Director

by June Heywood

Sunday, 1 October 2000

Shaya Mercer, American Writer/Director, and Thomas Lee Wright, Writer/Producer, were in town for the 19th Vancouver International Film Festival to promote their documentary, "Trade Off".

JH: At the Trade Forum's "Activism in Documentaries", a panel member said that making and distributing a documentary consumes a person's life. Is this true in your case? What do you do to unwind?

SM: Yes, creatively "Trade Off" has consumed my life for the past year. There are so many obstacles to mass distribution. To unwind I go out into the natural environment - up in the mountains or boating.

JH:  Would you tell me more about your background, education and activism?

SM:  It's ironic. I was born and raised on the West Coast just outside Seattle but I was working in New York when I was called back to make my first film there. I went to Western Washington University between 1987 and 1991. I was fortunate to be able to self-design my own major - Liberal Arts Bachelor of Arts degree. I learned most from the Theatre Department about telling a story but I also studied the technical side of things, too. For seven years I was a personal assistant for a movie company. And for the past three years I've worked in New York.

JH:  Where did your political activism stem from?

SM:  Mum and Dad were both active in the anti-Vietnam war. (I was born in 1969). As a senior at university I was very involved in speaking out against the Gulf War.

JH: Congratulations on winning Seattle's Golden Space Needle Award. What has been the reaction to "Trade Off"?

SM:   We were short-listed for the Toronto Film Festival. And we've had a great reaction here. I admire what Franey and Vancouver do. I'm impressed with  theVancouver International Film Festival's program. They're not trying to be Hollywood North but get films shown and out to the public. I get a sense that the program content is most important. I'm shocked that there is so little interest coming from the alternative press. I'd like to see more reviews when the documentary has had more screen time. At least we have a thicker press kit than when we came.

JH:   What is your next project?

SM:   I'm now working on incubating ideas for a documentary or feature film with a message to reach a mainstream audience. The story itself will determine whether it's a feature (film) or documentary.

JH:   A quote from your website says, "We want to bring these issues to the people who have never thought about them before." Who are these people and how can they help your cause?

SM: We're self-distributing. Grass roots people and those around the world need to know. The general public needs to be educated. Public demand will get films like "Trade Off" on TV. Writing and e-mailing Cable companies and Public TV stations will get it out so will spreading the word to dispel myths that protestors are only young thugs who break windows. Serious issues were brought to Seattle. The impact is global. To book Tom or myself to speak, contact the Lecture Bureau link on our website

JH:   Thank you, Shaya for this interview and all the best with your next project.