We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Staci Emerson, Mary Elizabeth Gentle and Alia Tarraf Hidden Star Films and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dr. Staci Emerson, Mary Elizabeth Gentle and Alia Tarraf, how do you think about risk?
Sometimes you have to go after the things you want in life, but sometimes life comes after you. We initially came together to make one documentary film about our friend who died in the prime of her life. The existential tragedy left us each in our own deep waters of grief and questions about the meaning in our respective lives. We all have jobs and family obligations, but this passion project brought us together in a way we hadn’t intended and certainly didn’t expect. We affectionately refer to Allison – the hero of our film – as the woman who brought us together. Around the time we finished Hidden Star, we each came to the realization that though the experience of making the film had ended, it was just the beginning of a different way of looking at purpose in our lives. We accepted that the most significant, sacred, and growth-enhancing parts of life include risk, and sometimes disappointment and loss are inevitable parts of pursuing the things that matter most. When we decided to form a production company and make this dream a reality, we decided to support each other professionally and personally, like sisters who hold on to the other end of the rope no matter what comes next. When we are in it together, the risk isn’t as daunting as it would be to any of us individually.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Hidden Star Films is an all female filmmaking team that brings creativity with meaning to storytelling. Mary Elizabeth Gentle and Alia Tarraf became friends while working on the Disney Live Action team through Allison, a filmmaker and Mary Beth’s best friend. The three of us used to dream of starting a production company one day but after Allison’s sudden death in 2016, it seemed that our dream died along with her. Until we stumbled upon a treasure trove of never-before-seen diary footage that Allison had documented of herself. So we did what she did. Partnering with psychologist and death midwife, Dr. Staci Emerson, we began documenting ourselves on our journey through grief in order to find our own answers. That’s when we realized our dream hadn’t died, it was just the beginning.
Our film, A Hidden Star, was born from a feeling of deep loss and love. We felt called to tell the story of the death of our friend Allison, diving deep into the pain that was pulling us under the waves of grief. Death is not something we can avoid, by trying to avoid death we miss out on love. We miss out on really living. That is what this film was for us, it was a wakeup call to life.
Dr. Staci Emerson, Mary Elizabeth Gentle, and Alia Tarraf are now bonded for life. It wasn’t easy, professionally or personally, to get to where we are and where we continue to keep going. We continually strive to push through our fears, trusting that the wave will go back out and there will be air again. We go under together, and we come back up together.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We are actually from Los Aneles – I get the impression from some of the interviews that include this question that they are from Colorado.
If we were to say the thing we love best about Colorado, it is the Vail Film Festival. This was a wonderful experience and gave us a little insight to what an incredible place this is to visit.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
In the making of our documentary, “A Hidden Star” and our journey through grief, there were so many people supporting and sharing in our vulnerability. But, it was on our second trip to Ireland that we (Mary Elizabeth, Alia and Dr. Staci) found ourselves traveling alone through the darkness of the Irish countryside. Our luggage was lost, we had barely slept in 36 hours and we were in need of support and encouragement. We found that in the friendship of the people of Ireland. Specifically Bernadette and Phillip Morrison. They came out in the middle of the night, and guided us back to their home, and they gave us food, drink and a warmth that filled our spirits. They are the most hospitable, genuine and kind souls on the planet. They only knew us through our friend Allison, and the love that she shared with them spilled over to include us. That night they gave us the strength we needed to continue on our path to heal from her loss and finish our film. In that simple act of kindness we found what we were searching for, love.