For Leslye Abbey, Documentaries Are A Spiritual Calling
Social worker Leslye Abbey MSW says she was drawn into doing film documentaries by supernatural powers.
Abbey was visiting the Pine Ridge American Indian reservation in South Dakota about 15 years ago and running around taking photos when an Oglala Lakota Sioux elder noticed her and said she should record his people on video. In fact, he said a spirit from a higher plane passed the message to Abbey through him.
What he said stirred something in Abbey, 67, a clinical social worker who runs a practice in North Bellmore, N.Y.
“I knew at that point I had no choice — I would go around shooting,” said Abbey, who is also a member of the National Association of Social Workers. “I took a course at a school of visual arts to learn how to use my camera — I didn’t know how to do anything.”
That chance meeting in South Dakota has led to a bustling, award-winning documentary career for Abbey. She has traveled throughout the United States and in Canada, Mexico, South America, Asia and Africa, recording little-known, indigenous cultures.
“I think I am enlightening and educating people to different cultures, to different situations,” she said. “I really like to focus on the indigenous people because they are the most ignored — just dismissed is probably the best word to use.”
Her documentaries include “Angels of the Basin,” a look at Louisiana’s French-speaking Cajun culture; “The Return,” a film about an N’Deup healing ceremony in Senegal; and “Bayou Landfall,” a documentary on the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana’s Houma Tribe. She also touches on more quirky subjects, including the film “Cindy the Tattoo Maven.”
“Bayou Landfall” won the 2006 Alan Fortunoff Humanitarian Award. And “Angels of the Basin” snagged the Best Historical Documentary in the 2007 New York International Independent Film And Video Festival.
Abbey is continuing to juggle projects. Next year she is planning to release “Rosey at 100,” a documentary about artist, feminist, and nurse Rosey Kramer Meyers.
She is also working on another documentary that examines aging — a profile on Catherine Papell, a founding member of the Association of Advancement of Social Work with Groups Inc. and an NASW member.
Abbey, who grew up in Manhattan, is surprised her life turned out the way it did. Her mother died before she was nine years old and she was raised alone by her father. Abbey became a teen mother and dropped out of high school before changing her life. She got a GED, attended the New York Institute of Technology, and eventually a masters in social work at Adelphi University in Long Island.
“I always had a sense I had to survive and change my life,” she said.
Now she says she has no intention of giving up her passion of combining documentary filmmaking with social work.
“This is what I believe life is about,” she said. “It’s about how many experiences you have and the meanings behind them.”| Leave A Comment