Wally Wenda

Diane Russo


1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 

I first started directing branded content for teenVOGUE with both Nike and Adidas around 2017/2018. It was definitely a stepping stone, because after that I worked with Nike direct on several projects, and in 2019 a spot with one of their top athletes, Sir Mo Farah.

2) How did you get into directing?

My career started in photography but when social media pivoted to video I began creating short shareable fashion films.

I had always loved cinema and I quickly learned how different it was from taking photos. I realized how much I loved the challenges of capturing moving images - it worked another part of my brain and took creative troubleshooting to a different level.

After cutting my teeth on social media videos, I found myself wanting to make stuff that felt more meaningful to me. As a result, I started using my connections with fashion magazines to pitch films with a story telling perspective. From there I transitioned into commercial work.

3) What is your most recent project? 

My most recent professional project was for Glossier. I directed their new Boy Brow Campaign videos.

Commercial work has allowed me to create and self fund personal projects. Most recently I wrote and directed my first narrative short film, Wally Wenda, which was inspired by my experiences in the commercial directing world.

And during this pandemic I completed postproduction and released a mini documentary called Pelo Lacio, about the tradition of hair and celebration of community and self identity reflected by my friend Luz, a Dominican woman who lives in the Bronx, as she bridges who she is today with the roots of her past.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

Working and collaborating with other talented creative people is truly my favorite part of being a director. The more we can celebrate everyone’s creative strengths and skills, the better the work is.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 

The competition. There are so many talented filmmakers out there, and getting noticed is really hard. I think being a woman is quite tough as well, even these days. I’ve been so grateful and lucky to get some amazing commercial opportunities, but I’ve only gotten them because the leads behind the brand specifically wanted a female director. I’m not speaking for every female director because that’s not the case for everyone, but I think a lot of us are pigeon-holed into filming other women, or female-focused products — period commercials, beauty, sports bras.

There’s a push for more women directors, but when the opportunities for a specifically female directed project are limited, we’re competing for the same spots against each other.

Creativity and compassion transcends gender, and women can direct a men’s razor commercial and car commercials just as well as anybody. I think there needs to be a wider path for us, and more opportunities for us to flex our creative muscles. I have no doubt agencies and clients would be thrilled by what women can bring to the table.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 

I would love to continue directing commercials. And I definitely want to work towards narrative filmmaking. This year I was a finalist in Tribeca’s Through Her Lens program with a short film I am now currently developing into a feature.

I would say --with the exception of Wally Wenda--I lean towards drama because I am driven to create socially conscious projects. But I like my characters to be relatable and charming. The content, and the story are serious, but the characters never take themselves too seriously.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 

I do not have a mentor and I would love one. I never went to film school and I definitely feel like I missed out on the kind of mentorship you can sometimes cultivate in educational or conservatory settings. I am looking into and applying for grants and fellowships for narrative work so I hope that’ll help to be a guide for me.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 

There’s never just one, so I’m going to mention two who deeply inspire me at this moment. Sean Baker (Tangerine, The Florida Project) because of his commitment to storytelling. He gets right to the story, right to the heart of the character. Every motivation is earned. It’s the kind of storytelling I aspire to. I think Tangerine really solidified that you don’t need all the frills of a 4k camera, vintage lenses, and a massive film crew--just great actors, good sound, and a great story and you can make something ingenious.

I also love Melina Matsoukas, and have been a fan of her work since her early music videos. I think she conveys beauty and integrity in a way that feels so magnetic, and the messaging being her work resonates so powerfully.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 

Favorite movie(s) are Pariah by Dee Rees, Beau Travail by Claire Denis, and The Maid by Sebastian Silva.

Favorite short films are WASP by Andrea Arnold, and SLAPPER by Luci Schroder

Favorite show- I May Destroy You by Michaela Cole

Favorite commercials - Nike "Equality" by Daisy Zhao, ASAP Rocky "Grow Up Get A Job" for Mercedes-Benz

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 

I was raised in New Jersey which is where I pull my inspiration from--combining the foundation of my loud Italian American upbringing, and my queer identity.

I began my career as a 1st assistant to a fashion photographer before moving into film.

11) How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?

The pandemic halted my career which was pretty devastating. The political climate, and systemic racial injustice brought to the forefront during this time, has made me recognize the deep flaws in our society, culture, and ourselves. It’s motivated me to check myself, my values, and examine how I approach life and work--who I enlist on my own team and how I want to represent myself as a person, a director and a storyteller.

This whole process has made me much kinder, and more patient, more grateful, more compassionate and less judgmental of myself and of the choices of people around me. Because I’m seeing the human in everyone, and we are all imperfect. And we are all deserving of learning and growing and changing.

This has definitely influenced my work. It made me aware of what’s worth fighting for and paying attention to, and what’s worth giving up.


Contact Diane Russo via email