This is What New Yorkers Say is the title of a recently released documentary in which a good number of people in New York State are interviewed about the sexual allegations against Andrew Cuomo that led to his resignation as Governor. Sara Alessandrini is a 34-year-old Italian filmmaker who, in spite of living and working in Los Angeles, felt compelled last year to make a documentary about the former Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo and the events that led to his resignation. The documentary can be seen online (access to the tickets here: https://checkout.liftoff.network/features-new-york-2022) and it will be shown at the New York Lift-Off Film Festival till August 1st. In the meantime, one of the many groups supporting Cuomo especially on Twitter at “We Decide NY”, is raising money for Producer-Director Adam Friedman in order for him to make his own documentary.
I reached Alessandrini by phone to ask her a few questions.
When did you get interested in the Cuomo case and how did you get involved?
I have always been interested in politics. I followed the developing Cuomo case and was fascinated by the different approaches being taken. Like a lot of people, I ended up watching the NY Governor’s press conference. Then I decided to take a trip to NY and I visited Albany and the Capitol for the first time. A week later the Governor announced his resignation. Shortly after I decided to get involved in some way.
How did you decide whom to interview?
I decided to interview those who were affected by this situation, everyday New Yorkers, in an unfiltered way, but I also wanted to give a voice to the voiceless because I believe that democracy should be a participatory system where the people can make their voice heard. What I love about documentaries is that they can help people. So, I felt that would be the right way to do so.
First you traveled around the State to conduct interviews, and now while attending festivals. What did you learn about people’s feelings for the Governor and the related issues?
People have strong feelings about the Governor. Some people love him and others hate him. The documentary takes the opportunity to start a bigger conversation that a lot of people in this country, not only New Yorkers, feel is needed. It talks about broader current topics like politics and how the democratic party eats their own, how the media fail to be the guardians of democracy, and how too many people are not afforded the right of due process that is pillar of any democracy. But especially the documentary features a discussion about the women’s cause and women’s empowerment, while at the same time discussing the limits of #MeToo movement.
You Live in Los Angeles, so perhaps you can tell us what people outside of New York know and think about this case?
Because of the way news floods our lives, most people just end up reading headlines, especially when the situation doesn’t affect them directly. Most people don’t even know what the allegations are, and don’t know what happened to those cases after the Governor resigned. When you explain to people what he was accused of, and the credibility issues that the media didn’t explore, then they are much more willing to listen and to challenge what they thought was the truth.
What is your personal opinion about Andrew Cuomo’s accusers?
I believe that every person that feels wronged should be heard and not have their feelings discredited. But I also believe that the punishment should fit the crime. Today there are many who say that you have to believe women without asking questions. But when someone takes advantage of a system that is there to protect people, it ruins it for those who may really need it, and in the long run, it discredits that system. I don’t say that this was the case here, but I think it is important that in every system there must be checks and balances. I believe that this story was blown way out of proportion. Too often we are quick to judge and don’t take the time to understand the real dynamics behind every story.
What feedback have you been getting from people watching the documentary?
From the first public screening I was very surprised. People of all ages from around the country seemed to understand the message I was trying to convey and were extremely supportive. This shows how much this conversation is needed. A person in LA told me that while initially she was inclined to believe all women indiscriminately, and thought that Cuomo was guilty, after watching this documentary she understood the importance of checking allegations before making any judgement.