Mary Rosanne Katzke: Writer, Director, Producer & Founder, Affinityfilms Inc

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Mary Rosanne Katzke has been writing and directing films since 1980 when she graduated from the RadioTelevision-Film School at the University of Texas, Austin. After a summer trip to Alaska, she began producing documentaries there and formed Affinityfilms, Inc., a non-profit production company dedicated to the production of social issues films. Her first film, No Word for Rape, was an award-winning documentary film about sexual assault in urban and rural Alaska. Grants from the American Film Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Alaska State Arts Council allowed Mary to produce five more documentaries in the following years broaching such topics such as homeless people, domestic violence, and safe winter driving. Many of these documentaries have been featured in prestigious festivals across the nation and Europe.

In 1988, Mary was offered academic scholarship to attend New York University’s graduate film school where she completed her MFA in Writing and Directing. While at school, she continued to produce documentaries including Sea of Oil, an examination of the social and emotional impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Sea of Oil was featured at the Museum of Modern Art, the Sundance Film Festival, and aired nationally on PBS’ POV Showcase. Recently completed works include: About Face: The Story of Gwendellin Bradshaw (feature documentary on an Alaskan girl seeking answers to her childhood trauma/mental health) Day in Our Bay (Bristol Bay native way of life as crowd-sourced through 70 videographers); Backing Out of Time (care giving for parents facing Alzheimer’s); World School (family gap year of travel).

What do I do best?

Creative solutions- to any and everything. It’s a survival mode. Whether it comes to combining work and travel, or life and work, I usually find a way. Sometimes it’s frugal, careful planning and other times it is just punting. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Tenacity. Not giving up, and not being afraid to ask for what I need to get to where I’m going. Some of my films take 5-7 years. Some ideas are in files dating back 25 years and they are still timely and relevant for lack of funding. By finding meaning in cause-related media making, I move forward with a strong sense of purpose which is necessary for hanging in there through thin times, of which there are plenty. However, I had a full-time good paying job and lasted for 4 months. It’s worth it to me to care deeply about what I do, and to continually strive to improve my craft. That means sacrifices will be part of the equation.

What are my aspirations?

Personal: Continue working for a better world while staying healthy. Finding balance between work, health, family, community and spiritual needs is a continual goal for me. I need all five to feel good.

Business: I have a couple series in mind, set here in Alaska. One is documentary, and the rest are fiction. Series production allows a bit of stability in a fairly unstable career field.

My Biggest Success?

Number one is my son. I am a single parent and I was scared to do this on my own, but in retrospect, did a fine job. My son is soon off to college and thrived in his gifted program at our high school. He sings, plays tennis, debates and does mock trial. I’m so pleased with all his interests and abilities and that he is a good young man with solid values. I always put him first no matter what the choices were and it was the right decision, including deferring my own career possibilities by moving to Alaska to raise him in fresh air with endless possibilities in a free educational system.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Finding out at age 38 that I had cancer and being immediately dumped by my insurance company. It was a very, very difficult time. Thankfully my support system was powerful and we made it through by using creativity, fundraising, working through the system and so much more. I learned that you must be your own advocate in times like those as no one else including doctors will care as much about your life as you do.

My Motto?

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose- but as will all things, always, this, too, shall pass.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

President Obama. Fred Wiseman. Barbara Kopple. John Sayles. Meryl Streep. Gloria Steinem.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

I’m fortunate enough to have taken off a year to travel with my son who was in fifth grade at the time. It was an emotional decision to sell our home and take off after a sudden loss in our family. It turned out to be the best thing ever. Travel opens your eyes, stimulates you daily, educates, increases self-confidence, inspires at every turn. It helps one develop an eye. We went to around 30 countries ranging from Vietnam and China to Iceland, the UAE and Mozambique. My son is now a graduating senior with acceptance at three Ivy league schools- currently trying to decide which one. Some of his essays reflected on our travels- he was truly impacted by the poverty he saw in some of the third world countries and intends to make a career of ethics, economics and equitable distribution. So it wasn’t the destination, of which there were dozens, but the journey of getting there- together.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

My inflatable pillow that has traveled the world with me. My MacBookPro that is now 9 years old and creaky and cranky but still keeps on serving me!

My Current Passions?

When my son goes off to college I have a few ideas. I’d like to walk the Camino de Santiago, raft the Grand Canyon, volunteer with Doctors without Borders, build my own home with a view of water. I have a file I’ve been keeping for 30 years- I know what elements I want to put into this dream house. Maybe, if I’m super blessed and lucky, I’ll meet a partner for the third act of my life.

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