October 16, 2023
Erin Faith Alen
We’re excited to announce the third $10,000 Non-profit Grant recipient of 2023. Congratulations to Erin Faith Allen, Founder of Stories of War.
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Erin for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Hi everyone, and welcome to a conversation with our non-profit grant winner for the third quarter of 2023. Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Erin Faith Allen of Stories of War, which is a 501c3 organization.
I’m Marcia Layton Turner, and I’m one of several WomensNet Advisory Board members. And I have the pleasure of chatting with our winners. So, Erin, thank you so much for making the time to chat with me today.
Erin: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a really huge honor to be here with you.
WomensNet: We’re excited to see what you do with your award. But let’s start at the beginning. Why don’t you tell everybody who’s watching a little bit about Stories of War.
Erin: My entire life I have been basically obsessed with history, and for some reason my primary focus has been war. I have always been fascinated by what propels people into war and what is the human behavior behind that. And then what is the result of combat or conquest or any sort of conflict within that community that is affected…not just the people on the front lines, but the people that are impacted in any way.
So for about the past decade, I have devoted myself to traveling through Europe and all over the U.S. and have had the honor of meeting with a number of people who have been affected by war. Eventually, I decided to turn that into a nonprofit organization to create documentary films about those individual stories.
I, myself have been impacted by war. In fact, I think everybody has in one way or another, unfortunately.
I think a lot of times we forget, as history and time moves on, that there are people who still carry that conflict for one reason or another. Perhaps their father saw combat and brought that home in his own way. I’ve had the honor of working with Holocaust survivors, and they certainly have been affected by conflict in their own way. And how that travels down the family is something that I’m extremely passionate about exploring.
That’s sort of the nutshell reason behind the formation of Stories of War. It’s something that I do anyway. So I would love to create a library of information for people through educational films.
WomensNet: Let’s talk a little bit about the films. What does your process include? How do you decide who you’re gonna profile and where do you go from there?
Erin: Oh, that’s such a great question. Well, I have a pretty curious mind, and I am constantly fascinated, again, by the individual stories that people bring home or experience in conflict. And it’s kind of organic. My curiosity leads me in directions of finding subject matter or people to speak with.
I have an amazing community of fellow historians who bring things to my attention or things come up in conversation with them. Certainly, through my travels, I encounter stories that I want to learn more about and express. I am heavily immersed in research all the time. Research is a huge part of my process – that includes visiting the archives. It includes visiting with the person or the family of the person, and learning as much as I can about them. I’ve often said that I’m sort of like a method actor in my process.
I need to be as immersed as possible in the experience. So I’ll read a million books and talk to a million people, consult my amazing group of fellow historians, and educate myself. It’s very important to me to keep an open mind and to not have a preconceived notion about what this conflict was about or who did what, but to go into the entire narrative with an open mind so I can learn what was happening at the time from an open perspective, if that makes sense.
So all of that takes place. And then of course, there’s the filming itself. There’s often an interview. And then, I will pull that all together into a narrative on film. I usually am shooting myself though, not always. And I edit myself as well, which I love doing because that’s where you get to pull all of those pieces together into a presentation. You know, you’re opening up the door to other people. I have the honor of showing people who a person is and was, and how their world was affected by what they lived through.
WomensNet: And how long is the typical film?
Erin: How long? It really depends. I think the sweet spot is usually around 15 minutes or so, if I’m working with one person’s story. Now that said, I would love to take it much further. That is, of course, dependent on funding. A lot of times going to the place where the thing happened would be an amazing addition. But sometimes things are limited in that way.
WomensNet: How do you know when you captured the real story? We were talking in terms of success? How do you know when you have it?
Erin: I think it’s a feeling, honestly, Marcia. It’s a feeling inside of me. I obviously carry a lot of emotion around these stories. I build these stories from my heart and from my soul and from connections that I make to the subject or to the place or to the family of the subject that I’m working with. It’s really comes from inside of me. Because I’m so in tune with the subject and the material and the person and myself at the same time, there’s just a feeling of incredible emotion that comes forward in me. And that’s what I listen to – and that’s my guide as I’m creating the story.
I will know when that is correct when the feedback I receive from the subject matter or the family is one of healing and of emotion themselves, and feeling like there’s been some closure and some completion. And that my subject matter feels seen and heard. And like they’re not just a person wandering through the world carrying this incredible story anymore. They’ve been witnessed. I think that’s when I know that feeling inside of me is correct. And the success of the storytelling has been real. It’s all about the closure and the healing for the people I’m witnessing.
WomensNet: I can see how the process could be so cathartic for them. This work sounds really important – thank you for doing it.
So now that you’ve won the $10,000 grant, how are you going to use that money to forward the mission of Stories of War?
Erin: I do and I am so grateful. Just as I was sharing with you, it’s such a tremendous surprise and joy to me. I’m so grateful because it will bring more stories forward, and more people are going to be seen and heard and witnessed. More families are going to receive closure and a form of healing for their own stories and their own ways their lives have been impacted by war.
So I think the number one thing besides that piece is going to be the technology that I’m going to be able to use to deepen my ability to create beautiful imagery and to weave those stories together. That’s huge. I’ve been, for the most part, working with my iPhone.
So anything that you see online for the most part, has been my iPhone. I have had the great fortune of working with a couple really great camera guys for a couple of other things. But I’m looking forward to being able to utilize technology to bring these stories across. So it’s a big one for me.
WomensNet: Well, on the iPhone, we know how amazing the photography is. The camera is so powerful that I can see why you’d use it. But I’m glad that you’ll be able to add on to that.
Erin: I also have maybe thousands of hours of footage that I’ve already taken for various projects that I’ve spent time on over the last decade…that I will be able to pull together and put out into the world, which is huge for me. The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve been able to spend time with is one thing. That’s a huge thing to be able to give to those people, into those families. But now to be able to edit them to together and put them out into the world for everyone to see, you guys are gonna be able to do that for these people with this grant. So thank you for that.
WomensNet: Fantastic. So, what are some of your future plans for Stories of War? Where are you headed as an organization in the next few years?
Erin: I’m really excited now, besides everything that I’ve already shared. I am moving forward with a project that is going to be traveling with an incredible team of people to interview the last survivors of the Holocaust.
As we all know, they’re leaving us, that generation is leaving us. And so we have plans to spend a little time with some of them and to get their stories documented and let them speak to us about their lives and the things that they have witnessed, lost, and learned. It’s going to be a really beautiful project. So I’m super excited about that. Again, working with a team of people, a team of colleagues to bring this forward. So yeah, it’s gonna be a wonderful thing.
WomensNet: So glad you have the chance to do that.
Erin, thank you so much for sharing with us again, this important work that you’re doing at Stories of War. And congratulations again on being our most recent non-profit grant winner.
Erin: Thank you so much, Marcia. Thank you. And to everybody at your wonderful organization, I thank you.