When documentary filmmaker Kristina Sorge was in fifth grade, she was busy making spoof videos and small films on a camcorder, and producing plays with her two brothers. “I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very creative family,” says San Diego, California–born Sorge, who moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in elementary school. “We were always putting on plays when we were snowed in, mostly because we didn’t have a lot going on, or acting out our own theatrical performances because Wednesday night family dinners needed a little more excitement. I can recall a couple different renditions of The Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin.”

Now, at age 28, Sorge is carving a name for herself in the film arena after a long stint working for numerous television news networks, including BBC, CNN, and even logging hours for host Piers Morgan’s talk show, Piers Morgan Live. “I knew I wanted to be in longer form journalism, and I wanted to see a story through from start to finish, so was kind of ready for a transition into something else,” says Sorge, who majored in communications and international studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Yet it was a fateful weekend trip in 2013 with a friend to Art Basel in Miami, Florida, that altered Sorge’s course forever. “It sounded like a fun weekend, and I had no intention thinking that I would meet the woman who would change my life,” says Sorge, referring to the initial encounter with 70-something art dealer, gallery owner, and renegade, Bernice Steinbaum, the subject of her new 30-minute documentary film, Bernice. “We were invited over to her house for dinner, and I was immediately struck by how unique her little world was. It was like stepping into an Alice In Wonderland scenario, with this tiny little woman with these huge glasses, and spunky personality. She is one of the best storytellers I have ever met, and from that point on, she kind of had me.”

I think the message is never be afraid of going after your passion or your goal. If you want something to happen, and you want to see a change, I think the only way you learn is by doing.

Kristina Sorge ,Documentary Film Maker

However, convincing Steinbaum to participate in the eight-month-long film wasn’t so easy. “I called her up on the phone, and said, ‘Hi, it’s Kristina. I’m a filmmaker, and I’d love to do a documentary,’” recalls Sorge, who now resides in Venice, California. “She said, ‘I don’t think I’d be interested in doing something like this,’ and it took a while to persuade her.” In the meantime, Sorge began researching and contacting the various burgeoning and minority artists whose lives have been championed by Steinbaum in the art world, including Cuban taxidermy artist Enrique Gomez De Molina (who was sentenced to prison for alleged illegal smuggling of protected wildlife from a piece he bought on eBay), and partner and fellow artist Troy Abbott. A few months later, Sorge tried again, and Steinbaum ultimately succumbed. After the project was underway, Sorge also interviewed Harlem–born story quilter Faith Ringgold.

Sorge and Steinbaum are now close friends who talk on the phone weekly, and recently traveled together to the Madrid International Film Festival. “Bernice changed the way I see things, not just in art and in the art of storytelling, but the human condition,” says Sorge, who is working on two new documentaries, The Riot Act, about the issues of police brutality and freedom of speech, and another depicting the untold story of undocumented immigrant workers in California’s Central Valley. “She taught me that there are many layers to individuals, and if we dig deep down into ourselves, the story becomes universal. If you can listen and find humanity in others, even the most exotic story becomes relatable.” For Sorge, making Bernice served as a reminder of a very valuable lesson. “I think the message is never be afraid of going after your passion or your goal,” she adds. “If you want something to happen, and you want to see a change, I think the only way you learn is by doing. Life will give you a million different setbacks if you allow for it. I think that is ultimately the purpose of the film is: Don’t ever give up.”

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