DIRECTOR: PALLAVI SOMUSETTY
Coach Emily (w.t.) is a feature documentary that follows Emily Taylor, an Oakland-based Black and queer rock climbing coach, as she battles systemic racism in her professional and personal life. Through her Brown Girls Climbing program, Emily trains young girls of color, including her own daughter, as they resist discrimination in the climbing world and work to define themselves in the outdoors.
The film unfolds chronologically from 2019-2023 as rock climbing coach Emily Taylor embarks on a trajectory brimming w/familial, societal and professional challenges. We are introduced to Emily’s world of family and outdoor adventuring, a devastating gym ban, and the history of a racist climbing industry. Emily and her students move their activities fully outdoors, only to be shut in by the pandemic and wildfires. Racism in the wilderness and childhood reflections lead Emily to engage in radical self-care. Afterwards, Emily & her students revisit the outdoors in a van, experience freedom on wheels and find confidence climbing in Yosemite and the greater Bay Area. Emily creates professional sovereignty in new, inclusive spaces.
As a brown woman climber in search of inspiration and support in an alienating, elite industry, I began to film rock climbing coach Emily Taylor’s lessons in 2019 in an open-ended exploration. The limited media that existed about Emily at the time urged me to dig deeper into her story. My perspective as a brown woman, my prior work, and my vision of an inclusive climbing industry played a big part in Emily’s desire to participate in a film with me and now our producer Debra A. Wilson at the helm.
What I discovered is that Emily is passionate about climbing and coaching her students on how to navigate the climb, the microaggressions, and the in-your-face racism in the sport and outdoors she dearly loves. The love and holistic care behind her coaching is respected by the parents, and appreciated by her students as they grow and transition into their best selves.
What sounds like a rock climbing film is actually a centering of Black and brown joy in the outdoors. It’s a tally of the costs of coaching in an industry that is overtly unwelcome to Emily and her students. It’s a spiritual dive into radical self care for Black women and girls as they find a way to relate to each other together and apart. It’s an exploration into mother daughter relationships, teacher student relationships, and especially the one that Emily has with herself.
Ultimately, I hope our film will give our participants and audiences an opportunity to feel seen, inspired, represented, and connected to the outdoors. I hope the film can be used as a tool to foster inclusivity and justice in the climbing industry, supporting the work that BIPOC coaches are already engaged in, and for all audiences to consider how to increase accessibility to nature and outdoor spaces.
We have a unique opportunity to bring Emily’s story, and a celebration of her coaching model, to the world, and are grateful for any support.
VOTING OPENS THURSDAY, APRIL 27 • 10AM PT
VOTING CLOSES THURSDAY, MAY 11 • MIDNIGHT PT
WINNERS ANNOUNCED SUNDAY, MAY 14
|START OF PRODUCTION:||July 2019|
|SHOOTING FORMAT:||Digital, 4K|
|SHOOTING LOCATIONS:||SF Bay Area, Yosemite, Kona|
|PRODUCTION COMPANY:||Chandi Films|
|PRODUCTION COUNTRY:||United States|
|CONFIRMED PARTNERS:||Women Make Movies, Sundance Producers Intensive, Eddie Bauer, Re-Present Media, Puffin Foundation, Studio IX Project|
|CURRENT PROJECT STATUS:||In 2023, we’re documenting Emily and her daughter’s personal journeys and raising funds for both our final cinematic climbing shoot and post-production to take us to completion in 2024.|
Pallavi Somusetty (she/her/hers) is an Indian American Director and Cinematographer who creates doc portraits that center BIPOC voices in the hope that we feel fully seen in the complexities of our identities and journeys, and that meaningful impact can result. She is currently directing her first doc feature, incubating a narrative feature in development, and also serves as a series producer for A-Doc’s Storytelling Initiatives in partnership with WORLD Channel.
Pallavi is a 2023 Unlock Her Potential Mentee, a 2022 Center for Asian American Media Fellow, a 2022 participant of Athena’s Works in Progress Pitch Forum, and a former Re-Take Oakland film fellow. Her award-winning short doc, Escaping Agra, has screened in festivals across the world, and her work has been supported by The Puffin Foundation, Eddie Bauer, the Filmmaker Fund, Re-Present Media, Studio IX Project, Athena Pitch Forum, and more.
Pallavi holds a documentary-focused Master in Journalism from UC Berkeley and a BA in Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz. In her spare time, she climbs rocks with her kids and supports incarcerated pregnant people as a trained doula.
DEBRA A. WILSON
Debra Wilson is an award-winning filmmaker with artist grants from Showtime, San Francisco Foundation, Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) National MediaMakers Fellow, and more. Debra directed and produced the award-winning documentary Butch Mystique, which aired on Showtime. She also directed and produced the critically acclaimed documentary Jumpin’ the Broom, which aired on Showtime.
As location manager, she worked on films like Milk, Contagion, Blindspotting, and Ryan Coogler’s breakout film Fruitvale Station where Debra won the California On Location Award for Best Location Team.
In 2020, Debra directed and produced the documentary short The Lucky Ones and received the Stop Stigma award from Canberra Film Festival. In 2022, she produced the online docuseries “Roots of American Culture,” honoring the National Heritage Fellow Recipients for the National Endowment of the Arts. As the producer for Coach Emily, Debra was selected for the Sundance Producer Lab Intensive and is producing the short documentary Women Who Ride, which has received support from Re-Present Media.
Debra is an alum of SF FilmHouse, CID/Kopkind Workshop, and Kopkind Film Residency. She earned her BA from Cal-State University Northridge in TV/Film.