Vee Saieh, an award-winning screenwriter, is on a mission to make narratives that not only entertain but stir societal consciousness. She broke into prominence with “Magdalena,” a script that clinched the Silver Prize in Drama at the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in 2013. Competing against thousands of international submissions, this accolade showcased Saieh’s storytelling prowess on a global stage. But it’s not just her talent that distinguishes her; it’s her unwavering commitment to stories that reflect important issues and resonate with a broad audience.
In an exclusive interview, Saieh opened up about her latest project, “La Ruta,” which delves deep into pressing social issues. The film has been a cornerstone in her burgeoning reputation as an advocate for social change through cinema. The story follows a mother and daughter on Mexico’s treacherous “Route of Death,” exploring themes that reach beyond the screen to touch on real-world crises. “La Ruta” didn’t just captivate audiences; it won the Gold Telly for Social Video, adding another feather in Saieh’s cap and affirming her as a committed advocate for meaningful storytelling.
This recognition, Saieh notes, amplified the film’s message and its reach. But beyond the accolades and applause, what drives Saieh is a deeply rooted belief in the power of storytelling to foster understanding and empathy. “Your duty, first and foremost, is to entertain,” she explains, “but if it doesn’t hook the audience, no one will watch it.” For Saieh, the story is the vessel through which the message travels. By captivating her audience with compelling narratives, she ensures that the message lands, resonates, and—most importantly—inspires action.
Her contributions to socially conscious cinema make her one of the most exciting voices in the industry today. The balance Saieh strikes between authenticity and entertainment value is nothing short of artistic alchemy. It’s a tightrope walk over the pitfall of being too preachy or too detached from the issues at hand, and Saieh navigates it with finesse.
In an age where stories can be powerful agents for change, Vee Saieh is undoubtedly a storyteller for our times—one whose influence goes beyond the big screen to touch the fabric of society itself. It’s clear that her work has not only enriched the cinematic landscape but has also laid the groundwork for a more compassionate and understanding world.
What drives your passion for integrating pressing social themes into your narratives, especially with projects like “La Ruta”?
La Ruta tells the story of a mother and daughter traversing Mexico’s “Route of Death.” The project itself originated with the director but, what drew me to come on board as the lead writer is the same passion that drives all my stories—having something to say. My themes aren’t always social, but they’re often a commentary and a reflection on my own lived experiences or, at the very least, giving voice to the lived experiences of others who haven’t gotten their time in the spotlight.
I’m passionate about not just telling stories, but telling stories that matter, that enrich people, and that leave them with something to think about.
How did you come across the story or idea behind “La Ruta”? Were there personal experiences or observations that influenced your approach?
As I mentioned, it was a story that originated with the director, but there was plenty of personal experience I drew from to write the character. The basis for the protagonist’s hopes, fears, and driving force stemmed from my own experiences as an immigrant pursuing my own American dream. Even though my situation is vastly different from the protagonist’s, I know her dreams and her anxieties because they are also mine. The emotions fueling the narrative are authentic and true to life, and that is what ultimately makes the story work.
Tackling social issues in entertainment can be tricky. How do you strike the right balance between conveying a message without compromising on the story’s entertainment value?
This is a great question and one of the biggest challenges writers face in general. The main thing, I think, is to be careful not to be preachy. You’re writing a script, not a textbook or a keynote speech. First and foremost, your focus should be on telling the story (though you can subtly bring up key points here and there).
Throughout the narrative, the audience won’t entirely get what you’re trying to say, and that’s okay. After all, the message is what they’re left with at the end of the film when they can see the whole picture. So don’t focus too much on telling them what you’re trying to say. If you’ve done your job as the writer, they’ll get it by the end.
What sort of real-world impact or conversations were you hoping to spark with “La Ruta”? Have there been any notable reactions or changes that you’ve observed since its release?
I think one of the biggest issues we’re facing as a society is how tribal and insulated we are. Rarely do people take the time to understand each other and, instead, we just pull further and further apart.
My intention when writing any project is simply to create empathy and expose people to different life experiences they might not usually come across. It is only by understanding each other and bridging our differences that we can move forward together.
Since the release of La Ruta, the reception has really been tremendous. On more than one occasion I’ve had people come up to me after the screening telling me they cried. I think the film was very successful in creating that awareness
Were there any particular challenges you faced when advocating for social change through your work, especially with a project as profound as “La Ruta”?
I think the biggest challenge was the one you mentioned about balancing the message with telling a story. Another challenge was treading the thin line between authenticity and drama. “La Ruta” is very much a grounded, fact-based narrative. However, reality doesn’t always make for the best story, so it was an ongoing balancing act between remaining true-to-life and taking artistic liberties for the sake of entertainment.
Ironically, sometimes facts need to be changed because they’re so out there that they might come across as too unbelievable! In the end, you’re really just trying to hit that sweet spot of a nuanced story that’s as believable as it is engaging.
Winning the Gold Telly for Social Video with “La Ruta” is a significant achievement. How did this recognition amplify the message of the project, and what did it mean to you personally?
Winning such a prestigious award as a Gold Telly increased the project’s visibility exponentially, and with more visibility came more awareness. It was validation that not only does the film have something important to say, but that as many people as possible should listen.
Personally, it was extremely gratifying and rewarding to receive such a recognition. After all the challenges developing the story and making sure it hit all the right notes, it felt like we got it right. And it’s a sense of accomplishment not just as a writer, but as someone hoping to effect positive change in the world.
As a committed advocate for social change in cinema, where do you see the future of socially conscious storytelling heading? Are there emerging issues you’re eager to tackle in your upcoming projects?
I think what makes film an especially powerful medium for social commentary is its capacity to place the audience in the shoes of so many different people, offering perspective and nuance to topics we rarely see from more than one angle. I think in the near future, we’ll begin seeing even bolder storytelling from points of view that a few years ago would have been considered fringe.
My next project, IRON LUNG, about a post-polio patient and her caretaker sister, seeks to reframe how we view disability and living a full life. It also explores the complexity of the caretaking dynamic as well as survivor’s guilt.
What advice would you give to budding filmmakers and screenwriters who want to touch on social issues in their work, ensuring authenticity and resonance with their audience?
The main thing to remember is that your duty, first and foremost, is to entertain. Yes, your story should be authentic and have something to say, but if it doesn’t hook the audience, no one will watch it. Once you have a compelling storyline, then you can concern yourself with balancing authenticity and drama as well as weaving in the commentary (which should thread throughout the entire narrative without drawing attention to itself). You’re trying to affect people emotionally so the most surefire way of having your message resonate with them is making them care about your story and characters.