Self-Taught Outcast

By Nicole De Meneses

“Live people ignore the strange and unusual”(Beetlejuice ). Deborah Attoinese has made an award winning filmmaking career celebrating those traits. She champions the strange behaviors of peculiar shut-ins, exuberant adventurers, and lonely heroes.  Self- taught as a fashion photographer with a natural eye,  her desire to capture captivating images and tell compelling stories helped  establish her as a promising talent. This occurred as she developed and honed her photography skills.

Being self-taught, Deborah admits that embarrassing mistakes were made, but not wanting to be indebted to her parents for her education she chose to strike out on her own. She found her version of film school in the form of a projectionist job at a local ad agency in New York.  That first job allowed her to work and learn from a wide range of talented and knowledgeable people. She was introduced to the Directing reel of Adrian Lyone and the Fashion photographer reel of Sarah Moon. After working as an amateur photographer for a few years she left the agency to travel through Europe and pursue Fashion photography full time.

As an avid student of Italian and French Vogue Deborah learned by emulating the works of established film auteurs that she admired. One fateful interview as a freelancer changed the course of her career when  the interviewer asked her the ultimate question: “Who are you as an artist?.At first Deborah was disheartened and then furious. Self reflection resulted and strengthened her resolve allowing her to develop her own style rather than adhering to a university or pre conceived standard. She since has created several original films where it’s clear that she commands her camera with a fearless tenacity that allows the power of her images to speak volumes.

Often Deborah’s work is inspired by an image or an idea that she can’t shake. The image that sparked the premise for her whimsical comedy short film “Snail” presented itself after a long day of shooting on a corporate video set. She caught her reflection in a window with her camera bag on and found she resembled a snail. Anointing the lead characters with animal metaphors helped to develop backstories and motivation for the self-isolating male writer character embodying the slowest moving creature on the planet meeting the fastest moving female creature on the planet and how those contrasting forces would interact became an award winning short.

Deborah’s feature film “Zoe” was a personal project inspired by her own adolescent transgressions and youthful naiveté. At the age of 16 she ran away from home with her friends for 24 hours. The image of a young woman walking across the desert naked on a vision quest nagged at her psyche for years. “Zoe” follows the misadventures of Zoe who longs to escape her abusive home environment. Accompanied by her two best friends they hit the road in a immature attempt to runaway from their problems. Through a series of misguided events they attempt to hijack a car with a loaded gun. The girls get more than they bargain for in the form of a neurotic British woman named Cecilia. A journey of self-discovery and human connectedness unfolds through heartfelt and touching revelations.

Her latest short “Girl Knight“ explores the growing pains of two teenage girls learning to love and shedding their physical and emotional armor. “Girl Knight” is earnest and reminiscent of something out a John Hughes romp. Isabel, a fiery redhead armed with a sword and donning a armored helmet everywhere she goes, meets Delilah one day in detention. Delilah is an equally disillusioned young Goth girl longing for more than the sweet release that the few cuts on her wrist can give.

The two find strength in each other, share a first kiss in a graveyard and defy controlling family members that try and stand in the way of their new love. The inspiration for the film started with the image of an edgy teenage girl clanking around in a suit of armor. She simultaneously wanted to be invisible and  seen. A feeling most people on some self-reflection of their youth can relate to. It’s that relatability that makes the films storyline timeless and endearing.

Deborah’s next project is “Lady Liberty”, a web series about a Latino veteran in danger of being deported and in an act of desperation he kidnaps an out of work actress dressed as the Statue of Liberty outside a tax building. The series will explore themes of the current social political climate in the form of polar opposite characters trying to find their place in a society that doesn’t want them. The project will be submitted to the AFI director’s women’s workshop. If accepted it would mark the first collaboration between Deborah and a film institution. Deborah hopes the collaboration will help fuel “Lady Liberty” in finding a larger film audience

Deborah’s self-taught initiative may have been the road less traveled when it comes to being a filmmaker but it was that pure desire and fortitude that has shaped her work for the better. A true storyteller, her characters have brought laughter and contemplation to audiences’ members all around the world. Always passionate about environmental issues, Deborah donates her filmmaking skills to several causes including THE PEACE PROJECT in Los Angeles. To learn more about Deborah’s works go to