Looking for inspiring stories
When she was a student at Colby, Laura Martorella ’89 traveled by train through China into Inner Mongolia and even lived in a yurt. Despite having been away from the Hill for over 20 years, Laura still finds herself traveling and is as much in need of the outdoors as when she was an undergraduate.
While Laura has worked in the corporate world for many years, she finds herself becoming much more involved in photography and documentary filmmaking.
While at Colby, Laura was an East Asian Studies major, which has influenced her art. “In my junior year abroad in China, I learned a lot about myself living in a different culture,” she explained. “I experienced the essence of beauty in simplicity. It became the foundation of my philosophy as an artist.”
She describes photography and film as a process, much like her studies in Chinese as an undergraduate. Unlike the corporate world, which is goal-oriented and demands a tangible result, art is about the journey, the process of creation, as well as the creation itself.
Her beginning as a photographer was in vibrant and lush nature photography. She describes her entrance into professional photography as a lucky break. Laura’s friend Tony Sgro was impressed by some of her Hawaiian vacation pictures and asked that she create some prints to be featured in his salon.
From there, her reputation spread, catching Laura off-guard. “That was when I was born as an artist and photographer. It was the first time someone traveled to see me and put a value on my work,” she remembered.
While living in New York, another friend asked her to be the stills photographer for an independent feature film she was directing in Hollywood. This assignment allowed Laura to learn about filmmaking, “As a film stills photographer, you’re a fly on the wall.” She watched the whole process and naturally was hooked. She has co-produced a number of films, most notably Fuel, a documentary about alternative energy that won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Three Wishes for Tanzania is another project Laura has dedicated herself to in the last few years. “This is the first film that I’ve written, produced and directed. So it’s important to me to do justice to the people who inspired this project and because of the commitment I feel to sharing the voices of those I met in Tanzania,” she said.
Laura’s mother was instrumental in launching the project by orchestrating a group that would travel to Tanzania and asked Laura to join them.
In the documentary, Laura journeys around Tanzania filming answers to the question: “If you could have three wishes what would they be?” She found universal stories of inspiration and answers that she didn’t expect.
Three of Laura’s other inspirations for the film are her aunt Joan Loomis, Colby alum Corbett Bishop ’92 and her father. Her aunt had a great love for the Serengeti and it’s wildlife and urged Laura to go before the habitat was destroyed.
Corbett Bishop ’92, had been living in Tanzania for 15 years. “Corbett had such incredible love and respect for Tanzania which he passionately shared with everyone he met,” Laura said.
“He did not just talk about conservation, he lived it by working with a local tribe, learning both Swahili and the Maasai languages, and founding the Ol Tukai Conservancy,” she said. “Corbett had a deeply profound impact on my life. He completely altered my views on conservation and humanitarianism.”
Every year Laura’s family hosts the Peter Martorella Colloquium held in her father’s honor, which highlights his work as a leader in education. In 2005, the keynote speaker was the former first lady of Tanzania, Madame Mkapa. She spoke about the organizations she had created to help women and children, as well as the strides Tanzania had made in education.
“At the time, I didn’t know much about Africa other than what I’d seen in the press and films,” Laura recalled. “When I met the First Lady and her staff, I was very impressed with how strong, eloquent and inspiring they were. And yet, I felt there was not this representation of Africans in the American media,” Laura explained. It became the impetus for the theme of her film.
“The people I met in Tanzania were bursting with joy about whatever their passion was,” she continued. “I’m a storyteller capturing joy. Whether it’s in the brilliance of color and light in a photo or in whether it’s documenting someone else telling an inspiring story.”
Currently Laura is working as a producer on Fred George’s SOLAR PEACE SCULPTURE, a “call to action” for peace and sustainability. It is a 50-foot peace sign constructed from 80 oil barrels equipped with solar panels, which feed back into the electrical grid.
The sculpture stands on an interactive media center in the pyramid base, which highlights a colorful array of games, educational tools, music and videos. “Fred George’s vision is brilliant…he moves people beyond their comfort zone…he makes a simple statement on a collossal scale.”
Laura will not be at this year’s Alumni weekend as she will be in Cologne Germany for ART. FAIR 21, featuring a 20 foot version of the SOLAR PEACE SCULPTURE.
To view Laura's work, visit her website, mytribemedia.com.