One Skidmore College professor has joined an exclusive club. Earlier this month, Cecilia Aldarondo, a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor of English, was named a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellow for her outstanding accomplishments in film.
Aldarondo’s work focuses on topics such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality, and her debut film is hyper-personal, as it’s about her own family. The film, Memories of a Penitent Heart, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, and is a first-person investigation of the death of Miguel (Michael) Dieppa, Aldarondo’s uncle who passed away from an AIDs-related illness when she was just six years old. (The film subsequently aired on PBS’ POV series in 2017.) Another of Aldarondo’s films, a short entitled Picket Line, which follows a worker-led strike at a Waterford, NY, chemical plant, just days before Donald Trump was elected president, was commissioned by Field of Vision, the documentary film unit of First Look Media, for its Our 100 Days series. The film was screened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the AFI Docs Film Festival.
An alumna of the Sundance Institute’s Edit and Story Lab and IFP’s Documentary Lab, Aldarondo was previously recognized as an exemplary filmmaker, receiving a 2019 Bogliasco Foundation Residency, the MacDowell Colony Fellowship (twice) and a 2017 Women at Sundance Fellowship. At Skidmore, Professor Aldarondo is involved with the John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative (MDOCS) program and teaches courses on documentary film, including courses such as “Gender and Sexuality” and “HIV/AIDS in Film and Video.”
Currently, Aldarondo is working on two new films, one that delves into the growing pains of adolescence, the other, the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico (the filmmaker’s mother and father grew up there). Aldarondo tells saratoga living that landing the Guggenheim fellowship “issues a stamp of approval and respect for my work; it just makes me feel really validated. I feel like I won an Oscar!” While noting that the entire ordeal still feels “a little bit surreal,” Aldarondo admits that, “as an independent filmmaker, I feel lucky if a few hundred people see my film, let alone thousands. And so, something like the Guggenheim [fellowship] just helps to make sure that independent filmmaking like mine has that much more of a chance to be seen.”
Despite landing the career-affirming fellowship, Aldarondo remains humble about her achievement. “On the one hand, it’s this incredible honor to receive the [fellowship], but I know so many artists that are just as worthy [as I am], that have just as much incredible work under their belts [but] aren’t getting it, because [I] did,” she explains. Aldarondo feels that becoming a Guggenheim fellow also comes with a new level of responsibility. “I want to build a community, I want to make sure that art and my values as an artist are being fought for and upheld on a much broader scale,” she says. “I feel even more responsible to try and fight as much as I can to make sure that we’re conscious of the importance of art and the humanities in our world. We can’t just rely on the Guggenheims of the world to support our artists; we need to work [towards] a society that really values art not as a luxury but as the air we breathe.”
Winning a Guggenheim fellowship is no small-potatoes achievement; annually, the foundation awards just 175 fellowships to artists and intellectuals from an applicant pool of more than 3000. Per the foundation, the fellowships are awarded to “individuals who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” The selection process includes peer-examination by former fellows in the same field, review by the foundation’s Committee of Selection and approval by its Board of Trustees. The fellowships typically last between six months and a year.