Loss—in all its forms—can be life-changing. Just ask Yanis Carreto.
In the minutes following a catastrophic hard drive crash in 2019, her mind was blank. She had just been about to publish her first short documentary film when she stepped away from her computer for a few minutes. Carreto accidentally kicked over the hard drive when she came back to her desk. She lost everything.
“I wasn’t savvy enough to know to backup the backup,” she said. “On there were family memories. My grandfather had passed, but I was a caregiver for him for 10 years. I had done a series of interviews with him just trying to get our family story down, and I lost all of that. The combination of what I thought my future could be, and these family memories, I was devastated. That night, I cried.”
But out of that devastation came creation.
Carreto had returned from a trip to Cuba few months prior. All she could think about immediately after losing years’ worth of photos and video footage was going back.
“That night, I just wanted to escape,” she said. “I wanted to leave. I started looking and I said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to give up. I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do this right.’ I started looking at film schools, and one popped up that there was a school in Cuba. I saw that it was this world-renowned school, so I applied. I don’t know anything about it. I didn’t have any credits. I just had a dream to make something, and I want to learn.”
Carreto was accepted to the Escuela International de Cine & TV in San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba, and she left a few weeks later.
She came out of it with her first short documentary feature, Saudade. It’s been selected by four film festivals: New Filmmakers New York Film Festival, Mystic Film Festival (where it won an award for Best Documentary Film Editing), Chain NYC Film Festival and, most recently, the Garden State Film Festival, which is set for March 23-28 of this year.
“I finished the film, and whenever you create something as an artist, you have these thoughts of I don’t know if this is good enough and I love this, it’s great,” she said. “You kind of vascillate back and forth. It’s been exciting.”
Saudade is a word for a sense of melancholy, longing or nostalgia. The film tells Carreto’s story through that lens—”A budding filmmaker and hopeless nostalgic loses all of her life’s work, along with years of treasured family photos and home movies, in a swift computer accident. While grieving the loss and seeking a way to cope, she packs a bag and sets off for Cuba, where she recovers something she never even had—but somehow missed more than anything,” says the official description.
Carreto was thrown headfirst into the filmmaking process almost immediately after she got to Cuba. She and her classmates spent a day or two inside the school learning about storylines, lighting and other foundational concepts.
The next day, though, her professor opened the door and said “Go make a movie.”
“I’m fumbling with all my gear, my cameras,” she said. “There are so many things. First of all, you’re in a country that is a step back in time. There are so many things you don’t know or understand. Luckily, I knew the language so I could get by. I’m looking at everything trying to figure out what I could make a movie about. After that first night, I’m coming home, I’m exhausted, I had no idea what I was doing. I can handle a camera because I’m a photographer as well, but with sound, you’re a one man crew in a foreign country trying to make something so you can pass your grade.”
She figured it out, though.
In the end, Carreto said, the sort of free-for-all nature of her time in film school worked in her favor.
“I would have completely overthought,” she said. “Because of my background in law enforcement, I come from order, steps, guides, rules, you do this first. I would have completely overthought everything every step of the way. You didn’t have time to think about procedure and camera. You turned it on, you try to get the best light you can, you try to get the best sound and you document everything. Doing that there, I don’t think I could have made a film anywhere else. You could’ve sent me to California, Hollywood. I don’t know that I would have been able to make something like this as a first-time filmmaker.”
The Cuban town she studied in—San Antonio de los Baños—also played a major part in what Saudade eventually became. And it helped her grapple with the sense of loss that still plagued her.
“I started connecting with Saint Anthony, who is the patron saint of lost things,” she said. “It was just such an appropriate name for this town that I discovered had lost so much. This was a beautiful river town, restaurants, food, very vibrant. Now it’s dried up and sewage is literally flowing down the street. Theaters are closed. Everything is closed down. They’ve lost so much, but the town is still just so hopeful and alive. The idea of the missing and the found and finding the happy place in between, it was almost like a cathartic
experience that I had.”
Carreto is mostly self taught, though she has also studied at the Sundance Institute and the Edit Center in Brooklyn, New York, in addition to her time at EICTV. She started to seriously pursue filmmaking after leaving a 14-year career in law enforcement to become a caregiver for her mother-in-law.
Her curiosity and love for exploration, though, has been there since she was a kid. She loved looking back and always described herself as a nostalgic person.
“I was an only child until I was about 8,” she said. “Always in my room, always reading, always researching. To me the most exciting part of what I do was the research part. I love it. I love reading. I was always very curious, very nostalgic.”
When she found herself taking care of her grandfather in her early 20s, Carreto leaned even further into that part of herself.
“I had to do a lot of things—at my age, you don’t take care of your grandparents,” she said. “Being with them, I think because they were older, nostalgia played a big part. Learning to cope with some of these things, I always say that nostalgia was my coping mechanism. I use it to get through the day a lot. All of that I think sort of plays a part in how the things I’m approaching now and the niche that I work in now with memories and exploring all of that.”
That’s manifested itself throughout every step of her career, especially through her blog, the Hopeless Nostalgic.
Carreto chronicles her extensive travel stories—both solo and with her husband—through photos and blog posts. They’ve traveled to Europe and Asia for months at a time, but she’s also written about places a little closer to home, like the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Florida, Sleepy Hollow, New York and Lucy the Elephant in Margate.
“We’ve been traveling for three years,” she said. “I’ve always documented with photos. Now, not being able to travel as much, I want to get some of my old photo stories on there.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, though, travel has been limited, so Carreto has focused her energy on upcoming film projects. One that is in the works tells the story of the South Carolina Button King, who showed off his massive collection of button-covered items to late nights hosts like Johnny Carson and David Letterman.
He was an insomniac, Carreto said, and he started covering items with buttons to fill his sleepless nights—first a suit, then his guitar. A hearse. His own casket. Though he has since died, Carreto was able to talk to family members and friends.
“It turned out that the reason he couldn’t sleep was that he was poisoned at DuPont, where he worked,” she said. “DuPont has a long history of environmental issues. He was basically forced to go into this tank without any gear and clean it out. They tried to hide it by sending them to their private doctors, making them take out his teeth so there was no evidence he had this thing in his system.”
Carreto discovered all of this through her own fascination with buttons. She’s kept a jar of buttons for over 25 years, which led her to button clubs and societies both local and nationwide.
“Everyone else is obviously older than me, in their 80s and 90s,” she said. “They said, ‘You know there’s a button king in South Carolina.’ So I kind of went down there to check it out as a button ambassador. I fell in love with the story.”
And that’s a Carreto hallmark, she said—connecting with something on a personal level and turning it into a story.
But you should expect nothing less from the Hopeless Nostalgic.
“When I first started studying filmmaking, I was told you can’t make a film about nostalgia,” she said. “That’s one thing I said they’re dead wrong on. I’m going to prove that. I may not have proven it yet, but I’m going to prove them wrong.”
She wants to do that not only for herself, but for her subjects, too.
“Because it’s nostalgia based, a lot of these people are elderly, and you don’t know when they’re not going to be around anymore,” she said. “Places closing down or already closed down. It’s gotta be done. It has to be done. These people and these places might not be around for much longer.”