Mónika Naranjo-Shepherd: Storytelling Through Her Eyes

by Jennifer Yoshikoshi from United States

“Never be discouraged by the size of the competition because every voice is valuable"

151963Mónika Naranjo-Shepherd, director of The Art of DiscoveryMónika Naranjo-ShepherdAs a child, Mónika Naranjo-Shepherd loved writing stories. Mónika grew up with a mother from Mexico and a father from Costa Rica, traveling between both countries as a young adult. Now, she is a well-traveled documentarian and 2023 winner of MY HERO Project’s Sylvia Earle Award for her film, The Art of Discovery. 

Mónika first gained her footing in film and photography when she began her undergraduate education at the University of Costa Rica studying Audiovisual Production. She loved being able to tell stories in a different form and continued her education studying Screenwriting at the University of Bergen in Norway. 

She’s known that she wanted to go into this field since she was 6-years old. She recalls a memory from her childhood, watching her best friend’s older sister playing something that she had filmed and created on the home television. That day Mónika had her eyes opened to the idea that people like her could be making the films and shows that played on the television and in movie theaters. 

In the world of film, Mónika’s biggest inspiration was Jacque Cousteau and Michael Moore. Every Saturday she would watch Cousteau on the T.V. and was fascinated by the idea that you could go anywhere, film, and be able to share stories with people all around the world. Her other inspiration, Michael Moore is known for putting himself in his stories, something that she found extremely honest and contemporary. Mónika admired both of the filmmakers' abilities to tell the stories that they wanted through their eyes. 

Her film, The Art of Discovery captures the artistic exploration of discovering the mysterious creatures that inhabit the sea. Mónika finds her passion in telling stories that focus on illuminating the necessary topics about environmental and social values. Her first feature length film focused on Nicaraguan immigration to Costa Rica, diving into the stories of xenophobia and racism between the two countries. She was able to shine light on the social issues behind immigration in Latin America, a very important problem that is not widely discussed.

151965Capturing a moment at workMónika Naranjo-Shephe

Mónika can easily be seen as a very well-established and awarded documentarian but her road to success was not straightforward. For the longest time, she thought that she wanted to be a journalist, but finally realized that the objectivity of journalism didn’t align with her passions. She wanted to have her own point of view and be able to share that with others through her work. That was when she decided that she found more of a belonging as a documentarian. 

“We like to think that I’m a success story as this girl from Costa Rica but I love to let people know that it’s a rolling stone," said Mónika. “You figure it out as you go and try to be true to what you love and do the best you can in every single project that you’re lucky enough to work on.”

She acknowledges that the world has advanced so much in terms of technology with high definition cameras and more technicalities. She said, “I know that today with our phones, the cameras are ridiculous but I always thought that what you could tell a story with didn’t really matter. If a story is compelling, you can tell it with almost any type of quality.”

When asked what advice she has for future filmmakers, Mónika says to watch as much as you can and to understand why you find what you watch interesting or boring, and use the resources available to you. 

“Never be discouraged by the size of the competition because every voice is valuable,” said Mónika. “Never be intimidated by your lack of connections, your family, lack of experience. Just go for it. If it’s important to you then it's important.”

On winning the MY HERO Award, Monika stated, "In these times in which a lot of people cherry-pick so-called facts and build a seemingly convenient version of reality,  I think sharing the work that scientists carry out to help us advance knowledge and improve life is incredibly important. For me,  winning the Sylvia Earle Ocean Conservation Award is a welcome sign that I'm on the right track and it feels remarkable to read my name right next to hers."


151964The Art of Discovery Wins MY HERO Project's 2023 Sylvia Earle Conservation AwardMY HERO 

Page created on 6/8/2023 6:39:58 PM

Last edited 6/19/2023 1:39:02 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Monika's Profile for the Schmidt Ocean Institution - Read more information about Monika along the organization she worked with