Women’s Film Preservation Fund Celebrates Women Filmmakers

As The First Female Director Wins Oscar,  the Women’s Film Preservation Fund Steps Up its Work Preserving the Cultural Legacy of Women In Film

Three upcoming programs in November showcase the extraordinary range and talent of women in the industry.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 19, 2010 – The Women’s Film Preservation Fund, a division of New York Women in Film and Television, is the only project of its kind in the world working to preserve the cultural legacy of women in cinema by restoring and conserving their movies. This November, three programs in New York, of films preserved by WFPF, will showcase the wide-ranging talent almost lost to degrading celluloid.

Since its inception in 1996, the fund has provided grants to over 80 films both long and short form and of every genre, building a library of multi-genre narrative and documentaries. Films like the silent work of Alice Guy-Blaché and Barbara Kopple’s Academy Award-winning 1976 documentary HARLAN COUNTY USA have benefited from the restoration fund.

“Our goal is to increase the public’s knowledge of the innovative and pioneering contributions of women in cinema from the very inception of the form.” says co-chair Drake Stutesman “We see the importance of these films for audiences and scholars alike and are excited to share these rediscovered works in New York.”

The three programs will take place on November 1st, 7th and 21st at New York’s most prestigious cinema institutions. Showing November 1st at the Film Society of Lincoln Center is a fully restored print of WILL directed by the pioneering African American director Jessie Maple. Will (Obaka Adedunyo) is a former All-American basketball player trying to kick his drug habit. He and his wife take in and nurture a homeless boy called Little Brother. By practicing self-empowerment, mentoring the boy, and coaching a girl’s basketball team, Will is able to contain his addiction and regain his life. The first independent feature film to be directed by a black woman, WILL maintains a positive course while confronting struggle and tragedy. A New Yorker, Maples also pictures Harlem and its street life in the early eighties as part of a lively, complex neighborhood without the sensational violence or melodrama of contemporaneous Blaxploitation movies. WILL was a forerunner of the independent, minority filmmaking that would breed directors like Spike Lee and Lee Daniels. Following the screening Maple, who is now in her 80’s, will discuss her work and the changes in urban cinema. Tanya Hamilton, the writer/director whose most recent work is NIGHT CATCHES US, will join Maple on stage following the film.

On November 7th, in conjunction with Eighth Annual International Film Preservation Festival at MoMA, the Women’s Film Preservation Fund will present two unique programs of work: PRETTY WOMEN and BY HAND AND HEART. The nine feminist films presented in both programs focus on eroticism, class, crime, art and identity. Betty Tells Her Story, included in the Pretty Women program, became an iconic film in the documentary form. Dr. Stutesman will introduce both programs.

On November 21st at the Paley Center for Media, the Peabody and Emmy Award winning television film PLAYING FOR TIME will be screened in segments with special guests Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Alexander and producer Linda Yellen. The film, still considered a television landmark, tells the true story of Fania Fénelon and a group of women who attempted to escape death at Auschwitz by playing in an orchestra.

For more information please visit http://www.womensfilmpreservation.org

For screeners of select programs and press photos please contact:

Film First Co.

Jessica Edwards

jessica@filmfirstco.com

917-620-8529

 

Women’s Film Preservation Fund

Drake Stutesman

greenly@earthlink.net

212-677-8535

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Monday, November 1st, 2010 at 6.30pm

Screening: WILL (1981), Director: Jessie Maple

Location: Film Society of Lincoln Center – Walter Reade Theater

Discussion with Jessie Maple and reception following the film.

A true pioneer, Jessie Maple was the first African American woman to enter New York’s IATSE union and the first to produce a feature-length independent film. She founded 20 West, Home of Black Cinema in Harlem in 1982 as a showplace for independent black films. Maple’s work, in the genre of urban cinema, is a precursor to films such as Lee Daniel’s Precious (2009). Writer/director Tanya Hamilton will join Jessie for a panel following the film moderated by WFPF co-chair Drake Stutesman.

Sunday, November 7th, 2010 – 1pm and 3pm

Screening: Save & Project Series at MoMA

Location: MoMA Theater 3 (The Celeste Bartos Theater).

Program 1: Pretty Women Program 2: By Hand and Heart are screening in conjunction with the Eighth Annual International Film Preservation Festival at the Museum of Modern Art.

Introduced by Drake Stutesman, Co-Chair, The Women’s Film Preservation Fund

Program 1: Pretty Women (56min)

Lipstick 74. (1974) USA. Directed by Jane Morrison. Super 8mm film made by the late documentarian Jane Morrison that offers a glimpse into the private world of women and their toilet. Preserved by Northeast Historic Films. 8 min.

Anything You Want to Be. (1971) USA. Directed by Liane Brandon. In a series of vignettes, a teen age girl finds that despite her parents’ assurance that she can “be anything she wants to be”, reality sometimes provides another outcome. Preserved by Liane Brandon. 8 min.

Betty Tells Her Story. (1972) USA. Directed by Liane Brandon. In two continuous takes, a woman sitting in a chair in her apartment tells a story about the purchase of a dress from dual perspectives. Preserved by Liane Brandon. 20 min.

All Women Are Equal. (1972) USA. Directed by Marguerite Paris. This documentary short explores the life of Paula, a male to female transsexual. This film is a nonexploitative representation of an ordinary, well-adjusted transgendered person and one made before many other films on the subject. Preserved by MIX: New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival. 15 min.

Desire Pie. (1976) USA. Directed by Lisa Crafts. A deceptively erotic animation short celebrating the joyfulness of lovemaking, all to a funky jazz score. Preserved by Lisa Craft. 5 min.

Additional Information: http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/film_screenings/10617

Program 2: By Hand and Heart (92min)

Quilting Women. (1976) USA. Directed by Elizabeth Barret. A joyful celebration of women artists who quilt, combining folk tradition, sorority and individual creativity to transform an ordinary household item into a thing of unique beauty. Preserved by Appalshop. 28 min.

Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. (1985) Argentina. Directed by Lourdes Portillo, Susana Muñoz. This Academy Award nominated film tells the story of a group of mothers who have all lost a child during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970’s. These women come together each week in the Plaza de Mayo near the President’s house and demand to lean the fate of their children. Preserved by Lourdes Portillo. 64 min.

Additional Information : http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/film_screenings/10618

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 at 3:00pm

Screening: Playing for Time (1980), Producer: Linda Yellen, Director: Daniel Mann

Location: Paley Center For Media

Clips from the film will be shown with a panel discussion with Producer Linda Yellen and actors Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander.

Playing for Time, a ground-breaking television special starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander, dramatizes the heart wrenching story of Fania Fénelon and a group of women who hoped to escape death in Auschwitz by playing in an orchestra . Written by Arthur Miller, the film won numerous awards including an Emmy and a Peabody and was one of the few television film to be screened at Cannes.

Additional Information: http://www.paleycenter.org/2010-fall-a-look-back-at-playingfor-time/

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Thanks to Kia Muhammad at Film First Co. for this information and for permission to post it here on Her Film.

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Bringing A Vision to the Screen: Part 2 of an interview with filmmaker Vicki Lesley

HF: You have made a number of these shorts in your series with different crews on different films.  Can you speak to the day to day reality of working with varied crews across time rather than having one set crew for a tightly prescribed production schedule?

VL: The relation between the director and the crew is such an important one – film-making is a collaborative endeavour after all and these are the guys with the skills to really bring your vision to life on screen. In some ways, I’d love to be able to work with the same crew every time I go out filming as I think you build up an understanding of each others’ ways of working which gives you a certain creative confidence on the ground. Having said that, it’s also exciting to work with new crew, both camera and sound, as they bring new approaches and ideas to the table that, as a director, you may not have thought of before. It also forces you to clearly articulate your vision of what you’re trying to achieve.

 

Churchrock Mine located within the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Vicki Lesley.

 

In the real world, there’s often no choice to be made anyway, as good DOPs and sound recordists are always in demand and there’s no guarantee they’ll be available when you’re in a position to start filming. On a project with one set of returning characters and an ongoing single narrative, that might be more difficult, but fortunately, my film is by its very nature fragmentary and formed of lots of different styles. So in many ways, working with different people has been an advantage more than a hindrance. I hope it’s brought a creative vibrancy to the film, with fresh perspectives behind the camera as well as in front of it.

“…community-building online is surely the future for so many endeavours, documentary films included.”

HF: How have your donation link on your film’s website and the IndieGoGo campaign worked out in terms of funding for this series of films?

VL: To date, I’ve raised over £5000 (approx $8000) through donations via my own website and IndieGoGo. People have definitely responded to the idea of donating a small amount to the film and thereby becoming a part of a bigger community with a genuine investment in the project. Using Paypal as the means of doing that has worked very well.

I’m not sure how easy it would be to fund an entire film using this approach of getting lots of very, very small donations (true to the company name, the average donation is around £10/$15) but it’s certainly an excellent bedrock from which to look for funding from more traditional sources, as well as being a welcome injection of funds in its own right.   [Note: The IndieGoGo campaign for Lesley’s film ended September 6, 2010.]

HF: What role has social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, played in terms of finding an audience for this series?

 

Vicki Lesley on a shoot with Tony Benn, a British Labour Party politician & President of the Stop the War Coalition. Photo courtesy of Vicki Lesley.

 

VL: Social media is playing an ever-greater role in reaching out to our audience for this film. We have around 400 people on the main Tenner Films mailing list but almost another 500 again following the project either via our Facebook group or on Twitter. I have a print out about Barack Obama’s incredible online election campaign pinned up on my desk to inspire me – community-building online is surely the future for so many endeavours, documentary films included. I’ve got quite a way to go to match Obama admittedly, but we’ve all got to start somewhere!

HF: What is your plan for distribution?

I see this film very much in the tradition of other social-action feature documentaries (Black Gold, The End of the LineAn Inconvenient Truth) and have similar distribution aims. Ideally, a limited theatrical release followed by a broadcast television screening and then a DVD release. I’m also very interested in putting together some sort of “community-screenings” package, much like that used by the team behind The Age of Stupid, so that people in communities where nuclear power is a real, live issue, can organise local events around the film.

I’m currently talking to producers/distributors with experience of rolling out these kinds of films who can help me achieve these plans, as well as a number of outreach partners interested in building a bigger movement around the film.

HF: What role in society do you find or see yourself playing as a filmmaker – storyteller, revealer of truths, issuer of calls to action, or something else altogether?

VL: Hmm, that’s a good question! Hopefully all of the above, but more than anything I guess I would say I aim to be a chronicler of real human experiences you may not have heard elsewhere.

HF: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring or beginning woman filmmaker, what would it be?

VL: Never be afraid to ask other people for help.

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Lesley’s short film Fifty Years will be screened at the Document Human Rights Film Festival to be held in October 2010, in Glasgow, Scotland.

Check out Vicki Lesley’s filmography on IMDb.com.

Join the Facebook page for 13 Short Films about Atomic Power.

Follow the news about atomic power and Tenner Films on twitter @tennerfilms.

Visit and peruse the extensive Tenner Films website and watch some videos.

Check out Vicki Lesley’s channel on YouTube.

Join the MySpace page for Lesley’s films.

Vicki Lesley hosted the “Grassroots Film Funding Workshop and Tenner Film Shorts” at the Leeds International Film Festival last year.

Read an article in The Guardian by Vicki Lesley on tips for the lazy environmentalist.

Read a piece (“The Futureproofers”) co-authored by Vicki Lesley at Green Futures.

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A big thank you to Vicki Lesley for conducting this extensive interview via email.

13 Short Films about Atomic Power: Interview (pt. I) with British filmmaker Vicki Lesley

Filmmaker VICKI LESLEY

BIO: Vicki Lesley is a 33-year old documentary producer from London. She has worked in the UK television industry for the last 11 years working on high profile single documentaries and documentary series for a variety of network and cable broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4, Five, Sky One and Discovery. She is also an active campaigner on environmental and development issues campaigning in her spare time with Greenpeace, the World Development Movement and CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).  Vicki set up Tenner Films as a way of combining her twin passions for social and environmental justice, and engaging, thought-provoking documentary films.

Her Film: Explain if you would the significance of the word “Tenner” in Tenner Films.

Vicki Lesley: A tenner is British slang for a £10 note. When I first launched my nuclear documentary project in mid-2006, I worked out that if I could persuade 10,000 people to give me a tenner each that would give me a reasonable, if modest, budget for a feature documentary. And that’s how I hit on the name for the company!

I found out later that I’d had the very same ‘crowd-funding’ idea of that’s since taken off with sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter and successful docs like The Age of Stupid. I haven’t reached that £100K target yet – crowd-funding donations stand at more like £5K which is still a very respectable total I think – but the idea of involving many, many people at a grassroots level remains central to my approach.

HF: Your current project is a documentary series of 13 short films about atomic power.  What made you want to do this project, especially as a series instead of a feature?

VL: It is a feature! From the outset, this has always been conceived as a feature documentary but because nuclear power is such a complex and multi-faceted subject area, I needed a way to break it down into smaller, easily understandable chunks. I knew I didn’t want to use any kind of on-screen presenting figure, which would have been one way to structure the film. So I was working with the idea of small segments or chapters right from the start. It was just a question of how to hang them all together.

But after I went to the States to do the first bit of filming in 2007 – looking at the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo communities of Arizona and New Mexico – I decided to cut that together as a stand alone short documentary which I entered and subsequently screened at a number of festivals. That served as something of a calling card, helping me to gain further grant funding for the project. But it also sparked something creatively – the idea of compiling a number of discrete but thematically-related short films together into one full-length feature.

Of course, this isn’t a brand new idea – I particularly remembered a biopic from the early 90s about an Australian pianist 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould – but it is unusual and I liked the idea of being able to ‘curate’ my shorts to build up a nuanced picture of the nuclear power industry without having to spoon-feed the audience with a particular ‘line’. By choosing which subjects I would turn my camera on, creating individual, stand-alone segments and then playing those out one after the other, I felt that the juxtapositions would become as important as the content itself, allowing viewers to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions.

I’m now coming full circle again and re-visiting whether I should create some sort of overarching framework with short, interstitial content between each of the shorts to help tie them all together as one film. I’ve also come up with a new working title ‘Chain of Decay’ to help prevent confusion about the film’s form. I’d love to know what HerFilm readers think – interstitials or just ‘pure’ juxtaposition..?

As for my motivation in making a film on this subject, it was a combination of personal frustration and political timeliness. I started this project in 2006  when I was coming up to 30 and working in TV on documentary subjects that were fun (everything from au pairs to aliens) but pretty insubstantial. As someone who spends a lot of her non-work time campaigning on environmental and development issues, I felt like the broadcast work I was doing wasn’t entirely fulfilling my ambitions in terms of turning the spotlight on important issues and untold personal stories. So I decided to make my own film on a subject that would!

At the time, the UK government was consulting on whether they should sanction a new generation of nuclear power stations. It seemed (and still seems) a subject people know very little about and I felt that here was an area where I could perhaps add something to the conversation, using the skills I’d learnt in mainstream TV documentaries to make something more thoughtful, but still very watchable.

Looking back, I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into, trying to make a completely independent documentary outside of the TV structures I was familiar with. But I’m very glad I did it – and hopefully everyone else will be too when the full film is finally finished!

HF: You’ve involved a lot of major players within the field of nuclear energy oversight, organizations with a mission focused around nuclear power, etc.  Discuss how and why you approached these figures.  Have you been able to access everyone you’d like to involve in the project?

VL: My whole approach has always been driven by the personal stories I’ve been trying to tell so the organisations I’ve approached have been ones with a direct connection to particular stories, for example the Southwest Research & Information Centre in Albuquerque [New Mexico] who work with the Navajo Nation in their struggles with the government and companies involved in uranium mining in the area, or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency who are the regulators overseeing the clean-up of radioactive particles released onto the beach at the Dounreay nuclear site in Scotland.

These organisations have generally been pleased to be able to draw attention to their work in the nuclear field and have been very co-operative in working with me on the film. Thus far, I’m glad to say no-one I’ve approached has been unwilling to take part.

HF: You also have used records of incidents and accidents at one nuclear power plant in England in the short Fifty Years.  Can you explain the process of accessing those records – were there any special restrictions placed upon you as a filmmaker?

VL: The records I used for Fifty Years were all already in the public domain. A British campaign group based near Sellafield, the power station in question, had compiled a list of accidents and incidents up to 1997 from Health & Safety Executive reports. I filled in the gaps from 1998 to 2005 by accessing the HSE reports for that period myself (they are readily available online). I’m not aware of any restrictions in reporting this information, which is basically what this short film does, albeit in an experimental style.

HF: Has there been any public or institutional reaction to your project?

VL: The reaction I’ve received from people who’ve seen any of the short films either online or at screenings has been overwhelmingly positive, although there have been one or two less complimentary comments on YouTube!

I’ve not had much in the way of a direct institutional reaction so far, apart from the now-defunct UK Atomic Energy Authority who were in charge of the decommissioning of the Dounreay site in Scotland when I filmed there in 2008 (the site has now been handed over to a private company). They told me they were very pleased with the way that short turned out, which I was really happy about, not least because the film is fairly unforgiving in its discussion of past safety lapses at the site. It was great to know that the industry considered that I’d presented a fair and honest account of events at Dounreay.

HF: How has your perspective on atomic power changed during the course of this project of making 13 short films?

VL: When I first started researching the film, I had a fairly stereotypical environmentalist’s suspicion of nuclear power, based chiefly on fears about radiation and the risk of accidents. Those fears have not been entirely allayed, although I’m now more informed on the research and statistics that underlie them. However, I now feel there are two issues that, above all others, count nuclear out as an attractive energy source going forward: the waste and the economics.

I find it shocking that over 50 years since nuclear power stations first started producing radioactive waste, the world has not found a satisfactory answer to disposing of it safely and reliably over the mind-blowing timescales concerned (this was very much the impulse behind Beyond, the stop-motion animation piece I produced about waste).

And economically, nuclear power to me just does not seem to make sense. I’m unconvinced by politicians and nuclear industry figures who say it can operate without government subsidy. Both the back-end costs of decommissioning and waste disposal and the costs of insuring against major accidents appear to be left out of most analyses of the costs of nuclear energy.  This seems to me both dishonest and morally unjustifiable – especially when there are other, renewable sources of electricity available that don’t come with these kinds of costs attached.

HF: What are the most pressing issues, in your opinion, regarding the use and production of nuclear energy?

VL: As mentioned above, the waste is probably the number one unsolved major problem. But I’m also worried about the proliferation risks of the world’s ever-growing stockpiles of nuclear material and the risk of a terror attack on a nuclear facility that could make 9-11 look like a minor event. Safety-wise, I also think nuclear energy presents a very unsatisfactory gamble for society. The chances of a major accident occurring are certainly very, very low. But the scale of the impact any accident would have if it did occur is potentially so catastrophic, I just can’t see how it can be justified.

HF: You have a list of links on your film’s site which includes artistic works with a nuclear-focus:  books, movies, songs, art. What do you find to be the most poignant arguments and concerns within the discussion/debate over nuclear energy?

VL: As I’ve discovered while making the film, the nuclear industry has a long and not very proud history of secrecy about its activities. This has meant that many of the human costs have not been very well known. Even where the human impact is widely known – such as with the victims of the accident at Chernobyl – this hasn’t stopped proponents advocating its continued use. I find the huge imbalance of power between the industry and the people on the ground affected by its actions to be very poignant – it’s what lies at the heart of my whole project.

HF: Where do developing nations fit within the larger discussion of nuclear power?

VL: A number of developing countries have begun to show an interest in nuclear energy and the multi-national companies involved in the global nuclear industry have been keen to encourage their ambitions. But it’s hard not to wonder whether these companies are motivated more by their own countries’ political and economic interests than by a genuine desire to help developing nations meet their  energy needs in the most appropriate way.

HF: On your website, you mention global injustice as an issue you want to address through your films, along with environmental degradation. How do you see global injustice playing out, on a regional or global scale, within the context of atomic power?

VL: There are obvious justice issues around mining for the nuclear industry – many of the world’s biggest uranium deposits are in places where the local population are poor and marginalised and/or where local governance is weak or prone to corruption (eg Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union and indigenous communities in the United States, Canada and Australia). You have to look at who is and isn’t benefiting, from uranium mining and from nuclear power production in general. It tends not to be the poorest people in the world…

Check out Vicki Lesley’s documentary at Tenner Films.

Join the Facebook group for Lesley’s film.

Follow the conversation about this film & atomic power on Twitter @TennerFilms.

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Part II of Vicki Lesley’s interview will drop in a few days… Stay tuned!