Her.Stories: Sexism rife in drama world, Aida Begic’s film chosen for Oscars, Gaylene Preston to direct NZ drama, Shola Lynch’s new doc

Gainesville Latino Film Festival Kicks Off, Produced by the Latina Women’s League
at Gainesville.com

Sharon Lawrence: “Listen to Your Own Heart and to Another Woman’s Story”
at the Huffington Post

Parade’s End director says sexism is still rife in drama world: Directors’ group to investigate after Cannes film festival snubs women for Palme d’Or prize
at The Guardian

Bosnia selects ‘Children’ for Oscar race: Aida Begic’s film premiered at Cannes
at the Chicago Tribune

‘The Headless Woman’ Director Lucrecia Martel To Return With ‘Zama’
at The Playlist

Patricia Riggen Directing Chilean Miners Film, The 33
at Women and Hollywood

Magnet Releasing Embraces Xan Cassavetes’ Erotic Vampire Film ‘Kiss of the Damned’
at Indiewire

Gaylene Preston to Direct New Zealand Earthquake Dramatic Series, Receives $5M from NZ on Air
at the New Zealand Herald

On Screen & On Scene: ‘Somewhere Between’ (documentary by Linda Goldstein Knowlton)
at Hyphen Magazine


S&A In Conversation: Shola Lynch Talks ‘Free Angela & All Political Prisoners’
at Shadow and Act

Toronto: ‘Inch’Allah’ Director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette On Her Politically Charged Drama
at Indiewire

Audio: Behind the film Dreams Of A Life on Detour
at Triple R

New film: “The Light in Her Eyes” tells story of Muslim woman who teaches the Quran to women & girls

“A woman is a school. Teach her and you teach a generation.”

Muslim preacher Houda Al-Habash teaches women and girls the Quran at her mosque in Damascus, Syria, something she’s been doing for 30 years.  This is the story of “The Light in Her Eyes,” a new documentary film from Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix.  The film will be screening on September 19 in Austin, Texas, and will have several other screenings around the country this fall.  Take a look at the Screenings & Events page on the film’s website for dates, times and locations, or to host a screening yourself.

I missed the film’s premiere, unfortunately, as I was out of the country most of July.  Maybe some of you caught it on PBS on July 19?  If not, you can watch a trailer below, or just catch a screening in your town!

Check out an interview with Meltzer and Nix in The Austin Chronicle by clicking here.

Follow the film on twitter @lightinhereyes.
Read more about the film on the official website.

INTERVIEW: Scotty Iseri, creator of kids’ web/app series ‘The Digits’

Creator and Executive Producer, Scotty Iseri


Scotty Iseri is a theatre and new media artist based out of Portland, Oregon. His work includes the popular all-ages web series “Scotty Got An Office Job”, the live touring act “The Big Rock Show” and the Paper Hat Game. He was the writer and director behind “Merry Holidays, Please Hold”, a branded series billed “The Worldʼs First Internet Christmas Special”.

Scotty has won numerous awards for his writing, musical composition, and sound design, was an inaugural mentee for the Center For Asian American Mediaʼs Fellowship and was a finalist for the Public Radio Maker’s Quest 2.0 grant. He has years of experience in children’s theatre, has produced for Chicago Public Radio and was a teacher in Chicago’s After School matters.


Her Film:  You wear three big hats on this series: director, writer, producer.  What has your experience been like balancing these three roles, especially in light of the fact the series is interactive and you’re dealing with various technologies for distribution and exhibition?

Scotty Iseri:  I do feel very lucky to be working with an amazing group of artists that really bring the world to life. But I must admit, it’s been a great deal of work. Luckily I love it.

The addition of interactivity requires a new approach to the production.  For “The Digits,” it’s more than shooting a film and adding prompts.  We wanted the story to holistically change and level as the viewer watches.

Juggling these technologies in storytelling is a whole new world.  The traditional roles don’t 100% apply.  Our actors created Facebook profiles for their characters which interact with our fans, so they’re also creating a universe, too.  Our developer, Battery Powered Games, is also a key member of the creative team.

“Pavi” (Sara Castilleja) and Scotty discuss direction and technique

The hardest part is finding the balance. The writer will write something crazy like, “The Digits crash land on an alien planet made of acid-spitting bacon”.  The director will say “how do i realize acid-spitting bacon?” and the producer will say “where do you think we’re going to find budget money for acid-spitting bacon?”  Since I am all three, striking a balance with only myself is a challenge indeed. Normally you’d have this creative back and forth between those three roles, which i definitely miss.

Her Film:  Can you describe the challenges you encountered when trying to raise funds for this series? 

Scotty Iseri:  We function like a startup [and] I think the startup community (especially on the finance side) is more open to ideas that break the mold.  Silicon Valley thrives on innovation, while the entertainment industry thrives on tradition. The latter usually waits until something is popular enough to enjoy a mass audience before sticking its toe in the water.  The two don’t necessarily always mix.

I took The Digits idea around to the traditional entertainment industry.  I was told “we can give you money for a television pilot that may just sit on a shelf and never be seen, but we’re not sure what to do with this interactive business. ”  I think the traditional entertainment industry is in something of a free fall in terms of its business model and so going the startup route was the best way to create something really cool.

There are some fantastic examples of others in this new storytelling field.  Fourth Wall Studios, and the Lizzie Bennett Diaries are two examples of people taking the entrepreneurial spirit into the entertainment industry and making cool things happen.

Her Film:  Entertainment professionals who create series or films, necessarily, have to act like entrepreneurs when doing so, but the word “entrepreneur” seems to be largely absent from discussions about entertainment, although it’s prevalent when talking about tech companies and start-ups.  Can you address this issue and how your work may be influenced by actively embracing the idea of entrepreneurship?

Scotty Iseri:  It’s an exciting time to make things.  No one necessarily has the “right’ answer when it comes to a next-generation filmmaking model, but you must, must must, be entrepreneurial about it.

If you think about it economically, it’s all about scarcity.  10 years ago, the scarcity was in distribution and money.  It was expensive to rent cameras and film, and more expensive to jockey for time on the limited bandwidth of broadcast.  Today the scarcity is attention–getting audiences to notice what you’re putting out.

Scotty Iseri with his favorite puppet “Andrew”

Her Film:  What is your relationship with the Center for Asian American Media and how does it relate to “The Digits”?

Scotty Iseri:  “The Digits” wouldn’t exist without CAAM.  I’m of Japanese descent and was very lucky to be invited into their new voices fellowship.  I think it was very forward-thinking on CAAM’s part to include a new media fellow among a group of fantastic screenwriters, directors and producers.

The time with CAAM allowed me to have some structure and support in building not just the technological idea, but also the story universe.

Her Film:  The main character of the show is “Pavi,” the lead singer (and a female).  With the bias, and stereotype, that girls and women are not capable in mathematics, this is very refreshing to see.  How did you decide which character, and which gender, should take the lead?  

Scotty Iseri:  Every day I see girls and women that defy this stereotype, but I also know how important it can be to have a good role model.  There’s a lot of research and conversation happening about ways to interest girls in science and technology careers and I think one of the ways to do that is to give them a role model.

Sally Ride, may she rest in peace,  inspired many women to aim for the stars, but so did Nichelle Nichols (Lt Uhura on Star Trek).  Fictional characters can be incredibly inspiring.  It allows you to “see yourself” in a fantastic situation.  Even master storyteller LeVar Burton was inspired by a strong female lead. He said in a keynote speech this year that “By the virtue of Nichelle Nichols sitting on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, I knew that there was going to be a place for me in that imagined future (of science fiction) and I felt incredibly excited by that possibility.”

Children are great imitators, so the goal was to give them someone fun to imitate.

But, for all the high minded ideals behind the creation of the character, she’s a blast to write and Sara (Castilleja) really brings her to life.  I wanted her to be capable, and strong, but also funny and flawed…In other words, a person and not a “female character.”  Does that make sense?

Although, to be fair, our first appisode does not pass the Bechdel Test (though we correct this in the web series).

“The Digits” characters

Her Film:  “The Digits” seems to be a great example of “edutainment.”  Can you talk a bit about the process of working to create a show that both entertains and educates?

Scotty Iseri:  The project was really inspired by watching my nieces and nephews play with interactive technology.  They are naturals.  They take to it immediately and begin experimenting:  Can I click this?  What happens if I do this?  This is science in its rawest form; Hypothesize, experiment, examine results, change.

I think edutainment gets a bad rap.  For people of my generation, the only reason they know their state capitals is from the Animaniacs song.

I also think kids love to learn.  They love the empowerment of knowing something they didn’t know before, and they love to show it off.  “Guess what?” is my favorite question because I know it’s going to lead somewhere new and exciting.

Her Film:  Were kids involved in the creation process or have you tested the show with kids?  I ask because I read the description of the show to my 11 year old nephew and he thought it sounded cool (his words).

Scotty Iseri:  Your nephew is right.  I think it’s a universal truth that Rock and Roll is cool.  Robots are cool.  Spaceships are cool.  Our focus really wasn’t on creating a world “for kids”, but to harness good storytelling for a new medium.  We’ve been testing the “appisode” with kids of all ages and it’s going really well.  As i said, kids are natives to this technology.  They expect their stories to play with them.

“Pavi” with beloved band-mate “Ray Ray” at her side

I do think people “create-down” for kids.  In truth, kids are the savviest and best audience in the world.  They are willing to go with you on your storytelling journey, but the minute you break your own rules, they’re the first to call foul.  They’re exacting and they’ll ask you more questions about the story you’re telling than you probably ever could think of.

Tell your nephew if he’d like to ask the Digits a question they’ll answer it in a future episode! Audience participation is key to “The Digits”!


To learn more about this filmmaker and his work, please check out these links:

Facebook:  /WeAreTheDigits
YouTube: /FUNDAWatch
Website: watchthedigits.com
Twitter:  @wearethedigits
All-ages webseries: scottygotanofficejob.com

(Photos courtesy of S. Iseri)

‘Wadjda’ by Haifaa Al Mansour, first film made by Saudi woman and first film made in the KSA

Wadjda is a new film by Haifaa Al Mansour, the first Saudi woman filmmaker.  She is writer and director of the film.  To add to the enormous responsibility of representation she now carries, the film is also the first to be filmed completely inside Saudi Arabia.  While movie theaters are illegal in the country, producers have stated they plan to distribute it through “DVDs and TV channels” (Telegraph). You can watch two clips of the film below.

I’ve been excited about this film since I read about earlier this week, and am looking forward to seeing it (somehow, some day).  It screened at this year’s Venice International Film Festival, and has received quite a bit of press.  Check out the links below for more articles on Al Mansour, plus this week’s Her.Stories post.

From Al Mansour’s “Director’s Statement”:

I come from a small town in Saudi Arabia where there are many girls like Wadjda who have big dreams, strong characters and so much potential. These girls can, and will, reshape and redefine our nation. It was important for me to work with an all-Saudi cast, to tell this story with authentic, local voices.  (Read more.)

Have you see the film?  It’s a Saudi Arabia-Germany production, with most of the crew being German, but Al Mansour still had to deal with the exigencies of directing as a woman in Saudi Arabia where gender separation is required.  Without being able to direct the male cast or work with the male crew face to face, what did she do?  Worked from a van and used a walkie talkie.

Wadjda screened at La Biennale on August 31 and September 1.  Visit the film’s page on the festival’s website.

Watch an interview with Al Mansour at the Doha Film Institute’s website.

Read a review of Wadjda in Variety.

Watch clips from the film:


A waiata, a betrayal, a surprise and a good deed: 2nd Night at the Maori women’s film festival

Four short films screened on the second night of Whiti Whitiāhua Wāhine, the Matariki Maori women’s film festival, each very different from the other.  But first, university instructor and filmmaker, Ella Henry, talks about this first ever Maori women’s film festival!

The first film to screen was Kararaina Rangihau’s Taku Rakāu e, a narrative short that tells the story of a young girl who wants to know the meaning behind a waiata she is taught to sing.  (A waiata is a Maori song which preserves the wisdom and knowledge of ancestors.)   Her grandmother sits with her and tells her the story.  As Kararaina explains in the video below, the waiata was “written” (the Maori have an oral tradition) in the mid-1800’s by a woman named Mihikitekapua.  Kararaina pointed out that although the song is about a man, she as a filmmaker told the story of Mihikitekapua instead!  She has flipped the story a bit on its head to bring the woman’s story to the fore, and it resonated very well with the audience.  One woman in the audience stood up after the screening and talked about how she learned to sing this waiata as a child and how amazing it was to see the story of Mihikitekapua told.

Kararaina spoke about growing up and learning this waiata (and forgive me, but she used a lot of Maori language in her introduction, so I don’t entirely understand or know exactly what she said), and how her passion for the meaning of the waiata grew over the years.  The historical and cultural significance of it was important to her.  The famous late filmmaker, Merata Mita, produced Taku Rakau e but passed away during the process of making it.  About the film, Kararaina said that it took awhile to make and that “it should never take two years to write a short film,” but that “Merata Mita [my mentor] showed me how.  It wasn’t a straight road.”  She went on to say “I’ve learned a lot about myself and who I am.”  Kararaina dedicated her film to the memory of Mihikitekapua and included a dedication to Merata Mita in the end credits.

Kararaina’s interest is in telling stories in Maori and helping to foster the life of the Maori language.  (She will be taking her film to the National Geographic All Roads Project this September in Washington, DC, USA.) It was a major education chatting with her and filmmaker Ella Henry this morning on the ferry, and I really appreciate them letting me ask them so many questions off camera!  Watch a video of Kararaina Rangihau below talking about her work and later in the post, Ella Henry talking about Merata Mita.

The second film to screen was Katie Wolfe’s This is Her, a comedy with some dark undertones of resentment, bitterness and revenge!  (Wolfe couldn’t make it to the festival, unfortunately.)  The film starts off with a woman in sexual ecstasy, then moves on to show her in labor in the hospital.  The story revolves around her recalling giving birth to her child (with husband at her side) while she also narrates the story of how their relationship fell apart after he met a much younger woman.  The woman is shown as a child and the narration goes: “This is the bitch” (who will grow up and take her husband away).  Funny and bitter, much like life!

The third film to screen was The Winter Boy, directed by Rachel House who introduced the film.  Again, she is another filmmaker at this festival who has worked with Merata Mita.  She talked about how she lost her editor during the film and decided to recut the picture.  She talked to Mita about it, and Mita said to do it how she wanted it to be and to “stand by your work.”  At the end of the introduction, Rachel said, “So here I am, standing by my work.”  It’s an interesting film which seems to direct you down a path that is totally different from the path the film ends up taking.  I was surprised by the film as its tone is one of panic as a mother loses her son at an aquarium, but moves into one that is a bit mysterious, then at the end, one that’s funny and joyous.  It’s an interesting dramatic arc with some questions left unanswered.  To a question asked by an audience member, Rachel said that she liked that there were some unanswered things in the film.  (By the way, if you don’t know Rachel House by name, you may know her by her films, including Eagle vs. Shark — a classic, and one of my favorites ever — and Boy, both successful New Zealand films which have also seen a lot of success outside of New Zealand.)

And finally, the fourth film to screen was Ebony Society.  While it’s directed by a male director, Tammy Davis (also an actor on the successful Kiwi series “Outrageous Fortune”), it is produced by Ainsley Gardiner.  And if you don’t know who she is, she produced Eagle vs. Shark, Boy and other films.  Gardiner co-owns Whenua Films which she co-founded several years ago with actor Cliff Curtis, whom you have seen in tons of movies.  (She’s someone whose work I try to follow and someone I look up to much like I do Nira Park in the U.K. who’s produced some of the best comedy to come out of England in the past 15 years.)  This is a lovely film about two teenage (or early 20’s?) boys who break into a house around Christmas time.  They find that there is a baby and a very young boy left alone at night in the house.  While they meant to rob the place, they find they can’t leave these kids by themselves and decide to stay and watch them while their parents are out.  It has a good heart and some funny lines, an interesting and sweet story.

Unfortunately and disappointingly, I became ill during the festival and missed the third night of screenings.  Ella Henry screened her Ph.D. thesis film called Wairua Auaha (meaning something akin to “creative spirit” as she explained to me), which is about “emancipatory Maori entrepreneurship in screen production.”  Sounds great, and I’ll be watching it soon!  Also, two episodes of the series “Songs from the Inside” screened.  This is a successful Maori Television series which follows four Kiwi musicians as they teach songwriting to prison inmates. (I wish I could’ve been there!)