Her.Stories: Top doc filmmakers, Japan’s female directors, Women in Zimbabwean film, Rape on screen, and more…

WFTV’s top 5 women in documentary filmmaking to look out for in 2013
at Doc Geeks

With More Women in Film, Has Anything Changed?
at Huffington Post

Women filmmakers to call the shots at IFFK 2012
at Manorama Online

A filmmaker’s angle on Africa (Filmmaker Amanda Sibanda)
at The Zimbabwean

Japan’s female directors make a strong showing
at Japan Times

‘Wadjda’ named DIFF’s best Arabic film
at Saudi Gazette

Don’t blame films for rapes, says director Bela Sehgal
at Times of India

Hitting the big league: Bangladesh and its women filmmakers
at The Daily Star

A woman for all seasons (Filmmaker Agnes Jaoui)
at Global Times

DCAA launches Emirati filmmaker project
at Screen Daily

2013 opens with women-centric multi starrers
at Times of India

Three-part series at Shoot Online:

A Look At Women In Production: Numbers, Personal Observations, Reflections (pt. I)

Minorities In Production, Part II: Reflections, Observations

Creating Opportunities for Women & Minorities In Production, Part III

The year 2067: Interview with director Torey Byrne and screenwriter MJ Slide of “Extract: The Ghost Complex”

Director Torey Byrne and screenwriter Mahogany J. Slide, who made the new scifi short film Extract: The Ghost Complex earlier this year, did a video interview together this Fall since my webcam was on the fritz.  Many thanks to them for taking the time to do this. (Due to length and some audio problems, parts of the interview transcript below have been truncated.)

UPDATE: Byrne’s film Extract will be taking on a new form soon (work is currently being planned), and news about the direction the film will be taking will be posted on the film’s Facebook page at the beginning of 2013.

The entire interview can be viewed on the Her Film YouTube channel or by clicking on the video below.  (Total running time about 33 minutes.)

 

Check out the Extract: The Ghost Complex page on Facebook
Follow Torey Byrne on Twitter @toreybyrne
Follow MJ Slide on Twitter @MJ_Slide

 

____________________________________

[I]f you ever want to work with me,
you  have to watch ‘Firefly’ first.

____________________________________

Extract: The Ghost Complex tackles a huge philosophical question: “are we really only defined by the things we know?”  And the main character is under existential threat!  Can you give a brief background on the story and talk about what inspired you to write the film, MJ?

Slide:  [Inaudible] Well, I guess it was one of these things where I have this thing, it’s basically a library of ideas I’ve come up with that I just haven’t had any time to be able to do anything with, and — long story short — Torey wanted to direct something and she was like, ‘Oh, I need a writer,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m a writer.’

Byrne: Are we really gonna talk about this? [laughs]

Slide: I’m a writer.  So, I basically gave her access to the dropbox folder with all the ideas and she picked one she really liked, and we went from there.  I just have a crazy obsession with information and data. I think it was sort of the concept, that we were both captured by the idea that society has gotten to a point where everyone and everything is defined by their digital footprint in one way, shape or form, and it doesn’t even have to be just your digital footprint.  Information in itself is everything because it also is who you are, and the things that you choose to do and your personality, and all of that.  And is there a way to take that and simply strip it down to its rawest form and it just be data and things you know about you and things you know about other people and the world around you, because everyone and everything is sculpted by one’s interpretation and perception. That’s why I found it interesting.

Byrne: I wanted to, I had a campaign, that I wanted to direct my own short film, and we had a plan and that sort of fell through.  So I was on Twitter one day and I was like, you know I really kind of want to direct something, I need a script. And that was the whole ‘I’m a writer’ thing from MJ, and she asked me a stupid question, and she was like, ‘Okay, do you want scifi or drama?’ What kind of question is that? Of course I want scifi. So, I don’t know, we made a scifi film. It was awesome.

Slide: She’s just so darn eloquent, folks.

Byrne: Shut up.

Slide: [laughs] So, yeah, that’s pretty much — I wanted an excuse to finally get to cut my teeth on writing or seeing one of something — [groans] speaking of eloquence!  I wanted to be able to cut my teeth on something that was science fiction based because that’s the genre that I love the most and it’s one of those things that’s relatively hard to tackle in a short film and just in independent film in the South.  We chose something incredibly high concept which has been an entirely interesting journey in itself.  So that’s been a fun process.

How did you become involved in the project, Torey, and how have you approached the material as a director?

Byrne:  I met MJ on Twitter, was it April?  Not too long ago! [both laugh] We haven’t known each other for as long as most [people] think.  We just sort of clicked.  I stepped off of the bus in South Carolina and it was like we were instantly best friends, it was weird. But I wanted to work with her for a really long time and I finally got the chance to fly out there and meet them about a film that was called Those Lighter Fluid Days and I was cast in that.  So, we’d been working together and we had a couple of really awesome opportunities for that, so it [Extract] was pushed to the next spring. So, we have been trying to film and we decided that we were going to make another film! [laughs]  We had originally planned on making this back to back with Lighter Fluid Days when I was out there which would have been insane.

Slide: Just a [inaudible] [laughs]

Byrne: That would have been crazy.  We were exhausted by the end of the two or three days. But, I don’t know, [inaudible] it was really this small couple minute-long short film just to give me the chance to direct something of my own.  And after Lighter Fluid Days was pushed, we decided this story and the universe that the story takes places in — we needed to give it the chance to be what it could.  We needed to give it a chance to grow and become something that we originally hadn’t planned, because everything was there, all this information was there, so we had numerous really long phone calls.  [laughs]  We were up until five in the morning, six in the morning, and we’re in two different states.  So there was a time change…

Slide: And then you were in California.

Byrne: I was, I did go to California for a couple of weeks for a couple auditions and to go to Comic-Con, which was awesome.  And so that was — is it three hours?

Slide: Three hour difference.

Byrne: So it’s already difficult for us to find time to do this ‘world-building,’ as we called it, but that was even more difficult.  But we did it!  We did it.  This story is its own world.  It’s just really insane, it’s really awesome what we did.  [laughs] I’m really proud of us because we turned something that was, well, just an idea that you had into a living universe.

Slide: Yeah, and I think it’s deliciously ironic with the whole concept of the film, and I don’t want to give a whole lot away, but the fact that we’re doing, like, predominantly, most of our collaboration has taken place online, is — you will understand the irony once you see the film and see how it all comes together.  But it’s been a very, very interesting process.  It’s just something that any writer or any person who has a massive love for scifi understands and has the desire to be able to create a world from the ground up.

Sci-fi’s such a popular genre, but the production of a sci-fi film isn’t typically considered an affordable process.  How have you put together this film to portray the world and characters of the story in a way that you feel is believable, working with a less than astronomical budget? What were your biggest challenges?

Byrne: Am I taking this one, or are you taking this one?

Slide: You’re the director.

Byrne: Obviously, it was difficult.  MJ is so talented that any time that she writes — [laughs] — and I’m [inaudible] to do this now and I’m quite proud of myself, but any time that she’d write something I would want to film that. I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to do anything to it. I just want what you wrote. And that’s not possible a lot of the time! [laughs]  So I’ve started in this next film we have on the docket, I started to [inaudible] to do that, but we basically went line by line and was like, what do we need for this? Do we need special effects for this? Is it something we can do in wardrobe? Is it something we can do in the art department? Which was us! By the way, if any of you are wondering —

Slide: We had a fabulous art department.

Byrne:  People were like, who did you have for costuming and art, and, that was us! Basically we went on Etsy and found everything cool that we could.

Slide: Pretty much.

Byrne: There was a little more planning.

____________________________________

I’m really proud of us because we turned something that was, well, just an idea that you had into a living universe.

____________________________________

Slide: [inaudible] The thing about it is this is where the seven plus hour conversations every couple of days came in and everything that we decided that the characters ended up wearing and that were portrayed was very, very purposeful because the two leads are, like, they’re polar opposites physically, but there are so many things about their characters that are oddly similar that we wanted to sort of create that contrast but let the audience pull together the similarities to how they actually are as individuals and how they play off of each other.  So that was all very purposeful.  Like any indie film, you spend the money you have and you make it happen and you make it work.  There are always sort of surprising expenses, but we had a movie on our hands, and we had a film that we absolutely adored and we wanted to see come about and happen, so we made it happen.  It was cool because there was like — we needed bikes — so we had a local bike shop, we called them up and were like ‘hey, what can we do to get a bike for free?’ And that all worked out and people were being incredibly supportive of the film, and I think they’re kind of surprised with, like, by the way, two 19 year old chicks and we’re just doing this film for it, and there’s just something refreshing about the whole situation and there have been a lot of people who’ve just signed on simply because first of all, they love the genre, they love our take on it, and they want to see cool films happen.

Byrne: And that’s my favorite part about the whole, the entire indie film community, and I’ve said that from day one, the fact that everyone is so incredibly supportive. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, if you’re making an independent film, another person from the independent film community will come and help.  That’s how our entire crew — I talked about this in my director’s statement — we didn’t know each other.  With the exception of you and I, and you and Rebecca, none of our crew knew each other, we just, we talked with them on Twitter all the time.

I’ve seen more than a few mentions of “world-building” and creating a “world” for this film on your film’s facebook page and MJ’s blog.  What does that process entail and how are you going about tackling such an enormous task?  You also have to create a world of the film in terms of social media — for fans — so how are you going about doing that for Extract?

Slide: I think, hilariously, now, I think part of it we do unconsciously because we’re so darn excited about the story. So many people ask me ‘what’s your mentality for promotion?’ And I’m like, ‘Um, I just think it’s really exciting so I tell lots of people about it.’ I say that, but it’s obviously a lot more complicated.  But as far as the world-building goes, there aren’t any questions that you don’t ask. That’ where we got, like half, wow, more than, more like three-fourths of the things that we concluded will never end up on screen.

Byrne: Oh my gosh. We know way more about this world than we should.

Slide: And scenarios, and it’s sort of, I actually posted an article on Extract’s Facebook page about sort of, Steven Spielberg did an ‘idea summit’ for Minority Report, and Tim…our graphic designer actually linked me to it.  I read the article… and basically he just got a bunch of intelligent people in a room and started asking them questions about what  they felt the future would be like.  And that’s pretty much what me and Torey ended up doing, where fashion, art, culture, how would the [inaudible] of the McGuffin in our storyline affect…world economics and all of that jazz. Those were the kind of conversations we had, and we started off with a very large view and then pull it down to how does that affect the characters’ mentality, the leads and all of that?  So it was really like, as a writer, it was really the greatest process ever.  They were these ridiculously long conversations and there goes all of my sleep, but I was okay because my brain was happy.

MJ stated in a video posted on YouTube about the production, that “a lot of the inspiration for the process and the approach has come from Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly,'” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Byrne: When you watch something that is done, you don’t question the universe that he created, and the universe that the characters live in.  And it’s because of all those details that normally people don’t think about, you know what I mean? Like the fact that they speak another language, because that’s probable. That’s probably going to be the case in the future that there are brands everywhere, things that you don’t pay attention to, it’s all art department and things like that, but it brings that to life. And we tried to do the same thing, so we created brands, not that would exist in the future, but that would help us bring that to life.  We had slang that people would use.

Slide: That was fun.

Byrne: We talked about culture a lot and where we are headed in the future.  We actually, originally it was in 2097, [but] we pushed it back to 2067, just to close that gap. That would give us —

Slide: Primarily because technology moves so quickly, I was just just thinking about, 1957 was the technical birth of the internet, and what, it’s 50, 60, 70 years later and we have all of this. So it was, it was one of these things, like I tried to talk Torey into bumping it to 2036 but we had already, like, made stuff official.  It just is the opportunity to interpret something that is, that doesn’t exist but could. I think that’s the allure, playing with the familiar and making it unfamiliar but approachable at the same time.  And it was empowering, it was a lot of fun, because who else goes to work, serves ice cream and then comes home and builds a world on the phone with some person in Oklahoma? It’s like, we love our lives and we love our jobs because it’s absurd and fantastic… Joss Whedon is kind of my hero.  It’s funny…if you ever want to work with me, you  have to watch ‘Firefly’ first.

Byrne: I had to do it.

Slide: She did.

Byrne: It was great.

Slide: She did.

Byrne: Really good.

Slide: Yeah, and just to sort of gather the mentality, because it’s really, it’s why I write. Like, ‘Objects in Space,’ final episode of ‘Firefly,’ probably one of the best hours of television ever. And it’s like, I just sit around and I’m like I’m just gonna write that good one day, like, that’s the goal, to get to the ‘Objects in Space’ level.

Her.Stories: West Memphis Three, Iranian women’s rights, feminism in Canada and more

Interview with Director Amy Berg and Producer Lorri Davis – West of Memphis
at Women and Hollywood

This is a film I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  More than 10 years ago I heard about the West Memphis Three through something I read or heard from Henry Rollins, and soon after, saw a fascinating and heartbreaking documentary film about Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, all just kids when they were accused, tried, convicted and sentenced (living for years on death row) for the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.  This was a deliberate effort by the criminal justice system to “hang” these young men for the disgusting and abominable murder of three young boys despite evidence pointing to the stepfather of one of the boys as the murderer.  The story of Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley is a story of injustice that was overcome — in part (they are now out of prison but are still fighting (and paying for, quite literally), to be legally absolved of all charges) — through years of tedious and torturous work by legal teams including Echols’ now wife, Lorri Davis; celebrity supporters (among them Henry Rollins, Margaret Cho, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson who produced this film); and unfathomable dedication.  Berg’s film opens in theaters on December 25.

Khaleeji women filmmakers push boundaries, gently
at Variety Arabia

Festival addresses Iranian women’s rights
at the Daily Targum

Still from the documentary film “Sister” by Brenda Davis

Interview With Filmmaker Brenda Davis on “Sister,” her new documentary film about healthcare for childbearing women in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Haiti (includes VIDEO CLIP)
at Tadias

 

 

For Women’s Sake, the film festival Our Lives…To Live (with a theme of “NO! to gender violence”)
at the Indian Express

No Country for Young Women multimedia project in production on showcase of women in film
at the Virginia Film Office

Heroines of Cinema: An A-Z of Women in Film in 2012
at Indiewire

Top 10 Female Hindi Film Directors to Look Out For!
at Miss Malini

Filmmaker Khadija Al-Salami

“The Scream” raises Yemen women’s voices in Dubai, directed by Khadija al-Salami who was forced to marry at 11 years old
at Middle East Online

 

 

Whistler Film Festival 2012: Director Karen Cho on the Status Quo of feminism in Canada
at Straight.com

Filmmaker Nishtha Jain

Interview: Nishtha Jain, Director, “Gulabi Gang” about gender violence, rights of the poor
at Dear Cinema

 

 

 

Interview with Director Stephanie Assimacopoulo of “Le Train Bleu” (includes VIDEO CLIP)
at Disarray

Interview with Montreal filmmaker Eisha Marjara

Can you describe your career up to this point and talk about why you became a filmmaker?

I would consider myself a mid-career filmmaker at this point in time. I started out as photographer but found the photograph limiting because it did not provide multiple perspectives, temporal and spatial context. This was a problem because it did not represent how I viewed the world and the multi-dimensional reality of human experience. While I was studying photography, I tended towards producing photomontages, photo essays and super-impositions to avoid the single perceptive frame. My thesis project became my very first video/film called 24 Hrs which addressed everyday violence against women. My father had bought me a video camera for my birthday and I went out and shot and edited an 18 minute video, without any clue of what I was doing and taught myself in the process. It was during the making of that video when the polytechnic massacre happened at Université de Montréal where 14 women were shot and killed by Marc Lépine. The video premiered at The Montreal International Film Festival of that year and launched me into filmmaking.

Clip from The Incredible Shrinking Woman:

 

In 1994, I made the short film The Incredible Shrinking Woman which was a satirical commentary on anorexia in a sexist culture that humorously appropriated pop cultural and cinematic tropes. Later, I was selected in a nationwide search for innovative documentary filmmakers in a program called “Fast Forward” by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) that gave me the opportunity to write and direct my first professional film which became the feature docu-drama Desperately Seeking Helen.  The film juxtaposed my (fictionalized) search for the Bollywood movie star and vamp “Helen” with the real life experiences of my mother, an immigrant and housewife who struggled to find a home in her adopted country, and her tragic death in the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182, which also took the life of my little sister. It was a deeply personal film that addressed universal themes and took risks in style and subject. It was a hybrid of forms, genres and mediums, blurred fiction with documentary in unconventional ways – something that had never been done before. It was truly post-modern in that sense and could not be put into a box, which I feared might also be its downfall and become a promotional nightmare. I was also nervous about how it would be received and terrified that my life so exposed would be open for ridicule. Thankfully, it was a critical success; it received several awards and had a theatrical run in several cities. After five years in the making however, and no longer at the NFB, I found myself quite lost and alone. It was as though I had come out of a rabbit hole after that difficult process and emerged into a foreign world. I had a hard time finding my place in the industry that had been changing very rapidly in early 2000. Technologies were changing, film was unaffordable, video had limitations and funding bodies were restructuring and downsizing and becoming more heavily burdened. Despite the success of my feature docu-drama, I was not finding much success in my filmmaking career with the subsequent films I was looking to get produced.

Poster for "House for Sale"

Poster for “House for Sale”

Still from “House for Sale.” Photo credit: Bobby Shore

Still from “House for Sale.” Photo credit: Bobby Shore

I felt I had not established an identity as a filmmaker, even after all these years. Was I a documentary filmmaker? Sort of, but not really. Fiction? More likely but I had no actual experience in traditional dramatic filmmaking. I found myself starting over and searching for a “home” within the industry, while producing screenplay after screenplay.  Naturally, I thought training in fiction film directing was in order. I turned to the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto (the CFC) and applied to the Director’s Lab, but because of my lack of fictional filmmaking experience, I was refused and told to “go home and make a short fiction film” and apply again once that was done. Frustrating, to say the least. So “naturally,” I fled to Germany! There, from the success of my NFB film, I met a producer and found a supportive community of media professionals that were excited about helping me produce a short film that I shot in Munich. I invested $2,500 of my own money and with volunteer help and post production grants from Montreal, I made a film aptly called The Tourist which is about a wandering loner and misfit who finds himself in Bavaria during the Oktoberfest and entangled in a couple’s troubled relationship. I have since been developing several feature film scripts, and establishing myself as a feature film writer and director.

Clip from Desperately Seeking Helen:

Clip from The Tourist:

 

How do you see yourself fitting in, or not, to the Canadian film industry or even the Montreal filmmaking community?

I don’t fit in. I have given up trying to fit in and resolved by just producing work that I feel connected to and am passionate about. The most relevant creative work that I will do are films that delve deepest into subjects that most profoundly move me. Those stories emerge from the subjective and idiosyncratic nature and course of my life journey that is unique to me. Not fitting in might be the best thing that could happen to my creative life. Yet when it comes to realizing this “creative life,” I have to believe that my difference is a strength, not a hindrance and convince others of that too, and that my stories have relevance and a place within the cinematic landscape. As women, I think we do set the bar really high and demand 200% from ourselves before believing in ourselves and stepping out taking up our space. From the films that I have been making, I am slowly finding a place within the film community in Montreal which is kind to noncommercial filmmakers because it supports and encourages marginal voices and more creative approaches to film. However, as I develop and grow in my craft, I am increasingly clear that I am a filmmaker without borders. In other words, I am not identified with any nation or culture, but perceive myself as someone who is transnational and sees through the limits of cultural, racial, religious, gender based identities and views a world in which differences give way to universal human experiences.

Does Quebecois film, which is supported so much more than English-language film in the rest of Canada, play a role or have a major influence in your own work?

Quebecois cinema has been influential in my work and has presented an alternative to American mainstream and Indie cinema. Naturally I am proud of cinema that has come out of Quebec that has been quite stellar, however I do find that it’s an industry that has not been easy to penetrate, for someone like me who is not white, male and Francophone. Apart from documentary films, I have not seen much of myself or my experience reflected in most if not all Quebec movies, commercial or otherwise with the exception of films like Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, which were however both written, directed and produced by white Francophone males who are also my peers. I do think there is a desire for diversity and a multi-cultural and global perspective, yet resources and funds are limited, and they tend to fall into the same hands. I am bent on changing that.

Still from "The Tourist."  Photo credit: Eisha Marjara

Still from “The Tourist.” Photo credit: Eisha Marjara

How do you go about navigating your identities (as you put it to me) as a Canadian South Asian Quebecois feminist woman?  Do you consciously inject your identity into your work, or do you avoid such a personal point of view?

It’s incumbent upon me to avoid consciously injecting my identity into my work, and to consciously seek ways to make implicit my subjectivity in the stories that I tell. Research and development prior to that phase lays the groundwork, shapes my opinions, prejudices, politics and allegiances. I rely on that process to inform the story that my creative brain will end up generating. Viewers and critics are quick to put a film into a box and if it screams “feminist” or “a film about racism” or “a movie about women’s issues,” it will immediately get marginalized and set apart from “regular” boys’ films and not taken as seriously, and more likely receive less exposure, which happens with women’s work in a sexist culture. Such labeling also discourages men and a white mainstream audience, those who would most benefit from the film, access to the films. I am eager for the day when such descriptives as “female” or “black,” “gay” or whatever else will no longer apply to filmmakers.

Have you found or worked with many women within the film industry in Canada? Do you belong to any women’s film or media organizations?

One of my very first jobs was at the notorious Studio D of the National Film Board of Canada, which was a feminist run studio that was mandated to produce documentary films for and by and about women. There I met Kathleen Shannon who spearheaded the Studio, Cynthia Scott and Ginny Stikeman who was the executive producer that the time, director Ann Claire Poirier who was in the French sector and Susan Trow one of the few successful women cinematographers who really inspired me to direct. The Studio produced films like If You Love This Planet, Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives, Academy Award-winning I’ll Find a Way and Flamenco at 5:15,among others.  Sadly I watched the studio shut down in 1996. Since then, I have worked on only a few indie films (documentary) by women as cinematographer, but I am seeing increasingly more women appear in the industry working as cinematographers, producers and directors.

There are a few women’s media organizations, like Réalisatrices Équitables, a Montreal based women directors’ group of which I am member, and Femmes du Cinéma, de la Television et des Nouveaux Médias (FCTNM).

Intvw-Marjara-DSH-poster

Poster for “Desperately Seeking Helen”

What has your experience been with funding your projects? Have you ever depended on any of the numerous and established funding schemes available in Canada?

All of my projects except for my docu-drama that was exclusively funded by the NFB, have been funded by artist grants, such as The Canada Council for the Arts and Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec. There are also grants offered by film coops and the NFB which has resources to assist independent filmmakers. Filmmakers and producers who have a company, have more options available to them for financing. They can approach several other financing institutions like SODEC and Telefilm among others. In most cases, there are up to two deadlines a year, and it takes three to four months to receive the results from the application. If the submission is unsuccessful, the applicant can apply again, which also means that it can take years before a film, even a short film or documentary can receive funding. A new jury or assessment committee is selected for each application period. I have tried my hand at crowd funding, but I need more skill to be truly successful at it.

What is your latest project, and what are you working on next?

My latest project is the short suburban drama House for Sale that is having a successful festival run now. Since its release last February, it has picked up six awards. It is from the momentum and success of this film that I would like to get produced a feature film called Venus which, like the short, centers on a transgender protagonist and grapples with themes of identity, belonging and love. I am also developing the drama Calorie which is about an Indo-Canadian mother who travels to India with her troubled teen daughters, only regretting the trip which turns to tragedy.

Trailer for House for Sale:

Learn more about Eisha Marjara at:

Website: eishamarjara.com
House for Sale: houseforsalefilm.com
House for Sale Trailer: vimeo.com/30089402
Wiki page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisha_Marjara
ImDb: imdb.com/name/nm0548205
Facebook HFS page: facebook.com/House4SaleFilm

______________________________

Intvw-Marjara-headshot

Photo credit: Mélanie Robert

Montreal filmmaker Eisha Marjara first drew attention with the witty and incisive The Incredible Shrinking Woman followed by feature docu-drama Desperately Seeking Helen, an NFB production which received the Jury Prize at the München Dokumentarfilm Festival and the Critics’ Choice Award at the Locarno Film Festival in 2000.  The Tourist (2006) was nominated for best short at the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto.

She’s currently developing several features including Venus as well as the controversial docu-drama Lolita Diaries which explores girlhood and sexuality through the lens of Nabokov’s Lolita. Her latest film, House for Sale (2012), has received several awards. (Contact Eisha.)

Guest post by filmmaker Katie Carman-Lehach

It happened to me just last week. I was riding the subway and wound up in a conversation with an older gentleman seated nearby. Somehow we got to talking about our professions.

“I make movies.”

“You what?” He asked, narrowing his eyes as if he could hear clearer by squinting.

“I make movies, films…”

He looked to the fine gentleman standing nearby (my husband.)

“Who directs, he does?”

“No. I do. I’m the director.”

And immediately a simple smile filled his face as if my profession were some cute gimmick, some sideshow attraction. “A female film director? Impossible! It could not be!” But there I was, a woman and a film director, with two feature films already under her belt. Why was it so impossible that I could be the one helming these projects?

Well, to be honest, I never actively thought about whether it was possible or impossible. It just “was.” I never saw a reason to not make movies. I just knew that I enjoyed doing it, and so that’s what I did (huge amounts of credit go to my parents for allowing me that freedom.)

I don’t remember ever knowing about any female film directors before I started film school.

I had certainly seen their movies — “Wayne’s World” was a film I admittedly memorized every single line from. And “Pet Semetary” was always one of my favorite horror films to watch as a kid. But it was years later that I learned those films were directed by women (Penelope Spheeris and Mary Lambert, respectively.) And perhaps that is the hardest part for me to fathom. What if I *had known* those favorite films of mine were directed by women, women out there actually “making it”? Or what if I had actually met one in real life and had a mentor? Not to say that I feel unfulfilled in my current work professionally, but who knows what direction my career path could’ve taken had I had more real-life inspiration.

And that is the nature of the cyclical scenario where female directors don’t pick up a camera because they don’t feel it’s something that they can do as a woman, because they don’t see any other women doing it.

Look at the Academy Awards and the Oscar, an award most filmmakers would say is the highlight of their career: ” …a Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the movie going public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%.  Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.”

No wonder the underrepresented groups of the US are feeling less than enthusiastic about becoming filmmakers — the highest achievement in this field is controlled and awarded by a group of old, white, men who like to promote the work of other old, white men.

A friend of mine recently said, “The problem with the Oscars isn’t that women aren’t being nominated, but that they aren’t making movies.” I responded that I agreed and that “women definitely need more opportunities to direct Oscar-worthy features.” But that it’s also a “chicken and egg” kind of scenario — “if the few but great female-directed films aren’t represented in big arenas like the Oscars, the public won’t know they exist and won’t try to seek them out. Similarly, the lack of representation of women-directed films in the Oscars ALSO hurts the ability to inspire other female filmmakers who could help change the tide to make it more equal for women in the future.”

If there are no female filmmakers publicly visible, and professionally acknowledged for their work, there is no source of inspiration for the generations that follow. The same can be said for filmmakers of color or any underrepresented group: There need to be examples to inspire, and without highlighting a diverse group of filmmakers on national platforms like ‘The Oscars’, those diverse and underrepresented groups of people will never know they can achieve becoming a successful filmmaker.

So yes, while it’s great and good that festivals are accepting and awarding more female-directed films this year (see: Sundance), there needs to be more equality in the numbers, perpetually, in film festivals, awards ceremonies and THEATERS. It cannot and should not be some newsworthy headline that women are being accepted in greater numbers: it should be the norm.

Hopefully then, Mr. Disbelief on the train will hear me say I make movies and instead of looking quizzically at me, will smile and ask if he’s seen any of them.

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Katie-CarmanKatie Carman-Lehach is a film director and producer living in New York City where she’s been creating short and feature films for the past 10+ years. Her films have screened at the Iron Mule Comedy Film Festival, NewFilmmakers NY, KIN International Film Festival and the Long Island Film Expo, among others. Katie is also the official Film Editor for the Viscera Organization, a non-profit dedicated to promoting female genre directors, and is the creator of the “Hollywood, I’m Breaking Up With You” campaign for diversity and originality in the film industry (http://breakingupwithhollywood.tumblr.com/). Katie is also an instructor with the Patton Veterans Project, Inc. and the I WAS THERE Film Workshops a series of mobile filmmaking workshops designed for veterans and military families coping with Post-Traumatic Stress, helping them create short films about their experiences.

Review: “Bag It” (2010)

A film by Suzan Beraza

Bag It is a documentary that follows Jeb into the world of the omnipresent single-use plastic bag.  Plastic bags are the number one consumer item in the world.  Americans consume about one million plastic bags per minute.  He finds out they are expecting their first child and this gets him more concerned about plastic bags and chemicals that could harm his child.

Plastic bags are being banned in countries across the world.  With any luck, the US will take their lead and get rid of them once and for all.  The American Chemistry Council would like to see their plastic in rotation for as long as possible.  Unfortunately, they have the money to back them and can easily win legal battles.  They also duped Americans into thinking that most plastic is recyclable because of the revolving arrow recycle symbol.  In reality, only a few of these (HDPE and PETE) are actually recyclable.  There are no regulations for recycling and vary from state to state.  I was appalled when I moved to Montana and found out that recycling wasn’t even mandatory.

The oceans and marine life are at great risk due to plastics.  Sea turtles will see plastic bags and eat them mistaking them for jellyfish.  So many species are ingesting and continually exposed to plastic.  Sadly, plastic kills about 100,000 marine animals per year.  All the plastic in the seas comes from land sources.

They also talk in length about phthalates and BPA’s (endocrine disruptors) and how they are affecting us, especially infants.  Boys are becoming more feminized and girls are becoming masculinized.  There is also a direct correlation with exposure to BPA’s and ADHD and autism as well as low sperm count and type II diabetes.  We need to deal with these chemicals now to protect our children and their children.

 Within minutes of finishing the film I had my kids scouring the house for plastic bags.  We loaded them up and recycled them at our local grocery store.  We decided to take all the plastic milk jug tops and clean them to make an art project.  I checked our toiletry products and made note of the ones that probably contain phthalates (contain Parfum/fragrance) so I wouldn’t purchase them again.  The BPA’s are a little trickier, but we are trying to purchase less canned goods.  They stress in the film that everyone can do a little bit to pitch in, and it will end up making a big difference.  Three easy things you can do are bring your own bag, bring your own coffee cup, and bring your own water bottle.  And buy less stuff! Hopefully, after watching Bag It, you will also feel moved to do whatever you can to curb your use of plastic and steer clear of phthalates and BPA’s.  Check out www.bagitmovie.com to learn how to get more involved.

Watch the trailer:

 

You can follow Bag It on twitter @BagItMovie and on facebook at fb.com/BagItMovie.

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Lotus Wollschlager is the official Her Film movie reviewer.  Find her bio on the HF.Reviews page.

Her.Stories: Women & Screenplays, female character added to The #Hobbit, #BAFTA Study, the women in #Argo & more

The Documentary Summit on Nov. 3-4 in Toronto
(Speakers include filmmaker Michèle Hozer, Program Manager Marcia Douglas (Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund), Stephanie McArthur of Doc Ignite, and more)

Venevision International Enters Initiative for Female-Created Programs
at World Screen

BAFTA Study: Young People ‘Discouraged’ From Careers in Film, TV and Gaming
at The Hollywood Reporter

Sexism In Cinema: Where Are The Women In Argo?*
at Thought Catalog

(*As I mentioned in a facebook post today, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, writers of the new Hobbit movies, created a female character that wasn’t in The Hobbit (the book), but in keeping with Tolkien’s world, so as to avoid the crushing masculinity that the film was suffering from with 13 dwarves, a hobbit, a wizard, etc. — all male — in lead and supporting roles.  This new character, “Tauriel,” played by Evangeline Lilly, was mentioned in a video of a Comic-con panel I saw but can’t locate it now.  You can google it, though.  I will say I am terribly disappointed in the utter lack of a positive look at the creation of a female character, and disappointed in Geek Girls Network which posted a piece called “Tauriel, Shmauriel,” in which the writer states she’s a feminist, but goes on to express her feelings that it’s unnecessary and ridiculous to have more “feminine energy,” in the film, as Boyens herself has stated as a reason for the creation of Tauriel in the first place.  Fans of the Middle Earth stories  (and I am a hardcore one, and yes, have even read the oft-claimed “inaccessible” book, The Silmarillion, and think it’s the best of all the Middle Earth books), have a right to be disappointed or surprised by changes occurring during the book-to-screen adaptation process, but fans can oftentimes become so invested in the authenticity of the movies, comparing them to how they follow the books, that they forget that there have already been numerous changes by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens from the books to the screen.  Why should the creation of “Tauriel” be treated any less acceptingly than the changes we’ve already witnessed with The Fellowship, The Two Towers and The Return of the King when adapted from books to films?)

The new ‘Star Wars’ and women: Female sci-fi directors on Leia, Amidala, and what lies ahead
at Inside Movies

Question Time: Women & Screenplays
at Wellywood Woman

Feminine mystique (The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival)
at CS Indy

2012 Houston Cinema Arts Festival Focuses on Women Directors
at Women and Hollywood

British woman, 79, becomes martial-arts action hero
at the Los Angeles Times

Preview Stark ‘Living/Building’ (A Thorough Look At Technological Change In A Remote Part Of Chad) — by filmmaker Clemence Ancelin
at Shadow and Act

War on Women, Waged in Postcards: Memes From the Suffragist Era
at Collectors Weekly  (Note: some disturbing content)

TIFF: Interview with Margarethe von Trotta and Barbara Sukowa – Director and Star of Hannah Arendt
at Women and Hollywood