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

From the archives: Rebecca Richman Cohen’s WAR DON DON

In light of this week’s conviction of ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor at The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, I’m re-posting this interview from 2010 with Rebecca Richman Cohen.  She is the director of the HBO documentary film WAR DON DON and a former member of a criminal defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  Her documentary is about the trial of a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader charged with crimes against humanity.  Events in Liberia and Sierra Leone are tied; Charles Taylor was tried and convicted of crimes he committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.  More on the Taylor conviction at Democracy Now! (video).


WAR DON DON: Rebecca Richman Cohen. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

BIO: Rebecca Richman Cohen is an award-winning filmmaker with experience in human rights.  During law school she worked at the Special Court for Sierra Leone on a legal defense team for the AFRC-accused case.  Later, she returned to begin production on WAR DON DON, which profiles the trial of a leader of a separate warring faction.  WAR DON DON won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.  Rebecca was profiled in Filmmaker Magazine‘s 25 New Faces in Independent Film as an “up-and-comer posed to shape the next generation of independent film.” Rebecca graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School.  Between trips to Sierra Leone, she has been adjunct faculty at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and at American University’s Human Rights Institute.

[War Don Don premiered on HBO on Sept. 29, 2010.]

WAR DON DON: Issa Sesay. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

Her Film: What was the impetus behind you making WAR DON DON?

Rebecca Richman Cohen: My background is actually in law – not film.  In law school I worked on a criminal defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  It’s the same court profiled in the film — but I worked on the trial of a different warring faction.  During that time I was exposed first hand to experience the inner-workings of the Court and I gained an intimate view of process in a way that would be difficult if I were just a journalist airdropped in to tell a specific story.

WAR DON DON: Justice Benjamin Itoe. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

Working at the Special Court, I came to know lawyers on the prosecution and the defense of Issa Sesay’s trial.  Both sides had some of the brightest and most impassioned lawyers I’ve ever met and I was fascinated by the moral, political, and legal questions that their commitments evoked.  Combining my legal experience in criminal defense with my background as a filmmaker, I realized that a documentary film could capture the complexities of the issues in way that neither law review articles nor mainstream media could accurately represent.

HF: How do you define your role as a documentary filmmaker?

RRC: Being a filmmaker is more than just telling a non-fiction story.  It’s also about honoring perspectives.

I treat my subjects with respect and I try to honor their perspectives – even if I disagree with them.  I assume that audiences can sort through competing narratives and come to their own conclusions.  One of the greatest joys of documentary filmmaking is the impassioned debate that arises from having to sort through the tensions within and between conflicting stories.

We did a great many rough cut screenings with different audiences – Sierra Leoneans and Westerners, lawyers and lay people, filmmakers, film lovers, and even a few who were generally indifferent to the art of documentary film.

I knew we were done editing when different people took away different things from the film – when the film acted like a Rorschach test of sorts. Different audiences will come to their own conclusions – and one of the greatest joys of documentary filmmaking is the debate that arises from having to sort through the tensions within and between conflicting stories.  I hope audiences enjoy having some of their assumptions tested and come to examine their own reactions to controversial issues.  That’s my role as a filmmaker.

WAR DON DON: Issa Sesay, Wayne Jordash. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

HF: You showed Wayne Jordash (defense for the main accused man on trial, Issa Sesay) reflecting on the trial process and his attempts to understand the human condition and its inherent contradictions — that people aren’t just good or evil, but can often be somewhere in between.  What is your perception or observation of how the Sierra Leonean people attempt to understand both sides of the issue, despite the unthinkable terror the war evoked?

RRC: It’s impossible to speak for an entire country.  People’s perspectives in Sierra Leone – and throughout the world – are inevitably colored by their experiences.  It’s a tall order to ask people who have suffered terrible losses in war to see both sides of the issue.  The crimes perpetrated in Sierra Leone cannot be justified.  But in order to address the root causes of the war – and to prevent crimes in the future – the motivations underlying the war must be understood.

The work of the Special Court is not to see both sides of the issue or to create empathy for perpetrators.  The work of the Special Court is to fairly judge the guilt or innocent of individuals.  Understanding the motivations of different actors in the conflict – that’s the domain of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Being a filmmaker is… also about honoring perspectives.”

HF: Sierra Leone has experienced what is unfathomable horror for many people.  What did you learn in the process of making this film about how people (try to) heal from such atrocities?

RRC: When I was a law student [at Harvard], I read a book by Dean Martha Minow, called Between Vengeance and Forgiveness [subtitled Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence] — it’s a book that deeply influenced my understanding of transitional justice.    One of the points Dean Minow makes that is forgiveness or healing may just be too tall an order in the aftermath mass atrocities.  A more realistic objective is peaceful coexistence.

WAR DON DON: David Crane. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

I think criminal prosecutions are one element necessary to promote peaceful coexistence, but one of many.   There’s consensus that it takes a holistic approach in order to address the root causes of the conflict:  rampant corruption, lack of access to justice, a sense of hopeless and inability to effect change without resorting to violence.  In order to move forward in the aftermath of war international transitional justice efforts need to work in concert with grassroots and civil society initiatives.

WAR DON DON: Wayne Jordash. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

HF: Can you talk a bit about the crew you worked with to make this film and the conditions in Sierra Leone which surrounded your production?

RRC: We made the decision early on to shoot on high definition video to capture the vibrancy of daily life in West Africa.  Our cinematographer, Nadia Hallgren, has an uncanny ability to find beauty and meaning in the seemingly mundane quotidian aspects of life.  And our long production schedule allowed her sufficient time to develop the character of the city of Freetown (its vibrancy, its poverty, its movement, its soft light at sunset) – to the fullest.

Once we returned to the edit room, the film’s editor/producer, Francisco Bello, was struck by the texture of the archival footage that we were amassing.  Much of the war footage was archived on badly degraded VHS tapes – to the extent that it almost appeared painterly as edges softened and colors blurred.  So it was really satisfying to see the sharpness of our original HD footage contrasted against the fuzziness of the historical archives.  The juxtaposition of formats made a cinematic point about the decay of historical memory, and allowed us to play with structure, content and textures accordingly.

WAR DON DON: Stephen Rapp. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

HF: What has been the reaction to WAR DON DON in Sierra Leone?

RRC: In May 2010 I returned to Sierra Leone to launch our outreach campaign.  We had a Freetown première screening with a panel discussion that included the Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, and the head of Outreach for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  The screening and panel discussion generated a great of debate and interesting discussion.

In addition to targeting civil society and government leaders, we also did a number of screenings for former combatants and Issa Sesay’s family.  And we sent a DVD to Issa Sesay who is serving his sentence in Rwanda.  Issa said that he “appreciated the effort” we put in to telling his story.

Currently, we are partnered with civil society organizations in Sierra Leone to continue screenings and to use the film to support their ongoing efforts with regard to promoting the rule of law and access to justice initiatives.


Visit the WAR DON DON website.

Become a fan on the WAR DON DON Facebook page.

Follow the film on twitter @wardondon.

Visit the HBO page for WAR DON DON.

See photos from the September 23 HBO screening of the film in New York City.

INTERVIEW: Turkish filmmaker Orkide Unsur

“I like to surprise the audience and make them reconsider ordinary or familiar subjects which they are used to seeing in their daily lives.”


Orkide Ünsür is an award-winning indie filmmaker from Istanbul, Turkey. She has worked as a TV reporter, assistant director, assistant producer, script writer, director and producer for national TV channels and production companies.  She has also directed promotional films as a freelance director, made two short documentaries as co-producer and executive producer, and worked on short movies as a production coordinator, art director and actress.

Filmmaker Orkide Unsur (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

As producer, director & screenwriter, she made the short documentary COASTLANDERS 8 to 8  (2009)  which won the 3rd Best Documentary Award in the 8th Istanbul International Environmental Short Films Festival in Turkey, and she made the short experimental documentary Metruk (The Abandoned) (2010) which  won  the Indie Fest Award of Merit in La Jolla, California, USA. Her screenplay Sitophobia, which has won the WILDsound FALL/WINTER 2011 1-page Screenplay Contest at the WILDsound Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, will be made into a film by Canadian filmmakers in 2012.

Orkide Ünsür is in the process of looking for funds for her latest short fiction screenplay, The Scarlet Awakening, and at the same time is working on her other film projects.


Her Film: You are a screenwriter, director and producer who has worked in both television and film.  Can you describe the journey you’ve taken to become a filmmaker in terms of both training and personal/artistic motivations?

Orkide Unsur:  I have been passionately in love with cinema since the day my parents brought me to a movie theater. I was only two and a half years old. I was mesmerised by the screen…In my opinion, there is no such work which can give the same satisfaction of creating a new world as filmmaking.

I have been watching lots of movies and reading as much as I can about filmmaking since I can remember. I have always wanted to make films. Fortunately, working in TV gave me the chance to enter the industry. I’ve taken courses about on camera, interviewing and editing techniques. I worked as a reporter, assistant director/producer, script writer, producer and director for TV channels and production companies. My first short film experience was my brother’s school project. It was a short fiction film called “Journey to the End Of Life”. I was working as an assistant director on that project.

Learning the filmmaking process is an endless education; filmmakers have to train themselves continuously. I wish I had more opportunities since I have loads of projects which I would love to realize.

Still from Coastlanders 8 to 8 (Courtesy of O. Unsur)

HF: The logline for your latest project, Metruk, a short experimental documentary is “Condemned houses are like abandoned lovers” and the synopsis talks about themes of love and loss, passage of time and self-destruction.  With such a unique comparison of subjects, how do you approach the development of the story and what to visually represent on screen?

OU: I have always been attracted by the gothic souls of abandoned houses. I was very interested in playing with my friends around them when I was a child. We used to call them “Haunted Houses”. Although they scared me a bit, I loved them. I have wanted to film such abandoned houses. So, I have decided to film most of the abandoned houses which were in my present neighborhood. I considered it to be kind of a duty on my behalf to brighten the neighborhood and glorify something that has meaning as well as history. I guess some disappointments and sadnesses I have experienced in my private life gave the inspiration to me as a storyteller and they “pulled the trigger” to make me write my logline and produce Metruk at that time.

“Condemned houses are like abandoned lovers” was my road map and creative approach while I was making the film. I tried to observe them in their loneliness, sadness, and proudness. I also wanted to show their relationships and experiences with people, nature and animals. I didn’t create any fictional scenes or shots except my walk in front of the big wooden house.  We just followed our shooting plan as we enjoyed being eyewitnesses to some magic moments and lovely coincidences such as coming across a cut tail black cat, junkman or lonely mother and daughter.

I’d like to thank my cameraman/DOP Umut Can Sevindik again who collaborated with me very well and understood what I wanted. We also edited the film together. It was an enjoyable process.

Poster for the short film Metruk (Courtesy of O. Unsur)

HF:  Many of the films you have made are in the documentary genre.  What do you find most interesting and most challenging in presenting stories in a short format?  What attracts you to the documentary genre?

OU: I love fiction genre and feature length films as much as I love documentaries and short films. What attracts me to documentaries is recreating existence, reality, through my way of storytelling. I like to surprise the audience and make them reconsider ordinary or familiar subjects which they are used to seeing in their daily lives.

The documentaries I like to make are not about big issues such as wars or hungry children in Africa. I prefer to tell more specific, local, different or character-driven stories which give me the opportunity to use my artistic, emotional and experimental approaches as well as sense of humor (if the stories let me). And most importantly, for those kinds of documentaries, I need neither a big budget nor a large team.

Shooting the film Coastlanders 8 to 8. Burçin Ankara and Orkide Ünsür. (Courtesy of O. Unsur)

Short film is a genre that gives huge freedom to a director. It’s not only for students or emerging/young filmmakers, so I will always enjoy producing short movies. What I find most challenging with short films is being able to tell a story in a limited time. I find it alluring, indeed. Finding funds/sponsors as well as earning money is hard for shorts in general. Nowadays, I’m very excited about my latest project The Scarlet Awakening. It’s a short drama which combines domestic violence and flamenco music & dance. I have written the screenplay, found my main crew and actors. I’m in a process of finding financial support. I hope to bring it life as soon as possible.

In addition, it would be my pleasure to collaborate with other filmmakers, screenplay writers, producers, from not only Turkey but also around the world.

HF: This interview is the first in series I am working on this spring in order to share information about Turkish women filmmakers.  Can you talk a bit about your life as a woman filmmaker in Turkey and how you see women represented in the Turkish film industry?

OU: The general public has already pre-conceived ideas of film directors in their mind. If you ask the general public to make a drawing of somebody who works as a film director, their pre-conceived idea would be a man with beard, scarf, spectacles, a sort of bohemian character.

Although women filmmakers and writers, especially in the field of screenplay writing and directing for TV dramas, have been increasing in the Turkish film industry recently, there are not as many as people suppose. For instance, it is really hard to find women directors in the advertising sector.

As a short filmmaker, I would love to write & direct feature length films when the right time comes and when I find the opportunity. However, I wouldn’t prefer to be a new, or even older, filmmaker who has only been chasing her dreams or whose films are only being screened in some film festivals.  I’d like to make a film which reflects my vision, my artistic way as well as something that attracts many audiences across different platforms.  So it is important to find the balance and it’s really hard.

Still from short film Metruk (Courtesy of O. Unsur)

HF: What kind of audiences can you find within Turkey for film, either shorts, documentaries or feature-length films?  Is it reasonable to expect that you can license your work to television broadcasters, find DVD or online distribution agreements, or secure theatrical distribution?

OU: In Turkey, I don’t think we can mention independent filmmaking and self-distribution in real terms for feature length films, only for some shorts and documentaries. Turkish short filmmakers find their audiences mostly via festivals, special screenings or via the internet.  If they are lucky enough, their works may be broadcasted on a TV channel which shows short films and/or documentaries. However, TV channels do not pay for short films in any genre. There are some Turkish-oriented internet platforms which broadcast all genres of short films for free. I submitted my shorts to a UK-based VOD service and Metruk (The Abandoned) became the most popular short film among all the others within just five days. It was number one in the current Top 10 most-watched videos.

There are main professional distribution companies in Turkey and Turkish filmmakers mostly work with them for their theatrical or DVD distribution.  Among the other international and national VOD services and digital platforms, “Turkish Film Channel” is an online distributor especially for award-winning Turkish feature length films.

Shooting Metruk (The Abandoned). Orkide Ünsür with Umut Can Sevindik. (Courtesy of O. Unsur)

HF:   I have read in several news articles that Turkey has more working women filmmakers than Hollywood, though I have also been told that there are still woefully few women working in the Turkish film industry.  What do you see as the main challenges for Turkish women who work, or want to work, within their own country’s film industry?  

OU:  Filmmaking is still a male dominated field also in Turkey as well as all around the world. However, numbers of women filmmakers have been increasing in the Turkish film industry recently.

To quote from Sinemanin Disil Yuzu (by Semire Ruken Ozturk), “6,035 films were produced in the Turkish film industry between 1914-2002 and only 96 of them produced by women directors whose population is less than 25.  [Clarification: fewer than 25 women directors made the aforementioned 96 films.]  The first woman director in Turkey was Cahide Sonku who directed the film Vatan ve Namik Kemal as co-director in 1951. She was also the first star as a remarkable actress in Turkish Cinema.”  Antrakt Sinema [newspaper] (by Deniz Yavuz) states “seventy-three Turkish films were screened in movie theaters in Turkey in 2011” and seven of them directed by women.  Furthermore one of these films was a co-director project and three of them were women.

Besides experienced female directors such as Canan Gerede, Biket Ilhan, Tomris Giritlioglu, Handan Ipekci, and Yesim Ustaoglu, for the last 20 years, there have emerged some first or second time feature length filmmakers such as İlksen Basarir, Pelin Esmer, Belma Bas, Cigdem Vitrinel, and Belmin Soylemez recently.

The progress is good in Turkey yet we still need positive discrimination for women in the film industry. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean all the film projects by women have to be supported even if they are not good.  It’s not fair.  Finally, I would like to say that a “bad film” is a “bad film” whether directed by a woman or a man.

To connect with this filmmaker or to support her work, please check out these links:
Twitter: @orkideunsur 
Tacebook:  Orkide Ünsür (/Orkide.Unsur)
YouTube: orkideunsur
post edited 4-27-2012


INTERVIEW: Therese Shechter, director of How to Lose Your Virginity

Director Therese Shechter (Photo courtesy of Trixie Films)


Therese Shechter deftly uses humor-spiked, personal narrative to chronicle feminism and sexuality, and is proud to have been labeled a “Brazen Advocate of Slut Culture” by conservative bloggers. Her first documentary I Was A Teenage Feminist has screened from Stockholm to Delhi to Rio and at Serbia’s first-ever Women’s Film Festival. Therese has created videos and written about virginity and feminism on the film’s blog and in the Chicago Tribune, the Bitch Magazine blog, Adios Barbie and Women & Hollywood. She was recently a featured panelist at Harvard University’s “Rethinking Virginity” Conference and at MomentumCon: Feminism, Sexuality and Relationships in Washington. Therese’s short documentary How I Learned to Speak Turkish has screened internationally and her production company Trixie Films is based in Brooklyn and sometimes at a little cafe in Istanbul.


“I won’t tell you how to have sex for the first time, but I do want to know why we’re so obsessed with female virginity.”

The US government has spent 1.5 billion dollars promoting it. It has fetched tens of thousands of dollars at auction. And 50 years after the sexual revolution, it continues to define a young woman’s morality and self-worth. Using her own path out of ‘virginity’ to guide the narrative, filmmaker Therese Shechter creates a far-reaching and very personal dialogue with women along the sexuality spectrum, revealing the myths and misconceptions behind this so-called precious gift.


Her Film:  You’ve been working on your documentary How to Lose Your Virginity for the past several years.  Can you update us on the film?

Therese Shechter: We’re almost done editing the film, which is very exciting. This is the most challenging part because this film’s subject is complicated, and there are a lot of moving pieces. I really like tackling big concepts like feminism and virginity by getting at them through very personal stories, both my subjects’ and mine. Then we’ll be working with our composer and animator to add the finishing touches. By the time we’re clearing footage and correcting color and mixing sound, I’ll be in heaven because the heavy lifting will be behind us. Frankly, I’m exhausted.

Needless to say, this all costs a lot of money, so this Kickstarter is really crucial. I’m so psyched to finish it and get it out in the world. We just did a great little sneak preview at the Momentum conference for many of the top folks in feminism and sexuality. I get contacted by distributors, film festivals and college professors all the time asking “Is it done? Is it done?” and I really can’t wait to say “Yes! Here it is!”

Courtesy of Trixie Films

HF:  How are you building your audience?

TS:  We’ve been building our audience almost from the very beginning through our blog. Some people do blogs to track their filmmaking process, but I was a lot more interested in the topic of virginity itself. I initially wrote posts that called out a lot of the sexism and bad science around abstinence-until-marriage programs, and the disturbing outbreak of virginity auctions all over the world.  Then I branched out into pop culture as well as creating a space for our audience to talk about their own personal experiences with virginity culture.

Plus there’s the constant back and forth of Facebook and Twitter posts, sharing little bits of video online, supporting other writers and filmmakers doing sexuality-related work, and writing for other publications on the topic. I recently did something about virginity loss myths for a great site called Adios Barbie, and did a breakdown of the virginity loss stereotypes in an episode of “Glee” for Women & Hollywood. I think you have to create a good balance between interesting information and dialogue with your audience if you want to build that anticipation and goodwill. We can see it with the response to our fundraising campaign, with so many people supporting a project they already feel invested in personally.

Courtesy of Trixie Films

HF:  I’ve taken a few looks at the blog you have to support the storytelling and sharing around the topic of virginity, and you include many first-person pieces.  It’s amazing and inspiring to see how many people are willing to share information about something so personal as their virginity and sexuality.  What inspired you to introduce this type of “confessional-style” blog post? 

TS: I love First Person, and since we launched it in 2009, it’s become the most popular thing on the blog. I was inspired by fellow virginity geek Kate Monro who writes a blog called The Virginity Project in the UK. Aside from her work, most everything else I found was very mainstream and almost nothing outside of religious sites addressed people who weren’t sexually active. I could tell from our blog comments I had a lot of folks out there whose experiences–and even definitions of virginity–didn’t conform to the black-and-white stereotypes of pop culture. So I started building this collection of what I like to call “sexual debuts and deferrals.”

We’ve run stories from a woman who lost her straight, gay and three-way virginity in one night (hey, it worked for her); a Mormon college student who first wrote about being a virgin and then did an update after she had forbidden pre-marital sex (verdict: meh); and we get quite a few submissions from guys in their 30s and 40s who talk about what it’s like to be an older male virgin (not good). We’ve also run several First Persons by women who had intercourse for the first time because of sexual assault, and they want to share their experiences and recovery with others. My favorites are the “update” First Persons that I get when a previous poster starts having sex. One woman said the first three people she told were her roommate, her best friend and me for the blog. I kind of love that.

There’s a lot of silence around how and why and if we become sexual and I think these stories really help us all feel less weird and alone. I really could have used this when I felt like the very last virgin in art school.

Courtesy of Trixie Films

HF: Are there differences in what you’ve learned through the actual filming of the documentary and the interactions you have with people online through your blog or twitter, for example?

TS:  When I started working on the film, I was really focusing on young women being shamed for being sexual and the value that’s place on virginity. It was in the zeitgeist and was getting all the attention. But when I started getting the First Persons, I was surprised at how many were coming from people in their 20’s who were ashamed of not being sexually active and that became a much bigger part of my film and the blog.

I think it goes without saying that it’s far, far easier to get candid stories from anonymous writers than getting people to talk about the same things on camera. I’m really grateful to the people agreed to be filmed. They’re very smart and thoughtful about their intimate lives, and they provide an antidote to the way we usually hear stories about sex: Reality TV and porn.

HF:  Can you talk about your current crowdfunding campaign and the phases of your financing for the film (where the money goes)?  In a message to me earlier this year on twitter, you said you’d “love to mention how much ‘low budget’ docs cost, because some backers don’t know why $13K didn’t cover all our costs.”  Any challenges in dealing with financial backers that you’d like to talk about?


WATCH THE TRAILER FOR How To Lose Your Virginity


TS: Since 2008, almost every independent documentary filmmaker has been struggling to find financing for their projects. Not that it was so easy before, but now foundations have even smaller endowments than ever and many TV networks are either only looking at finished films or have abandoned documentaries altogether in favor of reality shows.

We’re currently doing a Kickstarter to raise $35,000 to pay for the rest of our edit, our composer and our animator. If we don’t meet our goal I’m really not sure how we’re going to finish the film. We got through production thanks to an amazing group of DPs and producers who worked for free or lowered fees, lots of interns doing the research and one very small fundraiser. Then we had our first Kickstarter and raised $13,000 which paid for about five weeks of editing. For the rest of it I’ve had to beg, borrow and reach very deep into my own pockets to keep things going.

The average documentary you see on TV will cost half a million to a million dollars to complete, and that often means hundreds of thousands of dollars of free labor by the filmmakers. A lot of our non-filmmaker backers have no idea, and really why should they? We have to keep educating them on what things cost and the fact that you really do have to pay your full-time editor a salary for at least several months. And also about how it takes so incredibly long to finish something because you have to keep stopping to raise (or earn) more money.

I think that once people understand what goes into a documentary, they’re amazingly supportive. I’m been blown away by the support we’re getting for this campaign and the abundant generosity of complete strangers. We can’t relax until May 9th, though. If we don’t meet our $35,000 goal by then, we don’t get anything, so it’s going to be a little intense until then.


Read a recent article at the Huffington Post on female sexuality which discusses Shechter’s new film:  “Virgins, Bondage and a Shameful Media Fail” by Soraya Chemaly.

To connect with this filmmaker, support her film and to learn more about her work, check out these links:

Crowdfunding: Kickstarter (15 days to go with $35,000 campaign goal.  As of this blog post, $16,682 has been raised)

Her Film Interview from June 21, 2010: Click here.

How to Lose Your Virginity Blog: www.virginitymovie.com

Trixie Films (production co.): www.TrixieFilms.com

Twitter: @trixiefilms

Facebook: /The-American-Virgin

SPOTLIGHT: Small Small Thing

Writer-director Jessica Vale, with producer Nika Offenbac, are making a powerful documentary film called Small Small Thing about the epidemic of rape in Liberia, focusing on the story of a mother working for justice after her young daughter is raped.  Today, rape is the #1 crime in Liberia.  Vale and Offenbac (with co-producer Barnie Jones) have spent the last three years making this film which is currently in post-production and raising funds through Kickstarter.  Together, Vale and Offenbac are founders of the Take My Picture LLC production company in New York City dedicated to the pursuit of long form non-fiction works.

Trailer and Pitch:


Crowdfunding through: Kickstarter

Campaign goal: $25,000

Days left on campaign:  Less than a day (28 hours / deadline April 8)


Caught between tribalism and democracy, a Liberian mother is at odds with her country after the brutal rape of her six-year old daughter.

Olivia (Photo courtesy of J. Vale)

About Olivia:

“As we were there, we had to navigate the same channels that she and her mother were also trying to navigate to find out their own answers.”

– Jessica Vale, director

“If this were to happen here in the United States, maybe she could get therapy.  There’s no such thing as therapy in Liberia…. [S]he represents thousands of little girls behind her that we haven’t met; we haven’t heard their stories.”

– Barnie Jones, co-producer


Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in women’s issues. Yet according to U.N. statistics in 2012, rape is still the #1 crime in Liberia, and the majority of the victims are children.  Médecins Sans Frontières in Liberia reports their youngest survivor at 21 months old.

Olivia (Photo courtesy of N. Offenbac)

Small Small Thing begins at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and urban center of this West African country.  Olivia is 9 years old, severely malnourished and handicapped. Her condition is life threatening. Believing her injuries to be the result of witchcraft, Olivia’s mother had been hiding her for years.  The doctors conclude her condition is the result of a brutal rape that took place when Olivia was 7 years old. When pressured to reveal her rapist, Olivia names her cousin.

Olivia's mother Bendu (Photo courtesy of N. Offenbac)

This diagnosis has severe consequences. Originally from deep in the Liberian jungle, Olivia and her mother are shunned from their tribe for seeking outside help.  They are left stranded in Monrovia at the mercy of President Sirleaf’s government, facing the most difficult decision of all. What price are they willing to pay for justice?

Photo courtesy of J. Vale


Jessica Vale (Writer/Director)
Nika Offenbac and Jessica Vale (Producers)
Barnie Jones (Co-producer)

Connect with this filmmaker and learn more about this new film:

Facebook: /SmallSmallThing

Twitter: @Smallsmallfilm

Website:  www.smallsmallthing.com

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AMERICAN BEAR: Q&A with filmmaker Sarah Sellman


Sarah Sellman grew up in a Bed and Breakfast in a desert valley in rural Alamosa, Colorado. Her experiences at the Bed and Breakfast made her a strange sort of six year old—she has always loved talking to strangers. Her experiences in Colorado fostered her need for adventure and her ability to tell stories. So she ventured off to New York City where she attended film school at NYU.

Filmmaker Sarah Sellman (photo courtesy of S. Sellman)

Sarah loves telling stories about people, textures and beautiful landscapes—sometimes with a hint of the surreal or fantastical and always about love and fortuity (her mother was always a fan of romantic comedies and her dad had her watching sci-fi since she could speak).  American Bear turned Sarah’s hypothetical trust in all people to an actual one and has been one of the greatest learning experiences of her life. Sarah is detail oriented, texture obsessed and curious about everything. Oh, and she really likes pie. And Greg. And probably you!

About the film:  American Bear: An Adventure In The Kindness Of Strangers is an inspiring exploration of our country through trust, fear, and hospitality, across America and between Americans. (From the film’s website at americanbearfilm.com)

Filmmakers: Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano

(image courtesy of S. Sellman)

Her Film:  Your first day’s interview subject talked about how you and Greg [Grano] are “living the American Dream.”  (Seen in the trailer.) You actually kind of lived my personal dream by making this film!  Can you describe the balance between being filmmakers who are making a documentary and actually having to experience intense emotions and varying situations as two of the subjects of your own film?

Sarah Sellman: It was an interesting balance to negotiate, that’s for sure. Every part of our journey we wanted to experience organically. We wanted to be adventurous! But we also had to be aware of making sure to film the experiences. The weirdest part I think was that often the camera added a lot of pressure. Pressure to act naturally, to be nicer to each other, to film each encounter well. Eventually Greg had a bit of a break down from all the stress (I might have, too, if he didn’t first) because it is stressful. The journey is amazing and perhaps a tad stressful on its own, but the second you start filming, it becomes much more challenging. In the end though, I think it’s worth it, because now we have a great film, and all of our memories are on tape! We did feel like we were living our dreams — especially because the idea of American Bear came from Greg talking in his sleep. America is a pretty cool place, and the people are amazingly generous!

Still shot from American Bear courtesy of S. Sellman

HF:  You talk on your website about your experiences, emotions, etc.  What feelings did you experience that you hadn’t before, or that surprised you the most, either as an individual or as a filmmaker?

SS:  Well — the emotions were much more complex. Connecting with people so quickly and then having to leave the next morning was often challenging. I wanted to get to know people better, to spend more time talking.  Also, when we got into our car accident — that was a new emotion for sure. I was so in love with Greg and I felt so guilty because the car that hit us, hit him. Not me, him. If it had been any worse I probably would have been fine, and he might not have. In the end, no one was hurt. But it makes you think really hard about being in a car. And about the person you love.

But I think the biggest new feeling was trust and confidence. In people. We walked into American Bear with sort of hypothetical trust in humanity —  and walked out of it with an actual one. I love people!

Shot from American Bear (photo courtesy of S. Sellman)

Shot from American Bear (photo courtesy of S. Sellman)


For a lot more photos, and to see the strangers that Sarah and Greg met on theirtravels, visit the American Bear website and check out the photos page.


Shot from American Bear (photo courtesy of S. Sellman)

Shot from American Bear (photo courtesy of S. Sellman)

HF:  I have a close friend who is, without fail, always able to start and maintain a conversation with strangers and it awes me.  Me, I love doing that, but it often ends with me hearing crickets.  What have you found that it takes to create or find a connection with people?  Did you ever have a bad experience that just didn’t work out at all, and how did you deal with that?

SS: You know what’s strange, since making American Bear I have developed a new kind of social anxiety. I think because connecting on the road was so easy and sometimes here it isn’t. The big thing for us is asking questions; people love to tell their stories and everyone has a story to tell. So if you ask questions, things seem so much easier. It’s more difficult for me, I think, to answer questions than it is to ask them. So my advice then — ask questions, be curious, even a little pushy. I think we are worried about people’s comfort zones a lot and it turns out that actually people like answering the harder questions. So maybe my problem after American Bear is mostly making sure I ask better questions?

Filmmakers Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano courtesy of S. Sellman

In terms of bad experiences — yes, we had them. haha! A couple times we had people invite us to stay with them and then drop out at the last minute. That was challenging. Mostly because we didn’t find out till very late at night.  Even if we had a back up plan, calling someone at 10pm to say, “hey, we actually do need help after all” — it can come off as a little scary. So in those times, communication was tricky and connection was even trickier.

Learn more about American Bear, help fund it or connect with the filmmakers:

KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN (7 days left with $1,400 left to raise)

Twitter: @RelyOnStrangers

Facebook: /BearDocumentary

Website:  americanbearfilm.com

YouTube:  AmericanBearFilm

Guest Post: Mary Ratliff on her film “Good Game”


Mary Ratliff has won awards for both filmmaking and screenwriting. She has also worked on several features, a webseries, and numerous short films as a member of the art department and a script supervisor.

As a screenwriter, Mary was a finalist in last year’s DC Shorts Screenwriting Competition and the recipient of the Will Interactive Dramatic Short Screenplay award for her script, “Catching Up.”  The film also received the Panavision New Filmmaker Grant.  The completed short won the Visions Award for Outstanding Thesis Project in 2011.

Ratliff recently earned a Masters of Fine Arts at American University in Washington D.C.


I’ve always been interested in fighting stereotypes.  As a female filmmaker, I face them almost every day.  There are assumptions about the kinds of things I would write, what genres of films I’m best suited to direct, and just general thoughts about what I’m capable of.

I also happen to be a very big nerd.  I’ve been a fan of science-fiction and fantasy since I was first able to read and understand stories.  I attended anime conventions for years.  I also love playing video games.  We had an Atari when I was growing up, and we got our first computer when I was four.  I’ve been playing video games ever since.

As a girl gamer, I’m told frequently what I must think, what I must like, and I’m even told on occasion that I don’t exist.  Recently a well-meaning comment on reddit lamented that “girls don’t like real time strategy games.”  The only reason I saw the comment was because I was there to read about one of my favorite real time strategy games, Starcraft 2.

I love Starcraft 2 so much that it is the focus of my latest film, Good Game (http://www.goodgamemovie.com).  I’ve devoted the last year of my life to following a team of professional gamers that compete around the world.  This project has been responsible for the biggest ups and downs I’ve experienced in years.  After months of pre-production we started filming earlier this year.  Since then I have been following a specific team called Evil Geniuses as they compete throughout the year.

Greg "IdrA" Fields (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

What attracted me to the project in the first place was the chance to challenge the idea everyone had of gamers.  I wanted to take the stereotype of gamers and turn it on its head.  Everyone believes they are lazy, that they can’t get dates, they don’t have jobs, don’t leave their parent’s basements, and that they’re all men.

None of these things are true.  Each of the members of Evil Geniuses was drawn to e-sports because of their own competitive drive.  Most of them participated in sports when they were younger.  Several of them work out regularly.  Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson, the captain of the team, was also captain of his football team.

I’ve also been lucky enough to meet Anna Prosser, who is dating Robinson and works with Evil Geniuses.  She is also the reigning Miss Oregon USA.  When I started a film about gaming, I never expected to find myself at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, but there I was last June.  I’ve loved watching as Anna’s role in the esports community has grown.

Geoff "iNcontroL" Robinson (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

She creates video content for the team, interviews players at tournaments, and does her best to promote competitive gaming at every opportunity.  As a woman director, it’s been nice for me to have this opportunity to find the women of gaming and showcase them in my work.

For these players, Starcraft is their job.  The top players earn a salary along with taking home their tournament winnings.  The IGN Pro League recently gave their winner $30,000.  The upcoming season of the North American Star League will give out $140,000 amongst the top competitors.  If you rise to the top, you will start finding sponsors.  The members of Evil Geniuses appear in commercials and print advertisement for the brands that sponsor the team.

But even other gamers will insult their work.  Posts on major gaming websites are full of comments by gamers who say that these pros need to “get a real job” and that it’s insulting that they make a living at this.

That was part of drew me into the world of professional gaming.  I see many parallels between what they have chosen to do with their lives and the career I’m striving so hard at.  Frequently in my life I’ve had to deal with people who think that my life on film sets sounds fun and glamorous.

Film work is exotic to most people, so they don’t think of it as work.  They think it’s all the things we’ve seen in the “making of” featurettes on DVDs.  They’ve also heard a lot about how we all “hurry up and wait,” and assume we spend plenty of time sitting around chatting up our fellow crew members.

The crowd at a Major League Gaming event in Anaheim, California (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

I’ve tried to explain to people that a standard day on set is twelve hours long.  While shooting in Orlando last weekend, my crew and I were on site and filming for sixteen hours at a stretch, running on very little food and even less sleep.  Because of the timing, I was also on my third shoot and my eleventh straight day on set.  By the time I caught a flight back on Monday, I hadn’t had a full eight hours of sleep in weeks.  As a director and a script supervisor, I’m not physically running around but the work is still difficult in ways that most people can’t understand.

These professional gamers face the same situations.  One of them commented to me that people ask him how he could be tired from playing a game.  What these people don’t understand is that they practice their game for ten to twelve hours a day.  At a tournament, they play almost constantly for three days straight.  At Major League Gaming tournaments, they frequently don’t finish the first day until 1a.m. or later, and the matches start again at 10 a.m. the next day.

Anna Prosser interviews Chris "HuK" Loranger (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

This practice isn’t like sitting in front of your Xbox and playing games with your friends.  They are strategizing different ways to challenge their opponent, calculating the math involved to be successful at the game.  When they aren’t playing, they are sitting together and talking about the game.  In order to be at the top, they must live and breathe what they do.  While all of the players I am following are contracted and have sponsors, many are struggling to be able to play enough to stay competitive and make enough money to afford the travel and tournament fees.

That to me sounds exactly like filmmaking.  I quit my full time job two years ago so that I could concentrate on filmmaking.  My first job was completely unpaid. I spent an entire month as an intern and set costumer on a feature film.  From there I slowly made connections and getting the experience I needed.  In the current economic climate, there are a lot of people telling me that I should go out and get a “real job” instead of pursuing this crazy dream.  They sometimes will say that it’s irresponsible for me to be doing this right now.

It’s not an easy time to be pursuing a dream, and I know that better than most of them.  Months after I quit my full time job, my husband’s company folded and he was unemployed.  We suddenly were a household without any income, and I was also a full time grad student.  That was a do or die moment for us.  I had to sit back and decide if I was going to give up or even step back and put my dream on hold.  I could either keep trying to get jobs on sets for income and finish school or I could take a job in an office and wait for a better time.

But I had faced that choice before, when I first graduated from film school.  I worked as a journalist for a while but when that job ended, I decided to take a step back and I started making decisions based on being safe and on making money.  For several years I felt unhappy and unfulfilled.  The money was there but it wasn’t a lot, and I was miserable.

Cong "StrifeCro" Shu (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

After my first year of grad school, I was driving home one day and I realized that if I looked at the decisions I had regretted over recent years, it was because I chose safety over my dreams.  I chose to be careful, instead of confident.  Each time I made that decision, it put me further from my path.

Quitting my job was anything but safe.  I see my bank account balance; I know how many days I’m on a job and how many days I’m spending on my documentary.  I also am completely aware of how much of my money I’ve been putting into this documentary (hint: it’s everything I’ve made this year).  We’ve got a Kickstarter campaign to earn some funding for the film, and we reached our goal in the first week.  But I also know that the goal for that campaign won’t cover the rest of our production costs, and I know how much I need for post.  It’s a struggle.

But every time I wonder what I’m doing, I look at the footage I’ve been bringing back from these gaming competitions.  I see these interviews where the players say that they came to this point in their careers because of their own hard work and sacrifice.  I see my story coming together, and I see how amazing everything looks.  I know that this film will be fantastic. I know that it will be compelling.  The struggles that I have gone through to make it, both financial and personal, feel worth it every time I look at the story developing.

I came into the film wanting to challenge stereotypes, to push against people’s perceptions, and to delve into a little known world where these men are taking a chance to pursue a dream that reminds me of my own.  I’ve seen all of those goals be met time and time again, and I can’t wait to share that with the world.


Learn more about Good Game and Mary Ratliff’s other work by visiting her website at: