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18 Women Filmmakers On Gender and Representation In Hollywood

“It feels really good that the conversations are going on but now the question is: Will that actually translate to opportunity?”

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BuzzFeed News asked women filmmakers at SXSW to share their feelings about the ongoing conversations around Hollywood’s need to hire more women directors. The following are the their lightly edited responses.

S.J. Chiro, Lane 1974

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel like we're still way, way behind. Like, enormously behind. But I also feel hopeful and I'm a fighter and so I'll keep on fighting. I'm very much in it to win it. I'm clawing forward and not in it to win it for myself, but for my daughter ... for a new generation. All I want is to make life better for them and that's the whole reason I got into filmmaking in the first place. It's such a powerful medium and...that's what keeps me going. It's not an easy life, but all I have to do is think of future generations.”

Noel Wells, Mr. Roosevelt

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“If we don't talk about it, we could go backwards — we don't want to be complacent, we don't want it to be like, some of us got here, so we're going to give up on the rest of you. But soon, hopefully, we're just filmmakers. We don't think of ourselves as different, so I think it's going in a really great direction and hopefully it'll no longer be a situation where we're counting and just celebrating. Hopefully we're entering a time in world history where we're all just beings of light shooting our films and writing our music and coming from our souls, and that's all people will be able to see.”

Ana Asensio, Most Beautiful Island

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel like there's a lot of new female filmmakers or women wanting to be filmmakers who are getting inspired just because the conversation is out there. There is much more support these days than there was before, so I'm not sure if next year there will be more filmmakers with films out there, but there's definitely going to be more female filmmakers making films just because they feel like society is actually encouraging them to step out there and say, ‘Hey, I'm a female filmmaker and I'm going to make this movie!’”

Magdalena Zyzak, A Critically Endangered Species

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“My point of view is a little bit different than the point of view of the majority, but I am a little bit against so-called quotas. I think they're a little bit insulting. I think they sort of cement the master/slave relationships between men and women, so I would say that I'd like to see more films with more multidimensional, complex female characters, but I would also like to see more films with multidimensional, complex male characters.”

Dena Hysell, Ascent To Hell

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“It feels really good that the conversations are going on, but now the question is: Will that actually translate to opportunity? And so I think that's what I'm really interested in looking at. We can talk about things all we want but the question is: How does that play out in reality and within the context of ‘Are we going to be hired for studio films now?’ When a female makes a small independent movie, will that now translate into getting her in the room for a $100 million movie like it has for males? I think the start is the conversation, but now it's really the question of what does that mean?”

Janicza Bravo, Lemon

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel a little bit of light in that it's been in the zeitgeist for the last few years and I think the way that change happens is that first there's nothing, then there's pops of discussion, and then the next thing is you start to actually implement that change. For me personally, there's been more opportunity now than there ever was, and it also has to do with working more, but there's also more opportunity being presented for me. The thing I am most interested in, because there's still a massive desert, is inclusion behind the camera as well. And I don't mean just sex — I mean racial inclusion behind the camera. I think in front of the camera there seems to definitely be more work that exists and is inclusive — it could be better, for sure. But I would ask, ‘Whose stories are we telling? Who are we inviting to the narrative?’ And then I'd take it a step further and then ask, ‘Who is making the work?’”

Jennifer Reeder, Signature Move

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I don't mind at all if women behind the camera becomes a trend because all it means is that studios or producers are gonna do the work they probably should have been doing a long time ago to find those women to put in place behind the camera in all sorts of roles. Not just for directing, but also editing and producing and cinematographers and everything. I think it can only bring good things, and I've been waiting for that to happen for a while. I just don't think it takes that much to look for two or three more people and find somebody who can bring a totally fresh perspective to all sorts of stories, not just women's stories. I'm dying to do a big, bro-y action movie — just to see what happens when not only a female perspective comes on board, but dare I say, a feminist perspective.”

Jessica Curtright, It Began Without Warning

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“There's a lot of talk, and I think it'll be exciting to see that come into fruition. Knowing there's so many female filmmakers here, that means in the years coming we'll be seeing a lot more from those filmmakers, and that's exciting to me.”

Katherine Fairfax Wright, Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“It's interesting because in some sense I think I have a slightly different experience than a lot of others do, because coming from the doc world it's a lot easier to feel like things are more egalitarian than they might be in other sectors of the industry. In doc, it's actually pretty common to have female filmmakers, female co-directors, and I think you can really carve your own path because you're not dependent on raising a ton of money and having a big crew and having a whole production company believing in you; you can just believe in yourself, buy a $10,000 camera, and set off. That's how I got my start, and I just feel fortunate to not have run into too many moments where I really feel like my gender has held me back from stepping forward. That may change as I grow into bigger budgets, bigger crews — I'd imagine that's where your gender gets questioned more. So I might think that the worst is sort of ahead of me in that sense, but thus far, it hasn't been an issue, so my intention is to just continue on blindly.”

Julia Halperin, La Barracuda

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel like there are already tons of very talented, hardworking female filmmakers. I think it's, of course, a positive thing if distributors and programmers and outlets are paying attention to that and looking for that. We're all human and we all benefit from a broader range of humanity being represented, so female filmmakers don't just benefit women, female filmmakers benefit all of us. I call them strong female characters, but to me they're just strong characters with ‘female’ in parenthesis — that's who I know, that's who I see, that's who I interact with. I'm not doing something deliberately female, that's just what's in the world that I see and recognize.”

Laura Terruso, Fits and Starts

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I'm really inspired by other female filmmakers who are doing it and making the work. I think it’s important we keep reminding ourselves we're 50% of the population and our audience is out there. People want to see these films and need to see these films, so what we're doing is important. As for Hollywood... I dunno. I think that the change will come — it's inevitable, it's just a matter of time. It might not happen until I'm 90 and saying, 'Back in my day...' It's going to take a long time because it's not just inequality in film, it's all industries — but film is particularly gross.”

Natalia Eite, MFA

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel like there's so much support among the community. We're all so excited about seeing each other succeed. I think it's really positive. Things are changing, but unfortunately it's not as fast as we'd like. There are so many female directors out there, we're just not given the same platforms to stand on. But I think the other thing I want to put out there is not think that there is a disadvantage ever, but just to make great work.”

Lysa Heslov, Served Like A Girl

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel more positive about it now than I ever have before. I think that the last few months, maybe, to a year, women have really found their voices, and that includes in filmmaking. I think we've united in a way we never have before, and I think it's beginning to show.”

Valerie Weiss, The Archer

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I am very optimistic and encouraged. What I have felt for the last year is more of us are working – I've been working constantly since we shot this in May. I'm seeing my friends working, my female director friends, so I'm really excited about that. Unfortunately the numbers are not showing it yet, and I'm a former scientist, so I trust numbers even though I know some people don't. I trust data. So hopefully it's just lagging behind and there's real change happening.”

Joi McMillon, Lemon

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel like right now — through the movement that's happening in the country but also in the film industry — people are shining a light on something that's been an issue for a while. Then I think we kind of got complacent about it, but I feel like it's come full circle and we're realizing it's still an issue that hasn't been fixed. I think right now is a very encouraging time because doors are being opened and people are realizing that women are powerful and we have a right to be here and we can tell really good stories. That's always been the case, but I think now people are really, fully believing in women so they're including us more. That's one thing I've been very mindful of — the people coming up behind me. I make sure if I can put a women up for a job, I will do that. But I'm also putting them up because they deserve a place and an opportunity. That's the thing. I don't like when people hire someone because of their race or their gender; they have to be qualified for the job, and these women are. I think sometimes people feel more comfortable to keep a cutting room male-oriented, but females belong in the editing room. Get us in there.”

Lauren Wolkstein, The Strange Ones

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel positive about it. I feel like people now know there's a lot of talented women out there. A lot of shows are hiring women to direct television now, and I think that's a great opportunity. I hope people that have the power to hire female filmmakers take notice of the films we're making.”

Renée Felice Smith, The Relationtrip

William Callan for BuzzFeed News | Backdrop courtesy of MIOCulture.com

“I feel like I've been encouraged in the last couple of years to really pursue it. Nisha Ganatra — she's one of the producers on Transparent —she saw a short I had directed and said, ‘What can I do to help you make a feature? What do you need from me?’ And that's actually all I needed from her. I just needed someone to say, ‘You can do this,’ as simple and basic as that may sound. It's about women raising other women up. I think that encouragement allowed me to imagine the idea as a reality for myself. That's what really pushed me to do this. Learning from people who have more experience is so essential. That's all it is. Experience. It's not really skill level. We all can do this, it's just about have you been in the room or have you done it before. Or have you seen it done before. I think that's what is so frightening about it — that's taking a leap of faith. Ask questions. That's what I've learned from this whole process. Don't be afraid of your questions. Your questions actually strengthen you as a creator of anything.”

Jessica M. Thompson, The Light of the Moon

William Callan for BuzzFeed News

“I have a lot to say about this. It's disappointing that we're not getting to where we need to be. We keep talking about it, which is great, and the conversation is becoming more prevalent in the last five years especially — people are really aware of this thanks to some really in-depth studies about it, but the percentage is not getting bigger. It's still around 6%, which is just insane. And for films with over $100 million budgets, it's even less. It's miniature. Thank god for Ava DuVernay getting A Wrinkle in Time. But no women have ever [been nominated at the Academy Awards] for cinematography — we have a female DP [director of photography] on our film and I was adamant that I was going to hire women as the majority on my film. It's just insane, and it's not a lack of talent. That's what people keep thinking. No, no, no, no. It's not a lack of talent, it's a lack of opportunity.

It's still this boys club. We're trying to embrace diversity and I see that happening. Women are 50% of the population – 51%. We're overtaking, let's do this! I'm always an eternal optimist — that's my attitude with life in general, but it does affect me that we haven't seen much progress with this in the last five years. I've worked as a professional editor for 10 years on commercials, music video clips; this is my first narrative feature as a writer/director, but I've done three documentaries about Greg Louganis, LGBT rights, many things. And still to this day I'm called ‘darling’ and I'm asked what I'm wearing.

As an editor, I've only worked with male directors on commercials, and they all put hands on my legs while I'm editing; they will grab my mouse to start editing themselves. The level of respect that you have to really earn is ridiculous. It's that idea you have to work double time — or maybe put in 10 times the effort — to get what men just get on a daily basis. But I'm up for the hard work. I'm up for the challenge. I really just hope Hollywood starts to embrace this idea and not pretend they're embracing it. We're out there, we're talented, we know what we're doing, we're skilled. I just hope we can turn this around.”

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