Sheree talks about how important women of color filmmakers are today and how her social media platform is cultivating a network to support them.
“Reel Sisters’ new designation will give women of color a path to getting on the Oscar consideration list and open the doors for all women directors. It is a milestone for women directors who rarely get nominated by the Academy Awards for Oscar worthy films,” said Carolyn A. Butts, Reel Sisters Founder. “We’re proud to kick off our film submissions season with this amazing news and opportunity for women filmmakers.”
In the Academy Awards 90-year history, only five women directors have been nominated for Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow was the only woman to win for Best Director in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
The list for women of color represented in Live Action Shorts is just as short. Dianne Houston was the first African-American woman to receive a nomination in 1996 for Tuesday Morning Ride and Yuki Yoshida, an Asian-Canadian director, won an Oscar in 1978 for I’ll Find A Way.
Reel Sisters has presented over 3,000 films produced, directed and written by women of color, and has awarded more than $25,000 in scholarship money since 1997. The festival has set the agenda for creating opportunities for women in the film industry through advocacy and supporting other organizations with similar missions.
The organiation is currently seeking films for its 2018 season. Shorts, web series, animation, works-in-progress, narratives, features, documentaries and experimental works are eligible. Filmmakers will have their films screened in Reel Sisters Film Festival at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn from October 20-21, 2018 and other venues in New York City.
If you have a film that you would like to submit to the festival please submit using this link HERE.
The early bird deadline is May 7, 2018 with an extended deadline of June 22, 2018.
“Representation” has become a buzzword over the past few years, often used to excoriate the limited diversity that Hollywood brings to our big screens. But, with the Sundance Film Festival come and gone, and a new year of movies revving up, it’s clear that when it comes to matters of race, popular culture has taken note of our national talking points.
No fewer than seven major Sundance movies tackled race relations in America and the issues related to them ― and that’s not counting documentaries. Storytellers had police brutality (“Blindspotting,” “Monsters and Men”), wrongful imprisonment (“Monster”), the Ku Klux Klan (“Burden”), microaggressions (“Tyrel”), code-switching (“Sorry to Bother You”) and the foster care system (“Night Comes On”) on their minds.
We’re witnessing a phenomenon in which socially-minded artists are processing the topics that make headlines almost daily. More than any other Sundance lineup before it, 2018′s was a heady and searing crop, aptly reflecting our national mood.
One year after Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” raised the bar for veiled social commentary, “Tyrel” presents a similar premise, sending a young black man (Jason Mitchell) into the woods for a weekend getaway with a batch of white dudes. Meanwhile, “Monsters and Men” evokes the real-life killing of Eric Garner and the persecution of NFL iconoclast Colin Kaepernick, and “Burden” (which won the festival’s audience award) portrays tensions among neighbors sharing turf in the South.
“Blindspotting,” a passion project co-written by “Hamilton” breakout Daveed Diggs and performance poet Rafael Casal, is a hip-hop-inflected tour through Oakland, California, where gentrification has tarnished the area’s working-class restaurants, and black residents watch white cops shoot their black neighbors at traffic lights. In “Monster,” racial profiling lands even a college-bound teenager (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) with a bright future behind bars. These movies portray a world, not unlike our own, in which only whiteness gets ahead; just ask the telemarketer Lakeith Stanfield plays in the surreal comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” who is advised to use his “white voice” if we wants to get sales.
For Hollywood, indie filmmaking is a platonic ideal, painting a progressive image that puts Sundance and its ilk one step ahead of the wider industry, in terms of style, content and representation. Still, that hip image doesn’t always prioritize women and filmmakers of color. (Women helmed 37 percent of this year’s lineup ― an above-average figure that still lacks parity.) But with 2018′s movies, the festival claimed a newfound sense of topicality. The conversations unfolding on Twitter, in the media and in many Americans’ homes are resurfacing right before our eyes. Artists are doing their best to sort out the issues plaguing the country.
When it comes to helming major Hollywood studio projects, the future for female directors in 2018 and 2019 doesn’t look too bright.
IndieWire reports on the 2018 and 2019 schedule for films coming out of studios like Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Sony, and finds that so far, only 15 of those projects will be directed by women.
There are plenty of bright spots and familiar names—like Ava DuVernay, Elizabeth Banks, The Handmaids Tale director Reed Morano, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller—leading highly-anticipated projects this year (hellooo A Wrinkle in Time!). And there are also three superhero movies directed by women, a development no doubt inspired by the immense success of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman: there’s Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Spider-man spin-off Silver and Black, Anna Boden’s Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman 2 of course. It’s as if Hollywood finally realized, yes, women can direct blockbuster action movies and people want to see them!
It’s important to point out that the report does not include movies that have yet to be scheduled, so there’s still hope for more women-directed movies to make their way to theaters in the next two years. But considering 92.7% of the 109 top film directors in 2017 were male, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s study “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Gender, Race & Age of Directors across 1,000 films from 2007-2017,” the industry has its work cut out for it when it comes to hiring women at legacy studios.
Sheree L. Ross
November 14, 2017
So you we wake up one morning from a fevered dream with what seems like a brilliant idea, “I want to make a movie”. And then miracle of miracles, somehow every day you move forward on it. It actually starts to take shape as you call in favors from friends, even the ones from first grade. Everyday it looks more and more like you are really going to make this movie. You do all of the steps, which include writing the most brilliant script ever written. How do you know? Because all of your friends and family who you let read it, say so. You even go one step further and actually let people who know what they are talking about (because you found a writing group in your town) read it and they give you feedback that is sometimes painful (yeah, you cried once…maybe more than once), but you listen, do the adjustments, write a few more drafts – and now you have a solid working script.
And even though you’ve never directed anything before in your life you decide that you are going to be the director. You want to be an Auteur and this film will be your first shot across the bow. But one thing you didn’t know about yourself is that you’re not much for the tiny details and after two days of doing the stuff good producers can do in their sleep you put an ad on Craigslist and take the first person that will call you back.
At this point, of course, you don’t have any money but somehow they’re willing to work with you and wait until you’re able to raise some. And for the first month or so they’re completely on board and you get through most of pre-production. You get casting done, you find locations, and you put together a pretty solid crew. You are feeling great. Now you are three weeks out before you shoot and suddenly the producer gets a gig that will actually pay them their rate and they quit. But hell, you’ve got this. You’ve got everything in place…who needs a producer anyway? You can just add this as another feather in your cap. You’re sure now that you can direct and produce this script better than anybody because you know it better than anybody. You still don’t have enough money but you are moving forward as if you do as…Thanksgiving approaches. And what luck, your favorite aunt – who loves movies – overhears that you are doing a film and says she’ll give you the rest of the money. What a relief! But a week out you call her and she doesn’t remember the promise, blaming it on the several glasses of wine she had before dinner was served.
Now you’re a week out and everybody wants something. The art department is calling you to try to figure out how to do your sets, the wardrobe and prop people need to start shopping. And you get a text from one of your actors asking about rehearsals and blocking. It’s too late to crowdfund, you didn’t even know you should do a rehearsal, and one of the locations that you were promised just fell through. The next night you wake from another fevered dream with a thought that could possibly get you disowned. You have a savings that your parents set up for you with just enough to get the movie shot and you’ll have to edit it yourself. After thinking about the pros and cons of this conversation at Christmas next week, you decide to go ahead and do it.
Yay! You are making your first movie, congratulations! Now this is just one example of how crazy this process can be, and this should in no way stop you from making your first film. If you are in the middle of this process I hope this makes you feel better about what you may be going through right now. If you’ve already finished your first film (web series, short, etc) I hope it made you smile. Filmmaking is not for the faint of heart, and many filmmakers struggle their first time out (and even the second and third time before they find a rhythm). There is no right or wrong way to make a film, web series, or short, etc. If you think you’re in over your head but you keep moving forward and you keep focused on your idea, as well as communicate with everybody as often as possible…more times than not, no matter how crappy things might get, the people that you have brought on board to help you will do their best to help you see your vision come true. People are more forgiving and flexible than you might think, as long as you are honest with them.
The other advice I’d offer is don’t lie about paying people. If you intend to pay people and then your money falls through, be honest about it. You may lose half of your cast and crew (maybe all!) but you’ll maintain your reputation and this industry is smaller than you might imagine. Another bit of advice is that though it is not impossible to produce, direct, and act in your first movie (in fact it might be wise to do so for your first project, you will learn a whole bunch) don’t spend a lot of money on the project. Let this be an experiment that you can share with your family and friends, and maybe put up on YouTube. But the chances that you will be able to sell it or make your money back might be very low so let it be an opportunity to learn. Ultimately, if you’re new to this make a short film. Something that doesn’t cost you over $1000. Maybe you can engage some of your friends over the weekend and feed them for pay. Bill Murray once said (highly paraphrased) that no matter how crappy the movie is, the fact that it has made it into some form of watchable content is a miracle and should be appreciated as such because it takes so many people to make a movie. It can sometimes feels like you’re drowning (you’re not). It’s a lot of balls to keep up in the air no matter how much money you have (or don’t). So learn from your mistakes, learn from your successes, and be proud of whatever you create. And most of all, please have fun. Why do it otherwise? Because it’s just a step in a long line of many steps that will culminate into being your career.
Six years after filmmaker and curator Maori Holmes started the BlackStar Film Festival as an ad hoc film club for a few friends, the annual event has grown into one of Philly’s most significant showcases of indie films.
Dubbed “the Black Sundance” by Ebony magazine, the four-day celebration of films by men and women of color includes screenings of 12 features and more than 40 shorts — including half a dozen films by local directors — at International House in University City from Thursday, Aug. 3, through Sunday, Aug. 6.
Most screenings include a Q&A session with the filmmakers, who also will be on hand for a panel discussion, several receptions, and even a dance party at various venues in or near University City.
“I’m especially happy that this year we have so many world premieres,” said Holmes, who is director of public engagement at the Institute of Contemporary Art and has curated film programs at Painted Bride Art Center, Scribe Video Center, and Swarthmore College.
Six of the 12 features and more than a dozen shorts will be screened for the first time ever.
“And I’m proud that [Selma director] Ava DuVernay has found time to be with us this year.”
DuVernay, whose film 13th was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature, will appear Saturday night to receive the fest’s BlackStar Award.
‘It’s gratifying to see that we have a growing reputation in the industry,” Holmes said.
“I don’t want to sound corny but we got here because we led by intention and not because we’ve been chasing things simply because they are glittery or high profile.”
This year, the festival also includes a comprehensive youth program, a series of screenings of films by directors between the ages of 11 and 23.
Among this year’s highlights will be a repertory screening of Wilmington 10 — USA 10,000, a 1979 documentary by Haitian-born activist-artist Haile Gerima.
Shot guerilla-style on a shoestring budget, Gerima’s controversial film reexamines the case of the Wilmington Ten, a group of nine men and one woman convicted of arson and conspiracy in 1971 in Wilmington, N.C.
“It will be the first time we will show an actual film print” as opposed to a digital file, Holmes said.
Gerima, 71, who will be unable to attend the screening, said in a phone interview he’s excited that his film, which has never been distributed for the home-entertainment market, has piqued renewed interest.
“It was shown recently in Paris at a retrospective of my work,” said the director, who is best known for his 1993 feature Sankofa, a drama about a narcissistic model who is transported back in time to a plantation in the West Indies, where she has to live the life of an African slave.
“[Wilmington 10] was shown recently at a retrospective of my work in Paris,” he said. “And I think more than anything, people were impressed that the people who speak up in the film about the struggle African Americans have had in America weren’t professors or officials but ordinary people.”
Gerima’s film will screen at 1:15 p.m. Thursday.
Other notable entries this year include Hello Cupid: Farrah, a feature-length spin-off of the popular web series Hello Cupid from Black & Sexy TV cofounders Dennis Dortch, Tina Cerin and Numa Perrier.
“Black & Sexy TV started out as a YouTube channel,” said Perrier, 36, who will attend the screening at 9:45 p.m. Friday.
“Now we’re a full subscription service with original programming, a a black-owned and black-operated network that tells black stories.”
The film stars Gabrielle Maiden (Sexless) as “a very passive, but eccentric virgin,” Perrier said, “who hasn’t learned really to stand up for herself and who doesn’t know what she wants from life.”
Nor, it seems, does the twentysomething heroine know if she wants to have sex with men or women.
Her life is turned upside down when she joins an online dating site.
“It’s a coming-of-age story,” Perrier said. “We follow her story as she goes from being a virgin to dating a variety of men and women, and as she gets a crash course on dating in the modern world.”
Philly filmmakers represented at BlackStar this year include M. Asli Dukan, writer-director of the short Resistance, the Battle of Philadelphia (Prologue), the first part of a web series set in West Philly starring local stage actor Jennifer Kidwell.
“I have been part taking part in activities for social justice and resistance to police violence for years and I’ve been thinking about who to make a film about” the topic, said Dukan, who grew up in Harlem. “I usually work in speculative fiction, horror, fantasy, and science-fiction. I came up with this story set in the future that asks what would police brutality might look like in the future.”
The short is one of six episodes that will follow the experiences of different characters in West Philly as they have confrontations with authority, Dukan said.
The film will screen as part of a shorts program at noon Saturday.
Not everything at BlackStar will be so heavy or so political.
On the comic side, there’s Tales From Shaolin: Pt 1 “Shakey Dog”, which will be shown as part of the same shorts program.
The first part of a planned series of shorts inspired by hip-hop superstars the Wu Tang Clan, the story is the brainchild of director Louis Moore, a Philly native, and writer J. Michael Neal, who grew up in Camden.
“All the films will pay homage to the Wu Tang Clan, and each will be based on different members” of the group, said Moore.
The first part is inspired by Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah.
“We take the lyrics to their songs and reinterpret them through little stories,” said Moore, who learned the craft at Los Angeles Film School.
The film, he said, “is a comedy about a drug heist gone horribly wrong. … Ghostface takes along a young accomplice and things take a comic turn a that will be totally unexpected to both Ghostface and the audience.”
The BlackStar Film Festival
Thursday, Aug. 3 through Sunday Aug. 6 in University City. Most screenings will be at International House, 38th and Chestnut Streets.
Tickets: All-access pass: $150. Single tickets: $12; $8 students and seniors.