Sheree talks about how important women of color filmmakers are today and how her social media platform is cultivating a network to support them.
Women’s Voices Heard At American Film Market
Known for drumming up business, the recently concluded American Film Market & Conferences also generated food for thought, particularly during an AFM session presented in partnership with the Alliance of Women Directors. Titled “The Future Is Female,” the panel discussion identified problems in the marketplace as well as signs of progress–both of which were touched upon, for example, by Jennifer Warren, chairperson and founder of the Alliance of Women Directors, in her introductory remarks.
Warren noted that 94 percent of feature films are directed by men. This lack of parity in the workplace is detrimental to society, she affirmed, citing the importance “for women and girls growing up to have role models and to see things from a woman’s point of view.”
She added that striving for hiring parity is good business, as proven by FX which instituted a program to get women to direct half of its content. Last year, said Warren, FX attained that 50-50 balance and saw its ratings go up 15 percent. Contending that a woman’s POV offered a fresh perspective to storylines and characters, helping to boost Nielsen numbers, Warren then turned the stage over to discussion moderator Wendy Calhoun, a Writers Guild Award nominee (and producer) for Nashville and Justified, and four panelists: Geena Davis, an Oscar-winning actress (The Accidental Tourist), who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; director Jen McGowan (Kelly & Cal, the upcoming Rust Creek); and Catherine Hand and Jim Whitaker, producers of A Wrinkle in Time, the Disney feature slated for release in March 2018. Based on the novel of the same title by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the first feature with a budget of $100 million-plus to be directed by a woman of color, with that historic achievement being made by Ava DuVernay. A Wrinkle in Time features a cast which includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine.
Davis noted that the launch of the research institute bearing her name was sparked in part by her noticing that children’s programming seemed to feature a disproportionate number of male characters. She saw the need for delving more deeply into this from a research standpoint, confirming that “there are profoundly more male characters than female characters in the content we are showing our kids. Female characters don’t take up half the space, aren’t doing interesting things, aren’t leaders, are more hypersexualized…The worst ratio of male to female characters is in what’s aimed at kids 11 years old and under. We are training kids from the beginning to have unconscious gender bias.”
Feature films also don’t have much to boast of when it comes to casting diversity. According to Davis, “The ratio of male to female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946.” She noted that most think the percentages have gotten better when there have been certain turning points over the years such as Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, featuring two strong female characters, including Davis’ Oscar-nominated performance as Thelma. “You think that this [breakthroughs like Thelma & Louise] changes everything but nothing has changed,” said Davis.
Still she thinks that exposing gender bias and its negative impact on casting and society has resulted in more people proactively looking to improve the situation–but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to those who have the power to hire directors. “Directing is a completely different problem that I don’t think is unconscious. People who are creating content that is gender biased are horrified to find out and immediately want to do better. The fact that there are no women directors is not a secret and hasn’t been for decades yet no one is making the change.”
Technology is also advancing to help the Davis Institute in its endeavors. “We have a brand new tool that never existed before to do our research with–Google gave a grant to develop the software that uses face and voice recognition to tell us how many female and male characters are in film and television, but also how much screen time they have and how many lines they have, down to the millisecond. It is very revealing and horrifying; far fewer characters are female and the ones that are, are on-screen less and talk less.”
On the casting front, Davis shared several other insights with AFM attendees. “In movies with female leads, the male supporting character is onscreen an equal amount, however if there is a male lead, the female counterpart is only on-screen 25 percent of the time.”
Davis continued, “When women are talking, they are onscreen less than when men are talking (the shot is cutting to something else), so now we need to talk to the editors! Unconscious bias is happening on every possible level.”
Moderator Calhoun, who’s currently working on a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff, said that re-writing certain characters to be female instead of male in TV and features, can help to address the situation.
Director McGowan said she makes it clear on her projects that diversity is a must. “I do not want to see an all white, all straight, all male crew.”
Sadly, coming up the commercialmaking ranks, McGowan witnessed a profound lack of women. “For 20 years I worked in commercials; I never worked with a female first AV, grip department, electrical, and only three female directors (and only one who worked regularly). Those are all union and really high paying jobs, jobs that filmmakers use to supplement creative careers, and those are completely shut off to women.”
McGowan has set up Film Powered, a networking and skill sharing tool for female professionals in the industry. It is a free, membership based community of over 1,300 vetted women offering classes, social events and job postings designed to increase the skills and strengthen the contacts of and relationships between its members in an effort towards gender parity in the business. She advised AFM session attendees to check out her filmpowered.com site.
A Wrinkle in Time
Producers Hand and Whitaker discussed A Wrinkle in Time, a film which has been a lifelong dream for Hand whose storied career includes collaborating over the years with iconic TV series creator Norman Lear.
“When I was a little girl,” recalled Hand, “I read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and I thought it would make a great movie so I wrote a letter to Walt Disney to say he should make the film and that I wanted to play Meg. I never sent the letter and on December 15, 1966, when he passed away, I cried because I felt so guilty for not sending it, because no one else would make that movie. That day I promised myself I was going to grow up and find someone to make it. That was 50 years ago.”
It was worth the wait as Hand and Whitaker both said they treasured the experience of working with DuVernay. Hand said that DuVernay make it a point to seek out female and minority talent for her crew. For industry vet Whitaker, DuVernay was the first woman director with whom he’s collaborated. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he assessed–so much so that Whitaker is gearing up for a feature which too will have a female director. He provided some backstory for the pending project which he wasn’t yet at liberty to publicly discuss in full detail.
Whitaker, shared, “Most of my other films, candidly, were male driven films; can’t say that was by design; it comes down to the stories, finding stories that have, for me, an emotionality and hopefulness. I’m working on a story now that is all female…and an incredible true story; I would say influenced by the experience on Wrinkle, we made a contractual necessity that a female director make the film. It’s important for stories to be told from female perspective in general, not just for female-driven stories.”
Hand sees cause for optimism. “I think that the world is changing and we are in a really wonderful time. Women are in more powerful positions and have the pocketbook more than ever before.” She added, “Middle aged women are a market; when they start to realize we matter, they start to make product for us.”
Hand offered aspiring women filmmakers a simple piece of advice. “Don’t give up.” Alluding to the ability to post work and find audiences online, Hand affirmed, “In today’s world, you have so many opportunities to be heard.”
Exhibitor and attendee numbers were up at the overall AFM. In total, 7,415 participants visited the event’s prime venue, the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, as attendance rose by 6%. The market also saw 1,476 buyers arrive from 71 countries with China and Taiwan each seeing growth of 35% more buyers.
Overall exhibitor participation was up 18% with 445 registered exhibiting companies, with the largest number of exhibitors arriving from the United Kingdom, France, South Korea, and China, after the U.S.
AFM Conferences drew an international audience of more than 700 each day listening closely to advice and insights from the likes of Cassian Elwes (Producer/Agent), Jesse Sisgold, (Skydance Media), Adrian Alperovich (OddLot Entertainment), Tobin Armbrust (Virgin Produced), Rebecca Cammarata (Stay Gold Features), Brian O’Shea (The Exchange), Alison Thompson (Cornerstone Films) and Sam Brown (STXfilms).
In addition to “The Future Is Female,” AFM Roundtables included sessions on Documentaries, Faith & Family films and LGBTQ representation in cinema.
The newly introduced Writer’s Workshop also proved to be a highly popular addition to the AFM experience with instructors from USC and UCLA teaching audiences of 400.
The AFM Campus was busier than ever as attendees took in screenings of 337 films (40 more than last year), including 264 market premieres and 61 world premieres. An additional 78 films screened on demand.
The American Film Market & Conferences is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance.
Poupoun Sesonga Kamikazi is the brains behind the Urusaro International Women Film Festival (UWIFF) that was held at the Umubano Hotel in Kigali recently.
In its second edition now, the festival celebrates the gains made by female filmmakers from Rwanda and Africa, although this year’s edition also saw movies from a few Asian nations screened.
This year organizers received a total of forty movie submissions, of which twenty three films were selected. Of these, eleven were from Rwanda, making the event a predominantly Rwandan affair.
Other movie submissions came from East and West Africa. One filmmaker from Gabon and another from Ivory Coast also flew down to Kigali for the festival.
The now annual festival was founded in 2015, but funding glitches left organizers with no option but to cancel last year’s event at the last moment.
New partnerships with Tele 10, 4GLTE and other sponsors ensured the festival bounces back bigger and better this year.
More support and goodwill also came from government through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC).
“Urusaro International Women Film Festival is about movies made by women, be it local or foreign. I myself am a movie maker and an artist. I have made five movies, so why not inspire other women to make movies too?”, remarked Kamikazi, at a pre-event press conference at the 4G Square in Downtown Kigali.
“We have many workshops where upcoming filmmakers will be helped to know how to pitch for funding because making movies requires a lot of money. Filmmakers will also have a chance to network because we have invited people from government and embassies and filmmakers from abroad,” she added.
“This is the first film festival to approach us for partnership and for us as Tele 10 we have a lot of movie content so we decided to come out and familiarize our brand in the society. We need more local filmmakers. People have been watching movies from Hollywood and Europe but it’s now time for Rwandan movies to taken center stage,” explained Emmanuel Niyonshuti, the head of Sales and Marketing at Tele 10.
The festival closed on March 11th, with a special award ceremony for best movie makers.
Some of the local filmmakers who walked away with awards include; Antoinnette Uwamahoro for Best Actress, Ahadi Beni for Best Actor, while the Best Short Film Accolade went to Apolline Uwimana for her film, Bugingo. The Most Popular Film was Isaha, by Zaninka Joselyn.
Started as a joke
In July 2012, Kamikazi won her maiden movie award, courtesy of the short film, Kivuto at the then Rwanda International Film Festival, now Rwanda Film Festival. And she has never looked back since.
She was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi but is Rwandan. She attended Kicukiro Primary school in Rwanda, then left for Burundi for her secondary studies. It’s in Burundi that the inspiration for her first film manifested, although at the time she didn’t consider a career in film.
Kivuto is a film borne out of her childhood memories about children with disabilities arising from complicated birth.
“There’s a province called Kirundo on the Burundian side, and Bugesera district on the Rwandan side. Kivuto is the name that was given to a child who had a complicated delivery. Usually the infant would be pushed out of the mother and in most cases that infant would die and if they survived they would come with some disabilities. Growing up, I saw many such children and even adults. Some would not control their biological functions,” she explains.
Following her award, a TV crew from Tele 10 interviewed her family on her success. She was shocked to learn from their interviews that the movie maker in her had started to manifest while she was a little girl of five.
At that age, she started narrating films to her family, films that were merely figments of her fertile imagination.
“I would tell them I had watched the film and start to narrate it yet I had not watched it. My siblings would sit around me and listen. The next day I would do the same and narrate a film I had never seen or heard about. When it was bed time my siblings would come to me to narrate them a film before they would go to sleep. Sometimes they would cry and other times they would be overtaken by fear.
“My mum was so strict and tough, but I was so stubborn and would always break her rules. Every time I would return home I knew that she would beat me up. Because I always knew I was going to be beaten up, I would always come up with a story to calm down her temper as a way of covering my stubbornness. Instead of beating me, she would say welcome, sit next to me and tell me the story,” she explains.
“My mum was a staunch Catholic and she adored the Virgin Mary. To be sure that I had convinced her and her temper had cooled down, I would always add a story about the Virgin Mary. I would tell her that some people had had a vision from the Virgin Mary. That was always the final touch in convincing her.”
It took them about five years to realize she had been creating fictional films she had never watched.
In 2008 she returned to Rwanda to continue with school at Mudende Adventist University where she studied Computer Science and Networking.
Towards the end of 2009 she met an American film crew making a movie in Rwanda.
“I was assisting the casting director to cast the characters. I noticed he was so tired and stressed and offered to help him during the pre production of the film. When I did it, the director of film started taking pictures of me and asking me many questions.”
They thought her to be an experienced local movie director, which she was not.
“The casting director asked me to return the next day yet he had his own assistant. I returned for the next couple of days and he kept asking me many questions about movies but I did not know the answers. I had not even read the script of the movie we were casting.
He asked how many times I had done casting in movies but I could not tell him I had never done it before because I knew they would not believe me. So I kept quiet, smiled and went away, hoping he would never ask me again.”
After the shoot she picked her allowances and headed back to school, the money having been her only motivation.
But even the Rwandan team from Almond Tree Films that had worked as extras in the film mistook her for an experienced American movie maker. Realizing she was Rwandan, the decided to engage her.
“They requested me to join Almond Tree Films and work with them but I told them I’m not a filmmaker but had just gone to make money.
One day they asked me to write them a script. I told them I had many stories but I didn’t have a computer and didn’t know anything to do with writing scripts. I just used to write my stories in a notebook.
When I gave them the story they said it’s a perfect script and they asked to shoot a movie out of it.”
It’s 2017. Oscar ballots are sent out today to 6,000 or so Academy members to make their final choices. While tabulation shifts in the preferential ballot might still bring a shocking surprise at night’s end, I would not bet on it. This race, as David Poland and Kris Tapley long ago proclaimed, was over in September. The winner was chosen and that was that. Most seem happy with the choice and at least we’ll have a Best Picture winner that features a Best Actress nominee — probably a Best Actress winner — a rarity that we haven’t seen for over a decade. It might be a low bar for celebration, but it’s been 12 years since that happened. 12 years.
Still, it’s hard to look at this year and not be astonished by the historic representation of the African American experience among the Oscar-nominated films. These stories got told and rose to prominence because they were undeniably worthy. By some miracle, none relied directly on any white characters who swooped in to make things right. Rather each was about fascinating characters in the black community with whole and complete loves, apart from white society. This is true with all three films up for Best Picture – Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures. I have been writing about the Oscars for a long time and I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that there is no way these films would have been chosen had the Academy, or even the critics or bloggers, not been pushed by a hashtag and a boycott to change the way they think about what defines “best.”
That’s because most people like to see stories that reflect who they are. Choosing their favorite film of the year has less to do with greatness and more to do with how a movie makes them feel. White audiences often feel personally scolded by stories that are too overtly critical of attitudes in the white community that black characters must cope with, so they shut down some of their personal involvement. If we would stop to think about that, it’s easier to imagine how it feels for black or Hispanic or Asian filmgoers to be absent from all the thousands of wall-to-wall white movies Hollywood made for decades. How discouraging and alienating it feels to be largely excluded, since the beginning of film history, to repeatedly see the white experience and white history about white people as the only authentic stories being told onscreen. But Fences and Moonlight and Hidden Figures all tell universal stories, don’t they? They’re not really fixated on the interaction between black or white at all – though surely that has to be there because it’s always there.
Maybe not everyone has noticed how the Academy evolved in the right direction ever so slightly this year. Some have probably resisted paying attention to what’s happening because many are irritated that we still need to have this conversation. “Why can’t we just make it about the movies,” is a question we hear every year. “Why does it have to be about race or strife or balance or diversity?” Complaints are continuous to point of monotony. “It should be about the most deserving, not about anything else,” or “People should choose the best, not for any other reason.”
Yes, yes, that’s right, “the best.” Got it. Yep. That’s what it’s all about. The built-in filters of history have always, of course, backed this up because that’s what the filters are there for. Year after year Best Picture winners are brought back out into the self-affirming spotlight to remind us all what great choices they made and how well thought through it really was and how it was truly about Miss Right instead of Miss Right Now. I will have a lot more to say about the film that is winning Best Picture and why it’s the perfect film to award this year. But I’ve chosen to hold off on all that for the time being because I never want to target a film that is about to win Best Picture while Oscar ballots are still in the hands of voters. Suffice it to say my feelings about the charming film we all love changed dramatically once Donald Trump became president. My feelings changed because I changed. Because the country changed. But that isn’t La La Land’s fault.
Ava DuVernay’s 13th probably won’t be winning Best Documentary Feature because O.J.: Made in America is a more comfortable sit for white voters. 13th is an indictment of the shameful systematic targeting of black men in America’s prison system. O.J.’s story is about finally nailing a black criminal who very nearly got away with murder. People will say, “No, O.J.: Made is America is winning because it’s the best.” Well, it is no doubt an impressive achievement, and its eight hour length is part of the reason. There has never, to my knowledge, been an Oscar winner that take an entire half a day to watch — or, more likely, watched over a number of days. 13th tells its story well within the boundaries of the regular documentary format. Can you imagine if 13th was as long as O.J.: Made in America? Where each two hour episode covered a different era of the centuries-long history of the African American experience? Had DuVernay done that and sustained the vast wealth of material the way we know she can, there is no way it would not be winning. Then again, the film by its own explicit intentions doesn’t go easy on white people, nor should it, and that always bothers Academy voters. O.J.: Made in America brilliantly depicts all the forces in play that built the O.J. myth and then tore it down. It isn’t without criticism of its white participants either, that’s for sure, but it still nails the black guy for murder. 13th is not about black men who are guilty of heinous crimes but rather about the flagrant inequity of forced criminality aimed at a class of people – an outrageous system first put in place after the Civil War that still plagues society on today – and already promises to be made far worse by the Trump administration.
Sad to say, for all the voices being heard and all the progress being made, real change seems to come with frustrating lethargy. Yesterday’s BAFTA awards and last night’s Grammy Awards began to feel like a double-barrel foreshadowing of Oscar night confirming our worst fears. When we look at Beyonce’s Lemonade vs. Adele’s 25 we see two very personal albums. Both are brilliantly conceived, beautifully written, and stunningly performed. Both are embedded in American culture in different ways. Adele is sort of a global phenomenon in terms of how many records she’s selling, while Beyonce is the more daring and groundbreaking artist whose film iteration of Lemonade’s music actually surpassed most of what we saw in theaters all year. Interestingly, Beyonce appears to be focused on changing the music landscape for future generations. She knows that perception is everything – she knows that growing up as a young black girl in America is the antithesis of pop-culture trends dominating the 20th century that worshipped the white stars – the Barbies, the Vogue cover-girls, the Oscar ingenues. She’s intent on bringing better balance to that.
As Beyonce said in her acceptance speech:
“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty, so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families — as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable. This is something I want for every child of every race. And I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes. Thank you again for honoring “Lemonade.” Have a beautiful evening. Thank you for tonight. This is incredible.”
We here in America have long ordained our gods and goddesses to be white-skinned people and have held those images up as the gold standard, or the default or the norm. One reason Hidden Figures feels so groundbreaking is because it took 56 years to bring the story of the black women at NASA who helped put John Glenn in space into the public consciousness. It took that long to tell that story, it took that long to make a movie that starred black women who weren’t maids or slaves. It took that long to convince studio execs that enough ticket-buyers cared about all that. It’s now earned $131 million, proving that plenty of Americans do care. It was only the Hollywood system that has insisted otherwise. Fences took years to bring to the screen for reasons that may seem different but are related: August Wilson insisted on a black director – and there’s an infuriating dearth of black directors who’ve been nurtured and shepherded by the power-and-money men in Hollywood that they will trust bring a major studio film to life? And finally and similarly, it has taken 89 years of Oscar history to nominate the first black auteur, Barry Jenkins, for Picture, Director, and Writer. That’s 89 years of black filmmakers who never got the opportunities that thousands of their white peers had handed to them.
Am I still talking about this? Yes, I’m still talking about it because I know and you know and Viola Davis knows and Halle Berry knows and Taraji P. Henson knows that the kind of year we’re enjoying right now is probably not coming around again any time soon. Or maybe it will. Maybe Trump’s white supremacist administration and his white nationalist agenda infesting Washington will at last motivate Hollywood to rise above the oppressive leveling effect of the American status quo. Maybe filmmakers will find renewed resolve to prove they can be different from that and stop holding up white stories as this country’s stories of choice.
I do not pretend to know the future. I just know what I’ve seen and what I’ve seen has been pretty damned depressing. It was like pulling teeth for Halle Berry to finally win her Oscar – the only black woman to date to win as lead actress. There was a time when saying that sentence out loud was shocking to people. Now a lot of readers just roll their eyes and say, “There she goes again with the race thing.” It’s just hard not to notice, is all.
To have awarded Beyonce over Adele would have been to honor the growing movement of empowerment trying to reshape America as a better place – and last night it felt like that thrilling impetus was shut down. Instead, Beyonce was handed an award for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” with all the cringing associations the word “urban” now carries. That told her exactly what the powerplayers in the music industry thought of her, no matter what everyone else did. Poor Adele was visibly horrified that she won both Album and Record of the Year – again – as though her own triumph was somehow attached to shame.
By this point, it’s getting hard to care about anything related to the Oscars. Never before have they seemed so small to me compared to what’s happening in the broader world. There are short films about Syrian refugees, about the global human experience. The foreign language films all tell urgent and meaningful stories from all over the world. These choices are also the Academy’s choices.
The ballots have been sent out today and I expect the results we see two weeks from now will not differ all that much from what we’ve seen transpire throughout this year’s awards race. Maybe one or two surprises (and we hope those surprises make us rejoice and not face-palm). Still, I want to keep reminding you, dear readers, of how and why this year will always stand out from the rest when looking back on Oscar history, and I want to hope that a lot of you will cherish these achievements as they deserve to be.
If you’ve watched more than just “the classics,” you know that some lesbian films need a minute or 20 to find their groove. That’s certainly the case for new film Bruising for Besos, the first feature-length effort from writer-director Adelina Anthony, who also stars in the movie. If for nothing else, you should consider watching this film for what makes it unique: the LA Latina lesbians at its center, and its willingness to tackle domestic violence in the lesbian community.
Anthony plays Yoli, a butch Xicana lesbian who’s as playful with her art as she is with her women. She may not be the best girlfriend, but she is a good friend. Lucky for her, because it’s at her surprise birthday party that she meets and falls for Daña (Carolyn Zeller), an intriguing Puerto Rican nurse. But Daña’s heard of Yoli’s reputation and she’s not having any of it. At first.
While Yoli comes off very strong with the flirting (like really laying it on thick), eventually she does wear Daña down. After an intense car makeout session that a cop interrupts (ugh, buzzkill!), they end up in bed together, as they will multiple times throughout the film. This definitely isn’t a movie that shies away from passionate lesbian sex scenes, even if they don’t necessarily move the story forward. Hey, I’m not complaining!
Their chemistry aside, after their first night together, Daña panics. It turns out she’s really religious and has a lot of issues around shame. Yet for some reason, she thinks she and Yoli can just be friends. Yoli’s willing to go along with idea, no doubt because she thinks she can change Daña’s mind. And she does–at least momentarily.
By this point, Yoli is falling for Daña, but she hasn’t completely lost her old ways. For instance, there’s her hot new coworker who constantly flirts with her, her ex who’s still somewhat in the picture and the woman her friends actually wanted to set her up with at the party. The most complicated of all, however, has got to be Carmela (Natalie Camunas), girlfriend to her best friend, Rani (performance artist D’Lo), and a former flame of hers.
Yoli’s just a complicated person in general, though, which is absolutely understandable given her history. She spent most of her early years in an abusive household, having lived with a father who beat and cheated on her mom. Several of these memories are recreated in the film through Yoli’s puppets, which she’s working on for a competition. But for the audience, they serve a much more important role: they’re a view into a past Yoli is trying to but can’t run away from.
Daña has her own daddy issues, but they’re very different. Her dad’s always been deaf and has long since had a rough go at things. Now older, he has some serious health problems. As a result, Daña’s even more reluctant to come out because of everything he’s been through.
Still, that doesn’t stop her from admitting she’s falling in love with Yoli, or Yoli from doing the same. But there’s a lot of insecurity and jealousy there from both sides and things do eventually come to a head.
When Daña’s dad has another health scare and she gets distant, Yoli goes to her, only to find a male nurse at the house. She confronts her somewhat aggressively in tone, but it’s Daña who hits her. In an instant, all that family history races through Yoli’s mind.
Are there apologies? Of course there are. Is the violence only physical? Of course it’s not. Theirs is a volatile relationship, not all that unlike many in our communities. The difference is Bruising for Besos dares to talk about it.
Now, who’s willing to listen?
Source – AfterEllen