While Gamechanger Films is aimed at funding female-directed fiction features, Chicken & Egg Pictures, which was launched eight years earlier in 2005, focuses on nonfiction films from women directors. The non-profit was the idea of Wendy Ettinger (pictures left), Julie Parker Benello (pictures right) and Judith Helfand.
“We were all filmmakers and wanted to create an entity that gave other women filmmakers the support we wished we had had,” recalls Ettinger. “We discovered that whatever resources we provided — be it mentorship or funding — the filmmakers ran with it. The films got better and the community we were serving grew.”
The nonprofit receives 600 applications annually for 15 grants and provides mentorship programs.
Lately, it has been addressing the issue of career sustainability in the face of burnout. Says exec director Jenni Wolfson, “Often the first film a woman makes is a passion project that will bleed her dry financially and emotionally and take years to make. We want to help her create films again and again.”
Helfand, its creative director, adds: “We want our filmmakers to take that passionate story they greenlit themselves and combine that with some commercial work,” which establishes a diverse portfolio. “There’s a whole new range of opportunities there for nonfiction filmmakers who are really good storytellers.”
Helfand’s creative advice inspired grantee Stephanie Wang-Breal, who directed international adoption doc “Wo ai ni Mommy.” Says the first-generation Chinese-American: “I shot, directed, produced, and ended up being the translator for the characters in my film. Judith (Helfand) kept asking ‘Where is your voice?’ and I said I don’t want to be in it. She said your voice is so important. It ended up becoming a big part of that film and who I am as a filmmaker.”
While male docmakers like Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock and Alex Gibney have career longevity, that’s rare for women. Wolfson says, “Maybe 30% to 40% of documentary filmmakers are women. When it comes to awards, visibility and being selected to make branded content and bigger budget opportunities that help sustain a career, women are not equal on the playing field. We want more like ‘Citizenfour’s’ Laura Poitras. We want more women.”