Female Filmmakers Share Horror Stories, Advice with Students at ‘Women Strong’ Event: ‘Don’t Quit’

women in hollywood female filmmakers
Courtesy of SVA

With Sundance about to start and an ongoing drumbeat for gender parity in Hollywood, women in the film industry offered bracing tales of what to expect — and encouraging words to keep at it — to an audience of young, largely female student filmmakers at “Women Strong,” an event co-presented by the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition and New York’s School of Visual Arts, the coalition’s first academic partner.

After a screening of five short films — ranging from narrative to animation to documentary and all made by female students and alumni of SVA — a panel of pros told war stories about succeeding in a male-dominated industry that is only now beginning to mobilize for change.

“It’s the little comments you get sometimes,” said Rachael Levine, a cinematographer, director of photography and camera operator on projects including HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero” and the upcoming film “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” “Like, ‘Oh, is this your first time doing this?’ It’s like, ‘Well, it is today, on this set.’ You just kind of have to roll with it.”

Panelists, including producer-turned-attorney Laverne Berry and producer-director Katharina Rohrer, told stories of investors and distributors, both male and female, questioning female leadership of projects they deemed more “male.” “With both of my films, I get asked how I’ve managed to tell such a masculine story,” said Jenna Ricker, whose second feature, noir outing “The American Side,” will see release this spring. “When we were seeking funding, I had women say to me, ‘Well, I would trust a guy with this, but not you.'”

Women can also be hemmed in on the other side, by industry types who think it’s the responsibility of female filmmakers to focus on women’s stories. “You have to figure out your answer to questions like that, because they’re inevitable,” Berry noted.

Moderated by media consultant Caitlin Burns, the panel finished with the participants offering advice to the young filmmakers in the room. For many of the panelists, the advice boiled down to, “Don’t quit.”

Introducing the panel, Shellen Lubin, the co-president of the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition, offered sobering facts with a dash of hope. “At the academic level, filmmakers average about 50/50 in terms of gender breakdown,” she said. “Every step of the ladder that you go, as projects involve more money and higher prestige, those numbers drop off. You get fewer and fewer women.

“But what’s incredible,” she added, “is that right now, everyone is aware of it. People are noticing.”

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  1. squck says:

    Just because it’s not your experience being treated differently or less capable because you’re a woman in Hollywood, that dosen’t mean that sexism and bias against women dosen’t exist in Hollywood at all,because there’s way too much evidence to prove that it does. . Lemme guess—you’re not a director, right? Because that’s when women in the film business have to deal with the most trouble—when they step up to the plate and take on the “male” jobs like directing and producing. Your one little experience dosen’t erase any of that.

  2. Dee3 says:

    Oh my Godddddd, as a woman, I have to say, all of this “It’s so hard for women” in Hollywood nonsense is insane. I’ve never been treated badly by a man in Hollywood– while I’ve seen these men treat other men really horrible. It’s tough for everyone in Hollywood because it’s a cut throat business. But most men really are so much more kind and supportive to women than they would ever be to their male counterparts. Yet when they’re nicer, y’all have a problem too!!!! Grow the **** up and start standing up for real human probs, like the plight of all those murdered people (of both genders) in Saudi Arabia. Because it’s sickening that we continue calling that regime moderate and that we continue calling those jerks our allies. Also, you know there’s lot of girls being kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers? Wanna take up that cause?!! Or is that to worthwhile of a thing to talk about anymore? Feminism is getting so old. How about some basic humanism already!!

    • Michal Czernin says:

      Props to the first replied above me. I’m not sure you’re point is fair at all, or if you really have one. Also flinging in sex trafficking from left field, which btw one of the panelists (Katharina Rohrer) did in fact make a documentary on a few years ago.
      In a male-dominated industry, women are bound to get the short end of the stick. If that hasn’t been your experience so far, I guess you’re lucky? Or perhaps not seeing the whole picture.

      • Mina says:

        *panelists

      • Mina says:

        The issue (although some of the panalisrs mentioned men making backhanded comments to them) is not really whether men are “treating women well” once they get to Hollywood. It’s getting us there. We are terribly underrepresented in almost all positions, from the writer’s room to production.
        The issue of men being polite and respectful of women coworkers in the film industry is really a much smaller one, which probably comes down to whether or not many are used to seeing women in those positions.

    • Just because someone is concerned with injustice in one area, doesn’t mean they are less concerned in other areas. Most women I know are not only concerned about human trafficking, but actively supporting ways to fight against it, including covering it as non-fiction filmmakers, journalists and many types of human rights activists. That is the point after all — human rights — full, equal, human rights for all of us.

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