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

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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