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The celluloid ceiling

Women in Film / Crystal + Lucy Awards 2012

Their passions are deep and their methods are diverse. Some want to use the resources of the industry and their own talents and some use the public platform that their fame allows. Stamping out discrimination of every kind; spreading the understanding of the breast cancer gene; or retelling stories that once had their inconvenient truths glossed over, this year’s Women in Film no-nonsense honorees dream both bold and large.

WIF’s exemplary list includes actresses Viola Davis, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christina Applegate as well as NBCUniversal’s Bonnie Hammer, and HBO’s “Big Love” director of photography, Anette Haellmigk.

All will be feted at this evening’s Crystal + Lucy Awards fundraising dinner, hosted by WIF’s president, Cathy Schulman.

Although each has excelled in her own creative field, this group of super achievers still has ambitious dreams.

For Crystal Award honoree Davis, the goal is to provide a role model and inspiration for young people, especially young African-American girls. Through speaking tours and engagements, Davis puts forth images both positive and honest.

“Young people are desperately looking for a role model to hold to,” she says. “So many images out there are either unattainable or shallow. When you have someone like a Donald Trump or a Paris Hilton, an heiress who probably spends $50,000 for a pair of shoes, it’s not only a shallow image, for these young girls it’s like, ‘OK! What am I supposed to do with that?’ ”

The Tony award winner grew up in impoverished Central Falls, R.I., a town where many of its 20,000 residents live on or below the poverty line. Last year, Central Falls filed for bankruptcy.

“I was in the public school system there,” recalls Davis. “And there were great teachers and bad teachers. What made up for all the bad teachers were those educators who saw that I was driven. But I didn’t have the resources and the confidence. I didn’t know what the first step should be. So many people took my hand and said, ‘In order for you to go to Juilliard, this is the application you sign.’

“So many African-American women start off in the world not feeling like they’re attractive enough, not feeling like they’re worthy. My dream is to be an instrument of change for them.”

Creating a film that deals with social change has been a long held dream for Lucy Award recipient Hammer.

“I’ve been trained and lived my entire life on the smallscreen,” says the TV exec. “My dream isn’t running a studio or doing anything managerial in any way, shape or form. And I only want to do it once! My dream would be producing, maybe directing, definitely not writing, one feature film.”

That film would have to be aspirational and provocative with a positive point of view like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

“I’m not wholly convinced that times have changed that tremendously, whether it be a racial issue, or any aspect of discrimination,” Hammer says. “Simply twist the story into what’s going on with Obama right now and gay marriage. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ came out 50 years ago. And all of the racial tensions existed, but somebody had the voice to stand out without fear.”

Hammer would want her film to serve as an educational tool, a wake-up call for America.

“Obviously, the fantasy is not in really making the film,” she concludes. “But it would be a film that had a legacy that ‘Mockingbird’ has. A film that’s taught in schools, not only in film schools but in high schools as well. It’s a fantasy I’ve had forever.”

In 2008, WIF’s Norma Zarky Humanitarian recipient Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer. And through genetic testing, the actress found out that she had a mutation in the BRCA 1 gene, making her more susceptible. Applegate’s disease was detected at an early stage though a doctor-ordered MRI.

In 2009, the actress founded the nonprofit Right Action for Women, in hopes of educating high-risk women who do not have the means to cover the cost of breast screenings.

“My dream is that I would like my 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Sadie, to grow up in a world where cancer is not something she has to be afraid of,” says the thesp. “I don’t want her to face the things that I had to go through.”

Moretz is Max Mara’s Face of the Future honoree at tonight’s gala. The 15-year-old says she was inspired to act by 1961 romantic comedy “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

“There was nothing romantic about it,” says the “Hugo” star, who is keen to play an interpretation of Holly Golightly that would be more faithful to Truman Capote’s novella than the Audrey Hepburn film.

“I would go into the sense of the real call girl. I would go into the depths of who she really was,” Moretz says. “Holly’s best friend was gay, and they never explained that in the movie. But then, back in the day, they could have never come out and said, ‘This is her gay best friend. And, by the way, she’s a prostitute.’ ”

Kodak Vision honoree Haellmigk began her career working on big-budget, action-packed special-effects movies like “Total Recall” and “Spider-Man 2.” But Haellmigk’s “dream project” is to shoot those features that Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co. produce: strong, realistic character-driven stories that have an artistic approach to cinematography.

“I would love to shoot a project with a sense of adventure, in a foreign country, surrounded by a different culture … perhaps a thriller,” she says. “Directors I dream of working with are great with actors, extremely interested in all visual aesthetics, especially lighting and camera.”

Haellmigk’s dream men: Terrence Malick, Brad Anderson, Darren Aronofsky.

“And if Paul Thomas Anderson and David Cronenberg read this, would you please call me? You guys support Women in Film, don’t you? If not, maybe it’s time to start!”

WIF president Schulman continues to strive to break through the celluloid ceiling for all women in the business.

In 2011, women represented 18% of all directors, exec producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, an increase of two percentage points from 2010. And females accounted for 33% of all characters in the top 100 domestic grossing films. An increase of 5% points since 2002.

“We want to help women increase these numbers,” Schulman says. “After last year’s Crystal awards, we started the career activism committee, which collects evidence on salary parity and ageism so that we can compile it statistically. That way we can figure out the problems and solve them.”

And with the org’s new collaboration with the Sundance Institute, WIF supports career longevity for independent female filmmakers working in narrative and feature films.

These WIF honorees prove that Hollywood is changing, albeit slowly.

One of Schulman’s many dreams: “In a perfect world, I’d like to do a documentary of all this.”

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