MIND THE GAP LS: Is there any correlation between films that do well at festivals and their success in the mainstream, particularly when you’re looking at male-directed films versus female-directed films? How do they fare after a festival like yours or Sundance? ZE: The films themselves will often get a stamp of approval by being at a significant film festival. One of the things that I think has been noted with films that go to Sundance, is that, of the people who win the dramatic competitions, it’s more likely, if you’re a man, that you’ll be offered a high-budget Hollywood film to direct than if you’re a woman. The old boys’ club holds still. There are a lot of organizations that have been coming up, like Film Fatales, that are really trying to have women work together. Networking is obviously a key thing, and really being a support to each other is a key thing.
still has to be good, so it’s not just about filling a quota, it’s not just about, “I got the film made because I’m a woman”? What comes into play if you just set that hard line of 50 percent? ZE: I don’t feel that, in looking to raise awareness about women filmmakers, we’ve diminished the quality of the work we’re showing at all. From the programmatic point of view, a part of it is how we look at films. You have to come back to yourself. You have to say, “What are my biases? What are the things that stop me from seeing that as a compelling story? Do I need to educate myself?” Especially when you’re programming an international film festival. I don’t live in Iran; who am I to judge an Iranian film? You have to try and figure out ways that you can look at work, be open to it, and bottom line, if a film is compelling, it’s compelling. I would say from my experience that the stories are out there, and women are making them. Are they making them in as great numbers as men? They’re not. So how do you make that happen? That’s the conundrum.
LS: I’ve read a couple of examples of that. Meryl Streep recently announced her writers’ lab for women over 40, with the idea that if you have more women in the position of writing, maybe you see more of them in the film, represented with agency, if you will. Then Rose Byrne started ”We tell stories so we can rememan all-women Australian production company called The Dollhouse Colber the truth about ourselves. We lective. It seems like if you’ve got want to be able to see ourselves. more women taking control of their own destiny, that that might be one If there are no women that you’re way that more women are elevated seeing, then you’ve lost 50 percent who might not already hold that power. of the stories right there.” ZE: It is about holding the power. As we’ve been going through the selection process at Mill Valley, we’ve been tracking how many of the documentaries, how many of the American narrative features, how many of the international features, how many of our shorts, are directed, written or produced by women, and it was intriguing to see that the U.S. was lagging behind in the narrative section, both from the number of films we had submitted and the number of films we’ve been researching. LS: What do you think is happening? What do you think is creating that gap? ZE: Making a film is a phenomenal thing to do, for anybody. One of the things in the U.S. is that there’s no support governmentally. There’s very little support for narrative filmmakers who are coming up. I was at a panel at the Berlin Film Festival this year, and the woman who’s the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute completely upped the ante. The majority of feature filmmaking in Sweden is funded by government funds, so she took... I was going to say the bull by the horns, and I should probably say the cow by the tail... and said, “We are going to give 50 percent of our funding to women.” LS: What about the argument that they still need to be qualified, and they still need to have the talent and the idea, and the story
LS: You just have to work a little harder to find them. ZE: Definitely. In approaching this with a notion of raising people’s awareness about films, going back to story, it’s so important for any human being to see something of themselves on screen. We tell stories so we can remember the truth about ourselves. We want to be able to see ourselves. If there are no women that you’re seeing, then you’ve lost 50 percent of the stories right there.
LS: What has it been like for you to be a woman who has the opportunity to influence what gets featured? ZE: It was interesting to embark on the “Mind the Gap“ program, because initially we said it was going to be like a women’s focus, but typically if you do a focus in a festival, it’s half a dozen films at the most—geographically defined or thematically defined—and we realized that what we were doing was something that was quite radical, because it actually crosses the whole festival. Where I would like to get to is 50 percent. I see so many other festivals saying, “We have 30 percent women directors,” and I feel like we’re just playing with numbers. I don’t want to just play with numbers. I really want to elevate the conversation, and I would like us to get to the point where we see 50 percent women directors. We’re not there yet, but we can, right? LS: We can. We definitely can. Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller features interviews with women who are changing the status quo. It is a public radio show produced in partnership with KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco. More info at inflectionpointradio.org.
Souvenir Guide from the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival with exclusive editorial features.