Many filmmakers talk about how their vocation is a "labor of love." For most of us, the "labor" can frequently exceed the "love." However, when we release our films out into the world it gives us pride to inspire, touch, and even occasionally enrage our audiences. That, in addition to a not-too-paltry check when it is sold or licensed, makes the sacrifices worth it.
I am fortunate that the Documentary Channel will premiere my latest film Weightless. Weightless is about a scuba diving "camp" for plus-sized women, created by Liz, a plus-sized psychologist and avid scuba diver. It took me two years to complete Weightless, which I know is a nanosecond in "documentary fundraising years." What I didn't expect was the difficult journey during the film's quest for distribution. For another two years, nearly every film festival I submitted Weightless to turned it down. Prior to Documentary Channel, I also received numerous rejections from U.S. and foreign television networks. Many of those rejections were from executives who said they enjoyed the film, but couldn't "find a place for it" on their networks.
I am aware of the changing business landscape of independent documentary filmmaking (online distribution, fewer networks purchasing "one-off" documentaries, etc.) and I will not get into that discussion right now. I do want to put forward one hypothesis on the struggle to get Weightless seen that won't be that shocking to anyone reading this:
Fat women aren't sexy.
I will even go a step further: there is little to no place for larger women to be acknowledged in the media unless they are self-pitying victims desperate to lose weight.
Weightless features women who have come to terms with their weight. They are not agoraphobic sloths afraid of how the world views them. These women have careers, friends, lovers, goals and interests. One of those interests is scuba diving, and Weightless follows them as they learn the technicalities of scuba and embrace the water's serenity and their own underwater prowess.
But this narrative doesn't fit the accepted view of fat people in this society. They are to be shamed, ostracized and mocked. Unwittingly (sometimes explicitly), the media have embraced the fat person as a pariah who should simply stay out of the refrigerator and onto a treadmill. There's no room for telling the story of a plus-sized person who DOES work out, who is active, who is loved by friends and significant others and doesn't define her life by her jean size. Films and television shows are dominated by thin women who uphold an impossible ideal for most of us, but who are revered for this presumed "beauty." Unfortunately, I think many TV programmers (even those who work in the documentary world) fall prey to this as well.
It's my hope that Weightless opens up a dialogue among its viewers about body image and stereotypes based on size and shape. The film won't wipe out fat stigma on its own, but maybe it will be a pebble thrown in the pond that creates ripples. These large women deserve a large audience–as well as open minds.
Faith Pennick is a filmmaker and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her film Weightless, will premiere on the Documentary Channel on Tuesday, July 31 at 8 pm ET/PT. For more information, visit her web site or follow her on Twitter @orgchaosmedia.