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Advice from Women Directors: ‘Don’t Listen to Naysayers…Just Do It.”

Advice from Women Directors: 'Don't Listen to Naysayers…Just Do It."

A range of grants and funds specifically designed to encourage
women to make both narrative and documentary films means more than ever they
are making inroads into the indie scene. The 22nd annual Raindance
Film Festival was the perfect place to catch up with some female filmmakers from
around the world at different places in their careers. Roughly 25% of the
directors screening features at the festival were women although notably none of
the seven gala screenings were directed by a woman. Indiewire tracked down some of the
women who had come to London to promote their projects, seek funding and network.

READ MORE: Here’s Why We Need More Women and Minority Filmmakers

Two veteran directors, with over 20 years’ experience apiece in the
industry covering both film and TV, hail from Canada. Gail Harvey (“Looking is
the Original Sin”) has made a name for herself with a focus on the narrative
sphere. “Looking back on my work I often have done mother/ daughter stories. That seems to be my theme in some way, mainly mothers going away,” said Harvey. 

Harvey decided to branch out after her first feature. “The first film I did was very much considered a character-driven female film and then I couldn’t get work so then I did a film that was completely macho and had lots of guns and it still didn’t matter, realizing in the end you have to tell the stories that matter to you,” she said.

Maureen Judge (“Living Dolls”) found a niche in documentaries and loves
finding new stories to tell. Both of these directors find themselves drawn to
women’s’ stories time and again. Judge’s first documentary was about women who had lived through WWI. “It took four years to convince people that this was a necessary project, all the women were dying, we had to push because no one cared about it,” she said. 

The lower budgets in the indie scene have allowed Judge to make the films she wants to, “Documentary has
budgets I can raise myself so being my
own producer I can have freedom I couldn’t have in narrative film. I can do
things about women and nobody says ‘who wants to hear about women?’ Judge said she doesn’t “feel compelled to tell women’s stories; it is internal, it
is political but it is internal because that is who I am, it is it integrated
into who I am.”

Joanna Lipper came to London to promote her latest documentary (“The Supreme Price”) a film about women and politics in Nigeria, a film she feels can possibly teach the U.S. a thing or two. “I’ve been able to get support and funding from organisations who have made it part of their mission to support women directors as well as films about women subjects and subjects relating to the rights of women and girls,” said Lipper.

Anna Kazejak has worked in her native Poland but found the freedoms and respect afforded her in Denmark was a dream; she showcased her latest narrative film (“The Word”) which focuses on revenge through the eyes of a young woman. Kazejak said she had a great experience filming in Denmark but was not always so well treated in her home country “I once interviewed with some producers for a job and I was the only female director in that group; I was asked about how I could combine work with children. In Denmark no one asks these kinds of questions of female directors,” said Kazajak.

Kazajak said she felt she needed to make a more macho film to overcome the prejudice she faced. “In the beginning I didn’t want to make every film with a female lead, so I wouldn’t be put into a box, so my second film was more male. It was about football fans, lots of tough guys, police, big fights; I had to show I could do this,” she said, adding that she feels she has now come full circle. “I want to make films about women because that’s the time for me to make this kind of film, it just feels right, I feel ready,” she said.

First-time female filmmakers Stephanie Joalland,
Beatriz Sanchis, Esra Saydam and Nisan Dag all originate in continental Europe
but have experience and training in countries other than their own. Joalland comes from France and has a screenwriting background;
she has travelled with her craft to L.A., Canada and made her first film (“The
Quiet Hour”) in the UK.

Saydam and Dag met while training in New York, but felt
a pull to their home country of Turkey to co-write and co-direct a very
personal story (“Across the Sea”). Sanchis hails from Madrid and has worked
her way around film sets in most of the departments, training on the ground. She
finally set out to make her own film and was lucky enough to attract big actors
from Argentina and Mexico who wanted to join her on her first set (“They are all
Dead”).

Here’s a round-up of some of the best advice they shared:

“Visual
effects, don’t try to wing them, I got lucky, I have a good team and we had a
great designer who did a good job but I could have made more conceptual art and
done more storyboarding for effects” — Stephanie Joalland

“Trust
your guts and instincts but make sure you are surrounded by the right people;
you cannot do everything by yourself” — Esra Saydam

“Save some of your energy for the production phase so that
you can be more alert and active on set. Don’t kill yourself; give yourself a
little bit of a break before you start filming so you can be your best.” — Nisan Dag

“My advice
is let it flow; see more of what’s around you and what’s happening there at
that moment. Don’t focus so much on what you planned. The times when I did that
on my movie it was perfect.” — Beatriz Sanchis 

“Don’t listen to the naysayers who say you’re a woman you can’t do it, I
think there is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. I hear so many women saying ‘I couldn’t make it because I’m a woman,’ There is no excuse, get a RED camera,
get a 5G, and make a movie, find actors. Just do it.” — Joalland

READ MORE: Female Directors at Sundance Have a Long Way to Go

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