The UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television held its Festival of New Creative Work in Los Angeles from June 4th to June 9th. The event showcased the best live action and animated films, scripts, and producer pitches from among the graduate and undergrad classes, voted on first by the students themselves, and then by a group of esteemed industry professionals. This year, there were many young women filmmakers represented among the winners. The best numbers were in the screenplay competition, in which three of the four feature film scripts were written by women (Nicole Riegel, Megan Green, and Diana Densmore). Also, in the animation night, three awards were given to females (Best art direction to Yinglei Yang, best story to Saeko Igarashi, and most innovative to Vivian Lee). The Opening Night and the closing “Director’s Spotlight” event included women filmmakers in percentages which more accurately represent real world statistics (in so much as Hollywood can be called the real world), where only three of nine, and then two of nine films were directed by women.
However, the big win for the ladies was in the Cinematography category, where every year, Panavision awards the best DP from all the films with a sixty thousand dollar (cha-ching!) camera package for their next project. This year it went to a woman, Jeanne Tyson, whose film, “Foot Soldier” I saw on opening night. I can attest to the fact that the photography was exceptional; nothing flashy—just clean, beautiful visual storytelling.
The festival also presents various honors to established and inspiring individuals working in film and television, and this time around, the majority of these honorary awards were given to women (thanks to Dean Teri Schwartz and Chair Barbara Boyle). The Alumni of the Year was writer/director Allison Anders, the Contribution to Animation Award was given to veteran voice over actor June Foray, the Champion Spirit Award was presented to DreamWorks co-chairman and CEO Stacey Snider, and the Director of the Year was Academy Award nominee Lisa Cholodenko. It was quite a thrill to see all of these women honored, and felt good to celebrate the tremendous individual contributions they have each made.
As I listened to the honoree’s acceptance speeches, and spoke to them before and after the event, I couldn’t help but notice that a familiar theme kept popping up. All of them talked about their children. Allison Anders told the story of how, as a single mom at UCLA, her young daughter would crash out in a sleeping bag on the floor of the editing room while she pulled all-nighters to cut her first feature, Border Radio. With her 5 year old son Calder at her side at the podium, Lisa Cholodenko told us that The Kids Are All Right was inspired by the experience of starting a family with her partner, Wendy, also in attendance. At a wine and cheese reception, Stacey Snider was obsessively checking her phone, and not because she was expecting a call from Spielberg, but because she was waiting for her daughters to text when they arrived. When I asked her about the mother/player shuffle, she laughed, recalling how her husband teased her for trying to schedule her second c-section so as to squeeze in one more preview for The Mummy. Now, I hesitate to bring up all this “mommy-brain” stuff, at the risk of sounding sexist, or worse, to perpetuate the ridiculous notion that a woman’s biology prevents her from properly concentrating on her job (for the man’s version of this, I give you Congressman Weiner). But in the end, I’ve decided to mention it anyway, because I was heartened by their personal stories, and I found my respect for these women deepening as I was reminded of everything they have been able to achieve both in spite of and because of their other very important careers as mothers.
And now, the young women graduating from UCLA TFT are giving birth to their own brand new baby careers, setting out on what is sure be a nerve-racking but wondrous adventure. It brings to mind that great line from Allison Anders’ film Gas Food Lodging: “Well, it’s like Adam and Eve. He was fine grooving in paradise, but Eve wanted something scary. She wanted the fucking edge. She wanted to jump off cliffs just to see what it was like to fall.” Good luck to the Class of 2011 as they take the leap.
Amy French is an actress, writer and director of average height, living and working in Los Angeles, California.