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Guest Post: Fusion Film Festival at NYU Looks Back on the State of Gender Equality in the Film Industry on its Tenth Anniversary

Guest Post: Fusion Film Festival at NYU Looks Back on the State of Gender Equality in the Film Industry on its Tenth Anniversary

As was widely reported this year in the “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Filmmakers” study that was presented at the Sundance Film Festival, 2013 is a record year for women in film. But what does that mean, exactly? While women made 23.9% of the independently produced films at the festival, only 4.4% of big budget, studio backed movies in the last ten years were helmed by women. These statistics are simultaneously distressing and optimistic, but it’s actually a step forward in the ten years since the study began.

It was also around a decade ago when two film students at Tisch School of the Arts, Gina Abatemarco (now the award winning filmmaker behind the documentary Kivalina People) and filmmaker Emma Heald  (My Lost Art, currently in production) pitched the idea of a student driven film festival that celebrated women behind the camera in successful collaborations with men.  They were aided in the creation of what became the Fusion Film Festival by NYU Tisch administration and the fervent support of Professor Susan Sandler of the school’s film department who became the festival’s continuing mentor. 

This was before Diablo Cody won Best Original Screenplay for Juno, and well before Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to ever win Best Director at the Academy Awards. The problem was clear: Hollywood is, historically, a man’s club. Not only are female filmmakers not getting jobs and opportunities to tell their stories, there’s an overwhelming lack of women doing technical work behind the camera. If you scan the credits of any major studio film, you’ll be hard pressed to find women in the roles of director of photography or editor, for example. They’re out there, but they are few and far between.

The result of this brainstorm was the Fusion Film Festival. While in a sense designed to empower and recognize young female filmmakers, the Fusion team realized that there’s a more important end goal if things were to change for women in the industry: gender collaboration. Film is not, or at least shouldn’t be, a battle of the sexes, and so Fusion opted to recognize films that featured a diversity in gender among their key crew rolls: female DPs working alongside male directors, male writers working closely with female directors… Gender collaborations, such as everyone from Mike Nichols and Elaine May, to Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, to Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow have been responsible for some of the most important and memorable films in recent American history. The “why” is obvious; when you have diversity behind the camera, stories are told which can be universally related to.

Ever since, Fusion, an entirely student run and operated endeavor with the ardent support of advisor Susan Sandler, has become one of the hallmarks of NYU’s academic year. Its film screenings and competitions have been paired alongside panels, talks, and amazing collaborations with the likes of Miranda July, Nancy Meyers, Amy Heckerling, Jane Campion, and Lena Dunham.

Even when the ethereal, metaphorical, and utterly ridiculous “glass ceiling” might still seem far, Fusion is proud to be celebrating their decade-old anniversary with a pretty spectacular year for women in film and television. TV series with female showrunners are among the most successful, talked about, and downright best shows on television, from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Liz Meriwether’s New Girl. Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison once again brought us one of the most important and lauded films of the year, Oscars be damned. Legendary filmmaker and Fusion Honorary Board member Jane Campion debuted her female produced, Elisabeth Moss –led miniseries at Sundance, to air on the Sundance Channel later this year. And studio comedies are still riding the wave of fantastic women penned and girl-centric comedies like Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect.

This year, we’re proud to honor our first ever Women of the Year at the festival: Oscar nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild co-writer Lucy Alibar, who adapted her own play, Juicy and Delicious, with director Benh Zeitlen into one of the year’s most affective and popular independent films. Lucy’s vision and imagination are extraordinary, and we can’t wait to present her with the award, which will be coupled with a staged reading of the play on which it’s based, along with a conversation about the collaborative process. While Quvenzhané Wallis may not be present, we’re pretty sure that somewhere she’ll be pumping her fists on the night of the award.

Other highlights include a roundtable discussing what it takes to be a “do it yourself” filmmaker in the indie world and create opportunities for yourself which will include filmmakers such as Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks), Sophia Takal (Green), Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan), and newly minted Spirit Award Winning producer Mynette Louie, to name a few. Other panels and discussions range from making the most out of the film festival experience to finding a place in the post-“House of Cards” business model of filmmakers moving to television and digital media. This also marks our second year in a festival to festival mentoring relationship with the Nantucket Film Festival, their Executive Director Mystelle Brabbee, and their festival Producer Bill Curran.

The festival starts on March 7th and will be capped off on March 9th with a screening of Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s awesome documentary Wonder Woman! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, a film that chronicles how history perceives strong female role models through the evolution and legacy of Wonder Woman. Right now spell check is telling me that “superheroines” isn’t a word, and yet it doesn’t seem to have the slightest of qualms with “superhero.” So there’s that. The doc’s producer, Kelcey Edwards, and activist Shelby Knox will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening.

It’s kind of a rush typing the names of all of those extraordinarily talented people (just a few of many scheduled!) who have graciously volunteered their time to be part of our panel events this year, and it’s a pretty encouraging show of strength. As a non-profit organization, all of our panelists and guests come to the events because they care deeply about the cause and are willing to make a difference, which is kind of incredible. Ten years in, Fusion is still dedicated to helping raise and support filmmakers intent on smashing the barriers of gender inequality. The young, burgeoning (and totally un-gender biased) filmmakers represented in this and every year’s festival will be the Academy Award winners of tomorrow, mark our words. So if you’re a filmmaker or film lover in New York this weekend, feel free to stop in and help us celebrate a generation of filmmakers uninhibited and undaunted by gender wars. Our events are free and open to the public, and we’d love to hear from you on our 10th birthday!

Fusion Film Festival

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