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Tribeca Women Directors: Meet Sheila Canavan (Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank)

Tribeca Women Directors: Meet Sheila Canavan (Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank)

Sheila Canavan makes her directorial debut with Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of
Barney Frank
. Canavan grew up in Boston and met Frank as a young
college student, when they were both working for Mayor Kevin White. Canavan is a well-known consumer law attorney concentrating in predatory
lending fraud and the financial abuse of the elderly. She has served on the Federal
Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council from 2004-2006. Her other film work
includes Yosemite, The Fate of Heaven and Waldo Salt: A
Screenwriter’s Journey
. (Press materials)

Co-directed by Michael Chandler, Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27.

Please give us your description of the film playing.

retired Congressman Barney Frank is one of our most well known and least
understood political figures. In the fun and poignant Compared to What: The
Improbable Journey of Barney Frank
, we meet the man who drives a 1998 Ford
Escort and does not own a home or a smart phone. Through intimate cinema-verite
footage, interviews and archival material we meet this lion of the Congress,
demonized by the right and blamed for causing the financial crisis, as he
wields his wit and humor like a wrecking ball in the service of his ideals
while preparing for his historic wedding to Jim Ready. Introducing a young, idealistic 13-year-old growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, and inspired by
Eleanor Roosevelt and Allard Lowenstein, the film takes us through his
improbable and painful journey as a lonely, closeted man to an authentic life
as the first openly gay and married Congressperson.

What drew you to this story?

Frank is an unforgettable person. Even though we only worked together briefly,
many years ago, I could not help but think of him every time I heard people,
including President Obama, speaking of politicians, and particularly of our
Congress people as naughty folks who cannot get along. I was drawn to his story
to try to understand what it takes to serve our country at a time when the
public’s view of Congress is so poor. 

What was the biggest challenge?

is almost always the biggest challenge — and it was for this film. Story-wise, it
was striking the right balance between the personal and the professional. Mr.
Frank said he came out to integrate his lives, so we were mindful of not
separating them.

What advice do you have for other female directors? 

now, people are supportive of female directors and so doing your research on
the support systems and tapping them is very important. A successful film
career involves many ups and downs. Hopefully, the ups will be a little
higher as your progress than the downs.

What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?


question. Perhaps that I am too idealistic, when in fact I think I am quite
grounded and practical in serving my ideals the best I can while working in
film and in the law.

Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films? 

friend once told me that you need to learn and understand the rules of the
business very well so that you can then break them.

Name your favorite women directed film and why.

Timoner’s We Live in Public is one of
the most brilliant and groundbreaking films I have ever seen. Rory Kennedy’s Ethel was extraordinary storytelling. Liz Garbus’s The Farm: Angola, USA. Sofia
Coppola and Nora Ephron for everything and
Kathryn Bigelow for Point Break.
These women pay attention to storytelling and craft.

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