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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #79: In ‘The Mask You Live In,’ Jennifer Siebel Newsom Confronts Our Narrow Definition of Masculinity

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #79: In 'The Mask You Live In,' Jennifer Siebel Newsom Confronts Our Narrow Definition of Masculinity

After making a splash with “Miss Representation” in 2011, Jennifer Siebel Newsom is back with a new documentary at Sundance. Keeping in the spirit of delving into American notions of gender, Siebel Newsom’s “The Mask You Live In” shifts the focus to men and masculinity. This probing and insightful accounting of the role of American social life, media and pop culture in gender formation exposes the damaging effects that come with limited interpretations of who and what a “man” can be. But Sundance is only a starting point: Siebel Newsom hopes to spread the word beyond Park City.

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

“The Mask You Live
In” explores how America’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming our
boys, men, and society.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

“The Mask You Live In” follows boys and young men as they
struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition
of masculinity. Pressured by the media, pop culture, their peer group, and even
the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them
to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and
degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes
interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity
issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men. Experts in
neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh
in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it.
“The Mask You Live In” ultimately illustrates how we, as a society,
can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I am a filmmaker, social
justice advocate, proud mom of three young children (ages one, three, and five), and am married to California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. I wrote, directed, and
produced the documentary “Miss Representation,” which exposed the
ways in which mainstream media contributes to the underrepresentation of women
in positions of power and influence (it also premiered at Sundance in 2011).
As a result of “Miss Representation,” I founded The Representation
Project, a nonprofit organization that uses film as a catalyst for cultural
transformation, particularly around limiting gender stereotypes. Our ultimate
goal is for everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual
orientation or circumstance, to have the opportunity to fulfill their human

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

The biggest challenge with
“The Mask You Live In” was making a film that men could hear!
Masculinity in America and what it means to “be a man” is a topic that has been
largely ignored and unexplored in public conversation. With “Miss Representation,” I benefited from such rich literature and conversation on the issues holding
back both women and girls. The gender equity movement was in full swing even
before the film was birthed (granted the film brought forth a fresh framing). I
share this because the masculinity conversation is still relatively young, and
so the film will be the first time some people hear the connections we are
making in the film. This is so exciting to me but it also made the filmmaking
process harder from the get go because we had to get it just right!

What do you want Sundance audiences to take away from your film?

First, I hope the Sundance audience will help us spark a national
conversation around healthy masculinity. Masculinity can’t just be about brute
force, sexual conquest, and economic success. These stereotypes harm all of us.
Second, I hope parents and mentors will be inspired to model “whole”
masculinity – masculinity that isn’t emotionally stunted. It’s incumbent on all
of us to show boys a positive way forward by embodying the change we want to
see in the world. And finally, I hope this film encourages boys and men to have
the courage to stay true to themselves so they don’t feel they have to dawn a
mask and conform to a hyper-masculine norm.

Any films inspire you?

Most character-driven films
and documentaries inspire me, but I’m a working mom who hasn’t been to the
theater in a while. When I have time, I tend to watch more TV series
(“Homeland,” “House of Cards,” “Breaking Bad,”
“Veep”) and documentary films (any and all). However, I am very much
looking forward to seeing Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” and Clint
Eastwood’s “American Sniper” – post-Sundance of course!

What’s next?

I am currently in production
on my third film, “The Great American Lie,” which examines the
social, political, and economic ramifications of a society that values
dominance, power, and aggression at the expense of empathy, care, and

What cameras did you shoot on?

We shot “The Mask You
Live In” on a Canon 5D for the most part.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform?

We did crowdfund through
Kickstarter. It was heartening and wonderful to see such an outpouring of
support and excitement for “The Mask You Live In” online.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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