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How Refinery29’s Female Filmmaker-Focused Shatterbox Shorts Are Creating the Next Generation of Auteurs

Just over a year into existence, the female-focused shorts program has unleashed an enviable list of fresh new talents behind the camera.

“The Good Time Girls”

Flexing Your Directorial Muscles

For the second season (first announced at Sundance in January), Shatterbox received over 100 submissions, twice as many as the first time around. That season will launch sometime in 2018, boasting a new partnership with TNT Turner Networks that will give the shorts a wider reach. Occasionally, the team will approach bigger names directly, knowing that adding known talents into the mix will help get attention for the entire project.

Mainly, they are eager to see someone with a vision that they can help shepherd to the screen. “We are as involved or uninvolved as the filmmaker wants,” Gibson said. “We try to keep the things as flexible for the directors so that they can have the experience that they need to have.”

The end result is a stable of filmmakers – new, emerging, established, and everything in between – that are getting opportunities to create projects on their own terms, projects they never thought were possible. That includes such lauded names as Oscar-nominated actress Sidibe, who credits the program with not only giving her the means to make her directorial debut, but the very idea that it was possible.

“On my own, I would have said no,” Sidibe said. “This is a huge opportunity to direct, and I don’t know that I was convinced that I was smart enough or good enough to direct something at the time. I had to kind of do it for my friend in a way to do it for myself.”

The Shatterbox team initially approached Sidibe with an open-ended offer: we want you to make a film, and if you don’t have an idea, we’ll find you one. Two years earlier, Sidibe’s eventual producer and screenwriter told her about an idea to turn Nina Simone’s song “The Tale of Four,” which interweaves stories of four different African-American women, into a single short.

When Shatterbox came calling, Sidibe realized that she could use it not just as a chance to break into directing, but to help her friend’s dream come true. Perry was about to launch a Kickstarter to fund the film, but Sidibe had something better.

“The Tale of Four”

Filmmaker Menon had a similar experience, when the Shatterbox team reached out to her after her Sundance premiere “Equity” had ended its theatrical run in the summer of 2016, letting her know they were seeking submissions for female-made content. It was exactly what Menon was looking for. She wanted to make a short about a powerful woman in politics, and she wanted to do it all in one-shot. Really, she just wanted to get behind the camera again.

“To get better as a director, you have to be directing,” Menon said. “It can take years to put together a feature, but if you can have these opportunities to get on set and kind of flex your muscles, go to the gym basically as a director, I think it will just make you better, stronger, and clearer on who you are and the point of view you bring to the table.”

Other filmmakers heard about the program from their producers, like “Lucia, Before and After” filmmaker Anu Valia, who had been attempting to make a feature about abortion for years and “having the normal frustrations” in getting it financed.

Valia’s producer brought the program to her as just as Shatterbox was looking for submissions. Valia had just finished writing the script for what would become her short, one that spins off the themes and concepts of her planned feature. Like many of the Shatterbox films, it chronicles a distinctly feminine experience.

“I was prepared to be making films in obscurity for a very long time and not to be able to be a director for a living,” Valia said. “It just opened doors that I didn’t think would be opened for me.”

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