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Telling women’s stories will change the world, Sundance filmmakers say
Actress Rosario Dawson is interviewed in the documentary "Miss Representation," by director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, part of the Sundance Film Festival 2011. Courtesy Image
(Scott Sommerdorf  l  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Geralyn Dreyfous (lower left) listens intently as Gloria Steinem (right) addresses a gathering of 100-or so women Jan. 23 connected to the movie industry.
A film still showing USS Kirk crew members in "Last Days in Vietnam."
Courtesy Hugh Doyle  |  Sundance Institute
Mitch (Paul Eenhoorn), a tourist from Australia, enjoys a trip to Iceland, in the comedy "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
Tourists Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, left) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) vacation in Iceland, in the comedy "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Tourists Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, left) and (Earl Lynn Nelson, center) meet a hip local (Emmsjé Gauti) in Reykjavik, Iceland, in a scene from the comedy "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
The wreckage in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon after the Americans evacuated in 1975, seen in a moment from Rory Kennedy's documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." Courtesy Moxie Firecracker Films / PBS

Crew members aboard the USS Kirk signal passengers in a Chinook  helicopter to jump onto the ship's deck on April 29, 1975, during the final evacuation of Americans and their Vietnamese colleagues from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The moment is described in Rory Kennedy's documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." Courtesy Hugh Doyle  |  Moxie Firecracker Films / PBS

Stuart Herrington, one of the military men who witnessed the final days in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, one of the interview subjects of Rory Kennedy's documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." Courtesy Moxie Firecracker Films / PBS
Medical photos of Deanna Walters, a victim of domestic violence whose case is featured in the documentary "Private Violence." Courtesy HBO Documentary Films
A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute
A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute
A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute

A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Director Jill Soloway accepts the Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic for her film "Afternoon Delight" during the Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony at Snyderville Basin Fieldhouse Recreation Center in Park City on January 26, 2013.
Director Martha Stephens, of the narrative film "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sundance Institute
Director Rory Kennedy, of the documentary "Last Days of Vietnam" Courtesy Sundance Institute
Cynthia Hill, director of the documentary "Private Violence" Courtesy Sundance Institute
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A female ‘above-ground railroad’ » Change in the film world can be found in an emerging network of allies working to fund and mentor female storytellers. This network might work similarly to the way Emily’s List bundled small donations to help level the playing field for Democratic female politicians.

It’s a female “above-ground railroad,” said filmmaker Judith Helfand, creative director of Chicken & Egg films.

“Artists don’t just live on two coasts, and they don’t just live at film festivals,” she said. “We’re all part of an ecosystem that is starting to become a girl’s club, an old girl’s network that you can actually get into. Everyone’s trying to chip away at that.”

Helfand’s 9-year-old nonprofit funds female-led documentaries, including the Sundance documentary “Private Violence.” The documentary by Cynthia Hill is a freshly harrowing look at what might be considered a classic “women’s issues” story about domestic violence. Hill said she made the film to retire the question “Why didn’t you just leave?” after having her own experience in the past with domestic violence, which she chooses not to discuss.

The film “is my way of being able to directly address it and say the things I need to say, but I’m using other women to tell it,” Hill said before the Salt Lake City screening, where activists linked the film to reports of the Spanish Fork murder of Kelly Boren, her mother and two children. “Because that story is universal. You can’t hear this story from so many women, from so many walks of life, and it’s the same exact story, and that’s scary and sad.”

Gender, of course, plays into the subjects she focuses her camera on. But Hill says she experiences more roadblocks as a filmmaker because she chose to return home to North Carolina and to tell Southern stories.

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Confidence — and voice » After all, the forces of the digital revolution are making filmmaking more accessible, said Hill, who studied pharmacology before turning to filmmaking after making health-care videos.

“The statistics haven’t changed, but the amount of women making documentary films has changed,” Hill said. “If you have the passion and creativity, you can do it. Nobody can tell us no anymore.”

Women are reaching out to each other in multiple directions. “Nobody needs the studio” anymore, said Soloway, who worked on the TV shows “The United States of Tara” and “Six Feet Under.” “All you need is the confidence and the voice to start creating.”

Soloway is piloting a comedy show, “Transparent,” that will stream on Amazon, and with a friend has launched wifey.tv, a website spotlighting videos made by women.

One powerful example of the emerging ecosystem is Gamechanger Films, a $6 million investment fund Dreyfous helped found last fall, with a mission as straightforward as its name: “Gamechanger aims to shift the gender disparity in the film marketplace by tapping into the enormous yet undervalued talent pool of women directors and providing the financing necessary to bring their work to audiences worldwide.”

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Sundance Film Festival » There’s a scandal in the low numbers of women directing movies, which has led to an emerging network to change the field.

At a glance

Women behind the camera

A study commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival and Women in Film Los Angeles identified gender issues beyond the low number of female directors. When interviewed about directors, industry leaders were likely to use stereotypical male attributes or to make claims that women wouldn’t be interested or able to direct horror or action or other genre films. “When industry leaders think director, they think male,” the report states.

At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, of the 1,163 content creators working behind the camera on 82 American films, nearly 30 percent were women. In narrative films, 24 percent of content creators were women, while 40 percent of documentary directors were women.

In another bright spot, female filmmakers who participate in Sundance filmmaking labs are as likely as their male colleagues to finish their films and have them accepted at the country’s top 10 film festivals.

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