GirlDocs: BOMBSHELL & HALF THE PICTURE
Was honored and excited to participate in Longleaf Film Festival’s screening of Amy Adrion’s documentary HALF THE PICTURE on Friday night at the NC Museum of History. I’d heard about the doc a while back through Seed&Spark and seen a bit of coverage after the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was eager to catch it.
The film did a precise job laying out the grim statistics that illustrate how women, particularly women of color, aren’t afforded anywhere near the same level of opportunity as men in the film industry. At times, the interviews with maven filmmakers– Ava DuVernay, Miranda July, Jill Soloway, and Kasi Lemmons among others– are disheartening. For many women, the reality is that no matter how big the last box office was, or what number of awards or accolades they’ve collected, the next gig never comes. But instead of walking away even more dejected (at least until Saturday) I found the cumulative effect of these women’s experiences, their shared frustrations and stymied opportunities, somewhat invigorating because these systems AREN’T static and many of these women are now committed to inclusivity and providing opportunities for other women filmmakers. Women who have struggled to forge their own paths can realize the power to change the system from within and is precisely why having these conversations is crucial effecting change.
After the screening, I participated in a women’s filmmaker panel discussion with filmmakers Camden Watts and Lana Garland, moderated by Beth Yerxa of Triangle ArtWorks, in which we had a fair amount of audience discussion about recognizing and acknowledging unconscious privilege. I’m not very practiced at public speaking, much less self-aware, so most of my contribution was recommending local and online resources for people looking to get into filmmaking and screenwriting (Triangle Filmmaking Community and reddit.com/r/screenwriting in particular.) And I’m afraid I probs babbled too much, especially when I went on a tangent about struggling to find a way into North Carolina’s film industry as a teen. What I tried to articulate was that when I was younger, I felt I had no connections, no role models, but I knew I wanted to make films and that I kept looking for someone to sneak me in the fire exit while no one was paying attention.
But at this point, I’m sure that the begging/pleading approach doesn’t serve anyone well. And as I know I said during the panel, I’m tired of waiting for a blessing, or acknowledgment to be plucked out of obscurity and given permission to create. So I’m just doing my own thang now. And my message to people searching for advice on how to throw themselves into their art, whatever it may be, is figure out what you need to do your own thang. Don’t wait for a degree, or for someone to find you. Don’t put all your eggs into winning a lottery. Write scripts. Make films. Just start doing. If you need help, know that there are communities out there if you look. The first one you come across may not be for you, that’s okay. There are others. You can find them, but you may have to get out of your comfort zone to find them.
In stark contrast to HALF THE PICTURE, earlier in the week, I caught the documentary biopic BOMBSHELL about Hedy Lamarr at Hunt Library. This film was presented by NC State’s Women’s and Gender Studies, Women in Engineering, and Film Studies Programs. I was eager to catch this doc having long been intrigued to learn more about Hedy’s secret life as an inventor. But ultimately I found this film terribly sad because of the circumstances of the late portion of her life and the contradiction of her pursuit of stardom as she implored the world not to judge her on just her looks. As one of the first actresses who produced her own films once when Mayer stopped giving her work, she seems fierce, her lifelong passion for invention brilliant, but her isolation and troubled personal life snowballed into something incredibly tragic. Particularly in the context with what so many women endured in the early studio system, Hedy was a pioneer and subverted expectations by exemplifying looks and brains.
By the end of the screening, I was a bit choked up, so I didn’t jump up to add anything during the Q&A. Much of the crowd seemed to be College of Engineering, and Women & Gender studies students, probs in no small part due to the event’s panel which included NC State faculty Drs. Laura Bottomley, Fran Liger and Mary Wyer who added topical knowledge and technical context to Hedy’s accomplishments. The discussion touched briefly on the topic of Self-objectification, which is something I think anyone talking about women in the context of ANY industry (film besides) would do well to study a bit about. There was also a fair bit of discussion about how important it is to see women in STEM careers to inspire young girls to pursue those technical passions.
And I think that’s where both events underscore the same message for me, that it’s IMPERATIVE to have these conversations, to highlight and celebrate the unsung female pioneers who have struggled, whether it’s within the Hollywood system, in front of the camera or behind it. Girls need to see and hear about these women, so they too can envision a future where they can direct films or drive innovation. So, I recommend BOMBSHELL if you want to dig into the power dynamics of the classical Hollywood studio system, brilliant women and injudicious Mel Brooks quotes. And I highly recommend HALF THE PICTURE if you want to see how women still struggle, no matter what qualifications or profits they deliver.