We have to give a huge thank you to all the phenomenally talented and fascinating filmmakers who took the time out from their busy South by Southwest schedules to honor us with their vibrant presence at our SXSW panel. With a slew of award-winning films under their belts and three of their SXSW films premiering at Sundance, it was an awe-inspiring group who were remarkably forthcoming, funny and brilliant. In addition to our six scheduled female panelists, we also were graced by surprise guests and honorary “woMeN” in cinema: Jeremy Hersh, director of the short Natives and Ruben Amar, co-director and writer of Swim Little Fish Swim.
The lucky audience members were treated to what felt like an intimate, convivial gathering - akin to the “salons” of early 20th century France – with the panelists more genuinely interested in each other than in selling themselves. Despite the thousands of film related conversations I’m sure they had during their SXSW stints, it seemed like our panel was a unique opportunity for them to commune with fellow filmmakers in a calm and casual atmosphere – without the pressure to self-promote and power-network.
Kat Candler - Women in Cinema’s godmother and director of a SXSW/Sundance short film for the 2nd year in a row - moderated the panel with her usual charm, creating an inclusive conversation that went in depth into a handful of pertinent topics such as inspiration, process and navigating the complicated relationships that films are dependent on. Each director made unique and insightful contributions on every topic. Here we have included one insight from each.
Celia Rowlson-Hall was a serious dancer before delving into directing, and her films - including her TWO films in SXSW this year - often feature herself as she employs her dance and choreography skills. Celia is a strong advocate for honesty as the foundation of filmmaking: “the work that I make is just me trying to figure things out,” she confided.
And Julia Pott too recounted thriving on the self-expressive aspect of filmmaking – even when adapting someone else’s material. The narration of her animated film The Event was a poem by Tom Chivers, and Julia was surprised and slightly anxious when he gave her complete freedom to interpret the poem as she wished – but she ultimately found the experience to be exhilarating. By entrusting her with the text of his poem, Chiver was clearly a key contributor to Julia’s film. Other panelists, however, described working with crucial contributors who were not so unquestionably amenable.
Jillian Schlessinger was the only panelist with a documentary in the festival: Maidentrip, a feature documentary about Laura Dekker, a 14-year-old girl who sails around the world by herself. Jillian conveyed the emotional delicacy involved in securing the participation of her adolescent subject who was at first reticent about being the subject of a documentary. Now she and Laura are fast friends and collaborated closely throughout the filmmaking process.
Frances Bodomo had a narrative filmmaking version of Jillian’s experience while making her narrative short Boneshaker. She still hadn’t found an appropriate actor to fill the African immigrant father role, until already on location in Louisiana when she came across a local man in a coffee shop who she had to coax to be one of her principal actors as his first ever acting experience. Frances also recounted her flipside experience: the kismet of discovering Quvenzhané Wallis, the astounding starlet of Beasts of the Southern Wild, through her NYU connections to the crew of that film.
And Lola Bessis provided an unusual perspective on the process of working with actors – since she not only directed but acted in the feature she co-directed with Ruben Amar, Swim Little Fish Swim. Lola opened up about facing certain backlash from the other actors who at times resented that as an actress she was exempt from the critiques she would give them as director. But she clearly overcame this and ultimately Lola evinced the passionate perseverance that radiated from all of the panelists: she has at least 3 other feature scripts she is working on. “We want to explore as many worlds as we can,” she said.