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New York Film Festival Showcases Women's Work

Monday, July 19, 2004

As few female directors get big-budget assignments, festivals such as the Reel Venus festival, opening tomorrow in New York, champion woman-made cinema.

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As few female directors get big-budget assignments, festivals such as the Reel Venus festival, opening tomorrow in New York, champion woman-made cinema.
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From the Movie

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Los Angeles-based film producer Effie T. Brown says her own success proves that while Hollywood might be a daunting work place for women, it's still doable.

"Yes, things are hard but I think it's hard for everybody," says Brown, 32, the African-American producer of "Real Women Have Curves" (2002) and executive producer of the Meg Ryan thriller "In the Cut" (2003).

"I know white men who don't have the access I have. You can make it...If I truly believed that (you couldn't make it), why would I go into this business?"

Some industry watchers, however, maintain that while the film industry is tough for everyone, the barriers are more formidable for women in search of artistic or financial control over movies.

Mo Ogrodnik, assistant professor of writing and directing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, for instance, told Women's eNews that while some female producers and studio executives have recently gained clout, female directors are still rare when it comes to big-budget projects, such as action movies.

Marilyn Beker, professor and chair of the screenwriting department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, agreed, saying that studio executives "don't tend to trust women with a lot of money and a lot of decisions."


Money Tells the Story

In responding to a reporter's relay of those kinds of critiques, Brown steers the topic in a slightly different direction.

"It's very actor driven," Brown says. Pointing out that Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts are proven quantities that fill the seats in movie theaters, others do not have their clout. "This is especially sad for women of color. Who do we have that can open a movie? Where are our Julia Roberts, so we can get our stories told?" she asked rhetorically.

For that reason, Brown says she's thrilled about "Catwoman," the action film starring Halle Berry opening July 23 and directed by Pitof. "I haven't seen the movie, but I will be the first one there supporting it."


Film Festivals

Among Brown's strategies is attending film festivals, which offer crucial networking opportunities and exposure to other industry participants.

And that's where Melissa Fowler, who works in administrative support for arts and nonprofit organizations, comes in.

For many years, Fowler felt that female filmmakers were getting short shrift at festivals that showcase short films, which are the typical offerings of film students and beginning filmmakers. "There may be 20 shorts and out of those shorts one or two are by women," says Fowler. "There is such a wide range of good work."

To redress that, Fowler began dreaming of a film festival just for female filmmakers.

Last year, using her own funds and a "handful of cash donations from friends," she made her dream come true with the Reel Venus Film Festival in New York.

Now in its second year, the festival, which begins on July 20 at Symphony Space in New York City and is co-sponsored by CineWomen, a nonprofit organization which supports women in film and entertainment and has offices on both coasts, will feature three evenings of 60 video and film shorts by both new and established female filmmakers from the United States and abroad.


Different Directions

Ruth Sergel and Eva Saks both have short films in this year's Reel Venus Film Festival. And both appreciate being including in the festival. But in other ways, they show how different two filmmakers in the same all-woman festival can be.

Sergel describes her 2004 film "Belle," set in Brighton Beach, a Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood, as "a subversive fable of old age and beauty." She says she finds the lack of opportunity and financial support for female filmmakers and the stories they choose to tell disheartening.

"People like to fund their imagined younger selves, to fund that young hip guy...so mature thoughtful pieces don't get supported," says Sergel who likes to create stories about disenfranchised members of society.

Although "Belle," which premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival in New York, was funded in large part by the Jerome Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts, Sergel still could not afford to pay her cast or crew. In spite of the lack of resources, Sergel has managed to make a total of three shorts films, two of which have been picked up for distribution.

"I made three films, each film made it easier to garner support financially," says Sergel

With a background in casting and theater, Saks won the silver medal at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 29th Student Academy Awards in 2002 for the documentary "Family Values," a 24-minute film about a lesbian couple in the family business of cleaning up crime scenes. Her film "Twin Set" (2002) is a political comedy about twin sisters that will be screened on the festival's opening night. Saks, who recently wrote and directed two short film segments for television's Sesame Street, says her work reflects the by sensibilities of an "ironic New Yorker" than her gender.

As to what she attributes her success, which includes representation by a management company, Saks says it may have something to do with the more commercial nature of her ambitions.

"I think I've been successful because I have worked insanely hard and have a mainstream sensibility," she says. "I do have ambition to make a popcorn movie. My work is linear narrative. It's an easier row to hoe than making experimental films."

Bio: Carla Thompson is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y., and author of the upcoming memoir, "Bearing Witness: Not So Crazy in Alabama" (August Press).

For more information:

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Reel Venus Film Festival
http://www.reelvenus.com

Street Pictures
http://www.streetpictures.com

Eva Saks Web site
http://www.evasaksmovies.com