by Nancy Oewswein
“Standin’ on their own two feet…. And ringin’ on their own bells…Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.” – Annie Lennox
There was a time not too long ago when the idea of a woman-directed film would have been revolutionary. As a woman of a certain age, I find it thrilling and a little startling to realize that many of the younger women whose brilliant work was showcased this weekend at second annual Detroit SheTown International Film Festival don’t feel all that ground-breaking. They simply have stories that need to be told.
And yet, it is not lost on any of them that filmmaking is one of the last remaining overwhelmingly male-dominated industries. Women make up 23% of crew members and even those jobs are polarized significantly to the Art, Costume and Make-up departments. In the top spots of the top 250 films of the year, while we’ve made strides, 11% are helmed by female directors. In our industry’s most vaunted halls, the Academy has seen fit to nominate 5 female directors in history and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has taken home the Oscar in the Academy Award’s 90-year history! And behind the camera, among cinematographers, last year marked the very first nomination of a woman ever. Let that sink in. In 90 years and over 350 nominations, only one woman has ever gotten an Oscar nod for cinematography.
Let that sink in. In 90 years and over 350 nominations, only one woman has ever gotten an Oscar nod for cinematography.
Last year, Detroit SheTown International Film Festival (DSFF) joined the ranks of a handful of similar festivals around the country to increase the opportunity we have to hear the voices of filmmakers who deserve to have their work seen. It’s a much-needed addition into the Michigan film festival world and yet another example that scrappy Michigan should never be counted out in the importance of the broader world of film. The inaugural year was such a success that DSFF is currently in the top 100 Best Reviewed Festivals on FilmFreeway out of over 7000+ film festivals internationally.
Hosted September 13-15 at Cinema Detroit and sponsored by Michigan Film & Digital Media Office and M-1 Studios, this second-year festival has almost immediately found its legs as a viable platform for both Michigan and international female filmmakers, poised to inspire and empower the next generation of female voices. After a panel of 7 poured through 360 submissions, the festival screened 130 films from 25 countries and 15 states. About 30 of the films were from Michigan filmmakers. The festival boasted 6 world premieres and 5 US premieres.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the winner of the best of the collection of LGBTQ films Ginerva Barboni from who flew in from Rome, Italy for the US premiere screening of her La Vita Che Ti Aspetta (The Life That Awaits You). This sweet film beautifully captures the power of love through the years. Even without subtitles, the story would have easily conveyed the heartbreak and the final message of hope. It was such a sweet film and Barboni was equally charming. She wanted to capture that despite obstacles, time still allows love to prevail and she did so beautifully. Despite her admitted jet lag, she has loved her visit to Detroit and this empowering festival. She also shared that Italy shares Detroit’s biggest impediment to women making quality films…money. Films like La Vita Che Ti Aspetta are worth the investment.
Also worth noting in this block, a powerful short called Hiding in Daylight from New York by Director Cheryl Allison and Writer Gregory Allen and the directorial/screenwriting debut of Michigan’s Angela Peticca with the World premiere of Autolysis, which will screen again in Michigan at the end of October. Hiding in Daylight cleverly depicts a dystopian future where two couples secretly meet once a week, risking their lives to play a game. It is one of the most powerful shorts I’ve had the pleasure to view and is winning handily on the festival circuit. All 3 of these films remind me what there is to love about short films. The ability to compactly tell a story with small clever twists, symbolic gestures, small casts and limited resources and to nonetheless take the audience on a journey almost supersedes the unwieldy feature format.
Speaking with Mare, an actress and musician sporting a delightful mylar mohawk, she was inspired by this festival to create a music video She’s A Revolution as a part of a feature film Techno Diva in which she appears. “I love being in this space, ovaries everywhere, strength, sexiness, exciting women creating and telling stories.” Mare gushed, “After last year, I wanted to create something to show. It’s lovely to be in a space where women aren’t apologizing for being bold and colorful.”
“I love being in this space, ovaries everywhere, strength, sexiness, exciting women creating and telling stories.”
Co-founders of Shetown Mandy Looney and Mike Madigan felt it was critical to give female filmmakers their own time in the creative spotlight. Mandy herself is one of those renaissance creatures that seem to define women in film…writer, producer, director, camera operator, editor, etc. We have to do it all, backwards and in high heels, in this industry, to carve out a significant piece of work. Mandy and Mike took time out of the craziness of running a 130-film festival and making films to chat with me briefly.
“…women in film…writer, producer, director, camera operator, editor, etc. We have to do it all, backwards and in high heels, in this industry, to carve out a significant piece of work.”
Mike shares “we love that we get to present amazing works of film to audiences here in Detroit, that otherwise would not get an opportunity to view these film offerings. We’ve also created a space to allow filmmakers from Michigan an opportunity to meet and network with fellow creatives from other locations, potentially leading to collaborations.”
Mandy and Mike look forward to Season three of DSFF in September 2020, returning to Cinema Detroit. They hope to increase the diversity of creative female voices and talent. They were delighted to have so many filmmakers visit and learn more about Detroit’s culture and history.
I was inspired particularly as a female filmmaker to see all these amazing women stepping up and fighting the industry status quo to tell their stories. Submissions for next year begin in December.
To submit to next year’s film festival, watch on FilmFreeway