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Female Filmmakers: What Can Their Experiences Tell Us? Part 2

June 27, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Yolanda Green

Women in Film board

Part 1 discussed the stories of four of five local women filmmakers and their paths towards being successful in film. Each one of the five has a different take on women affairs in the industry. For instance. while Laura Zinger had negative experiences traveling as a female filmmaker, Christina Varotsis has a unique perspective as well, coming all the way from Egypt to Chicago.

After having a difficult time getting into the film industry with her business/journalism focused resume, Varotsis took things into her own hands and started making films with a few upper class university students while also educating herself as much as possible about the industry. Small projects turned into big projects, her network and reputation grew, and she eventually settled into her niche of independent film production.

According to Vartosis, there is definitely a challenge for females to get their foot in the door. I’m not a director and I’m not a cinematographer, so I feel like women – however talented they might be, really have to reinvent themselves and prove themselves time again.  Sometimes you get categorized for the kind of work you do and being able to prove that you don’t just fit into a little box – that you can fit into other realms, you can tell a different story…you have one female director that wins an academy award and you think ‘here it is! Finally, we got somewhere!’  But then you realize [that notion] is just a fluke…and I think it’s a self-perpetuating thing. Even in film schools there are more male students that are in the directing track, it seems. I’ve done quite a few presentations at different colleges and universities and in the pool of students that I see, there are certainly less women than men. So it kind of starts early on as far as women choosing to follow that path – despite the lesser number of role models.”

It has taken years for the academy to recognize female directors – only just granting a woman the title of best director last year. Also, women made up only 7 percent of directors of major motion pictures in 2010. Vartosis believes this is partially due to the nature of the industry. “It’s a vicious circle in some ways. As an audience we sort of perpetuate it, willingly or unwillingly – I’m mean, obviously some of the biggest blockbusters are done by men…but I have to admit, rarely as an audience member do I see a film because it’s directed by a woman. It’s because I like what the movie is about. I don’t specifically say ‘oh it’s directed by a woman so I’m going to go see it.’ There are so few that are reaching the top out there. But I don’t think the audience members support either side.”

Because it is not an issue for audiences, perhaps this is the reason why it is seldom addressed in the industry itself.  But as Vartosis said – getting female filmmakers to put themselves out there starts with education and begins as early as someone making the decision to pursue their career goals.  So what do aspiring filmmakers need to hear for encouragement, when Hollywood – the most influential industry – rarely offers any?

Independent Film Producer, Christina Varotsis

Betsy Steinberg: “Stick with it. Whether you’re male or female, it’s hard to break in. Without a doubt hard work and great attitudes are noticed. Never think you’re above doing minimal tasks because just about everyone I know who is successful in the business paid their dues.”

Christina Varotsis: “Grow your skills and increase your network. Our industry is really based on your network and expanding your network. Very rarely do you get a job based on your resume. You get a job when someone says ‘hey why don’t you hire this person? Why don’t you consider that person?’ It’s so much of word of mouth and people you get to meet and people who will put trust in your work.”

Laura Zinger: “I don’t think that female filmmakers need to hear anything. I think they just need to be believed in and invested in and treated like their voices matter by investors and the film watching public…If I were to ask a man I didn’t know to give me money for a film, I think he would ignore me, and this has happened before…So I figure out how to make money to make the films I want to make and then if I make some money, I’ll fund other female filmmakers and hopefully if more women do that, we can start pumping female generated film content out into the public.”

Laura Zinger of 20k films

Megan Vidis: “Women now, especially young women, have shoulders to stand on. There are women who have gone before them at this point – not many and not enough – but some. There are certainly examples and a few role models, so learn from them, work with them – support the careers of other women who have come up behind you. And also, raise money. Creativity is wonderful but if it never gets made – a tree falls in the forest. You have to think like a business person because it is a business. If you don’t think like a business person, find a partner who does.”

Justine Nagan: “There has to be a belief that quality storytelling and compelling characters will reach people. Just get your friends together and make stuff and get it out there. And building your network and doing real compelling work – it will get noticed.”

Hopefully, with these lessons and experiences from filmmakers like these, we’ll be able to see more females making themselves known not just in Chicago, but on a national level. But for now, opening up more discussions about the state of women in the industry seems like a beneficial first step.

Feature image: Women’s Media Center at Sundance Film Festival 2011

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