Programme d’accompagnement de Kering « Women at Sundance », Sundance Film Festival

Sundance women at school of hard knocks

Female film-makers on surviving and thriving in cinema

The Women at Sundance Fellowship programme aims to help talented film-makers overcome obstacles they may face in building a career in film, an industry renowned for its toughness and sexism. Three of the current Fellows spoke candidly to K magazine during the recent Sundance Film Festival.

Following its Women in Motion series in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival, Kering launched a collaboration with the Women at Sundance Fellowship programme in early 2016. It’s part of the Women at Sundance goal: to raise the number of female film-makers working behind the camera to achieve gender equality.

Although the six women chosen as Sundance Fellows are at various stages of development, all are actively attempting to fulfil their potential and create sustainable careers in a highly competitive environment.

Support includes stipends to come to Sundance Film Festival where they begin their programme by working with Sundance staff to define clear and realistic goals for the fellowship year. Each Fellow is paired with an industry leader as mentor and a distinguished, professional life coach to guide her through her own personal and professional development over the course of the year.

Among the opportunities for networking and learning is a Financing and Strategy Intensive course to acquire the expertise and confidence to seek out, negotiate, structure and close financial deals. A $10,000 artist grant helps sustain each fellow as she hones her craft, seeks new opportunities and navigates the changing media landscape.

Rebecca Green, Programme d’accompagnement de Kering « Women at Sundance », Sundance Film Festival

Females not so scary

Rebecca Green earned her BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts gives back as a board member of the school’s Alumni West Steering Committee.

She and her partner Laura Smith launched their production company Two Flints to produce provocative stories for mainstream audiences. Their duo of films at Sundance 2015 became the two highest grossing independent films at the box office in 2016.  The indie horror sensation It Follows had premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to Toronto and Sundance, grossing $15 million at the US box office; I’ll See You in My Dreams earned $7.5 million.

How did you feel about receiving the Fellowship?
Surprised. Sundance film-makers have many levels of experience, and I have a lot of experience. And it is rare to be put in the spotlight; generally that’s for the directors and stars.  Also there is very little room – only six film-makers are selected out of so many – it was a great gift!

What do you think of having a life coach?
Very interesting. I like helping producers as I did with the Sundance Producer Lab. Now I would like to create my role as a leader in a sustainable endeavour.

How about the $10,000 you receive?
You don’t get paid producing indies: the money is a safety net. Last year, Mary Jane Skalski, whom I met in the Sundance Lab, was teaching at Wayne State and sponsored me by letting me take her position for a year. Now I have two films in post-production: the feature documentary 44 Pages, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the children’s magazine Highlights and a narrative, And Then I Go, about two boys caught up in a shooting at their school.

Laurens Grant, Programme d’accompagnement de Kering « Women at Sundance », Sundance Film Festival

Women matter

Having premiered three films at Sundance and won three Emmys and a Peabody award, Laurens Grant recently directed the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement for BET. After producing two Stanley Nelson films, Laurens directed the Emmy-winning documentary Jesse Owens.

What is your advice for young women who want to be in film?
Everything is hard fought. We are living in challenging times, but all greatness comes out of challenging times, so this is the moment for the young with the energy to use the tools they know.  New media is so important today because you can decide what you want to talk about and get it out there.

When there is one woman in a meeting it is an annoyance, when there are two it is a test and when there are three, it is a movement.

Remember, half the universe is female! We know that but tend to forget because, as [actor] Kerry Washington told us today at the Women’s Brunch, when there is one woman in a meeting it is an annoyance, when there are two it is a test and when there are three, it is a movement.

If you aspire to being in film, my advice is to stay in it.  In the room of 1,000 no’s, there is one yes.

How did you feel when you found out you were chosen to be a Sundance Fellow?
Being named a Sundance Fellow is a huge event; it offers moral and financial support. [Journalist and philanthropist] Ruth Anne Harnisch spoke to us yesterday and said it is a time to be bold, and to be that, one must have support…. For me being bold is putting a spotlight on unsung heroines.

For me being bold is putting a spotlight on unsung heroines.

How did you feel when you found out you were chosen to be a Sundance Fellow?
Being named a Sundance Fellow is a huge event; it offers moral and financial support. [Journalist and philanthropist] Ruth Anne Harnisch spoke to us yesterday and said it is a time to be bold, and to be that, one must have support…. For me being bold is putting a spotlight on unsung heroines.

I will survive!

How can we market to women?
Through community, by using our social networks, championing each other, hiring each other, asking each other for help and advice. And of course the usual commercial film ways: they are not always inclusive. That the Hidden Figures about black women mathematicians could make a bigger box office than Star Wars is a reminder of what we can do. Of course the film had a great marketing campaign. That is often a stumbling block to getting the eyes.

What does the $10,000 and the life coach mean to you?
$10,000 is a lavish gift of survival.   I am now in development on a mini-series. I can use the financing and support. I will learn what questions to ask to make the most of this opportunity to make movies that say to people, "You are not alone, there is no need to suffer in silence."

Elizabeth Wood, Programme d’accompagnement de Kering « Women at Sundance », Sundance Film Festival

Elizabeth Wood wrote and directed White Girl, a 2016 Sundance Film Festival premiere that generated controversy for its head-on exploration of female sexuality, white privilege and racial inequality. The film was purchased at Sundance by Netflix, and played theatrically in America.

While earning her MFA from Columbia University's Film program, she was awarded a screenwriting fellowship. She is currently developing several projects for screens of various sizes and media of all sorts, including a feature and a TV show; she has three productions in development.

How do you feel about being selected a Fellow?
The support came out of nowhere and is a tremendous boost to me. I am glad to be a part of a community of women on a similar journey. They have given me a professional life and leadership coach for one year, who will let me decide how best to use him, whether we meet weekly or every other week, etc.

How will you use the $10,000?
I will rent an office outside of my home where there are two men and a child.