In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing

In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing

by Melissa Silverstein

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780988576407
Publisher: Women & Hollywood
Publication date: 01/14/2013
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 266
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

MELISSA SILVERSTEIN is the founder and editor of Women and Hollywood one of the most respected sites for issues related to women and film as well as other areas of pop culture. Since its inception, Women and Hollywood has been working to raise awareness about films, TV shows, theatre and other entertainment that highlight women and their contributions to culture. You can read her work at:

Read an Excerpt

In Her Voice

Women Directors Talk Directing

By Melissa Silverstein, Elizabeth Harper, Heather McLendon, Eva Krainitzki, Laura Shields, Emilie Spiegel


Copyright © 2013 Melissa Silverstein/Women and Hollywood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2381-8


Wendy Jo Carlton

Hannah Free

2009 Frameline LGBT Film Festival

Bio: Wendy Jo Carlton is a filmmaker, writer, and photographer with a background in radio production, teaching, and media activism. Carlton is a former artist-in-residence at 911 Media Arts in Seattle and a recipient of the Navona Fellowship from the University of Illinois Chicago, where she earned a graduate degree in film/new media. Her award-winning narrative and experimental short films have screened internationally, including at the American Film Institute, Sundance, and many other festivals.

In addition to founding a media literacy program for teen girls called Chicks Make Flicks, Carlton works as a field producer for Sirius Radio and PBS Television and teaches at Columbia College. She recently finished her third feature film, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together, which she wrote and directed. (Credit: Wendy Jo Carlton Website)

Description:Hannah Free tells the story of a life-long love affair between two women, Hannah and Rachel. Hannah (Sharon Gless) is a free spirit who refuses to abide by the rules and has constant wanderlust even though she deeply loves Rachel. It takes Rachel a lot longer to fully be with Hannah even though she does love her. Their struggle to love each other and be accepted is symbolic of the evolution of the struggle for gay civil rights.

Gless is a forceful presence as Hannah. While the story might seem cutting edge because it is about two women, it really isn't — it's a plain old love story that just happens to be about two women. I love that we see the women age through the film, which moves it beyond the "cool" factor. This is a story that is happening in communities all across the country, and I like that it was brought out from behind the shadows into the forefront.

Interview Date: June 25, 2009

Women and Hollywood: How did you become involved with this film?

Wendy Jo Carlton: I've been an independent filmmaker for about twenty years, and had many successful shorts and a few screenplays under my belt before I moved from Seattle to Chicago. I worked with Tracy Baim, the executive producer, on a couple other projects, the Chicago Gay Games DVD and recently the living library that is the Chicago Gay History Project. In the course of interviewing hundreds of LGBT folks in the area, I met the playwright Claudia Allen and then the three of us decided to make a lesbian feature film in Chicago, adapting Hannah Free, one of Claudia's popular plays.

W&H: There are not many films that show lesbians in this way. Do you think this is a breakthrough in how lesbians will be seen on film?

WJC: It was important to me to portray Hannah and Rachel not just as young lovers but as older lovers as well, two women who share a deep emotional connection but also a passionate physical and sexual connection. And I didn't want to just imply that, but wanted to show their attraction visually and cinematically. Most mainstream feature films don't show older couples sharing physical affection and sexual attraction for one another. Whether they are straight or queer, we just don't see many older characters in bed together or see older people kissing and being sensual together onscreen. I think it's sexy, fun, and life affirming.

Most long-term romantic relationships, regardless of orientation, wax and wane in the lust department. What's great about Hannah and Rachel is that theirs is the kind of great love affair that has sustained its passion over decades — the kind of fantastic, enduring attraction and love that is celebrated and pined for in straight films all the time.

W&H: How did Sharon Gless get involved?

WJC: Sharon Gless and Claudia Allen are old pals because Sharon came to Chicago years ago to star in one of Claudia's plays called Cahoots. They maintained a friendship and when Claudia sent Sharon the script, she decided to come back to Chicago and take on the complex and demanding role of Hannah. She did an incredible job and brings so much complexity, nuance, humor, and gravitas to the role.

W&H: How can this film break out from the gay and lesbian film circuit into the mainstream?

WJC: I think this film is very entertaining, sensual, and provocative as a story of a great love affair. It's universal and will engage viewers regardless of sexual orientation. Hannah is a dynamic, sexy, flawed, passionate human being, and who can't relate to that? And Sharon Gless is such a pleasure to watch in every scene.

W&H: How long did it take to get the film made?

WJC: The film has taken a little less than a year from start to finish — I don't know how we managed it!

W&H: What advice do you have for women filmmakers?

WJC: Find some mentors because when things aren't going well, a good mentor — male or female — is someone who believes in you and can help keep you focused and encouraged, and help you make the right connections.

Also, I think it's been said before, but it bears repeating, explore your personal obsessions. It helps make for more original storytelling. And give yourself permission to be funny, idiosyncratic, and raunchy.

W&H: Because of all the Proposition 8 craziness, do you plan on using the attention the gay marriage issue is getting to get the word out on your film?

WJC: I think the film really helps put a human face on the issue. Prop 8 is insane and unjust. It makes me very sad that we still live in a culture where people are allowed to vote on who should remain second-class citizens. If we had allowed majority votes on civil and basic human rights, women and blacks still wouldn't have the right to vote.

W&H: When people walk out of the theater after seeing your film, what do you want them to be thinking about?

WJC: My favorite subject — the power and mystery of love. Although the movie has its sadder moments, it also has quite a bit of humor, so I hope people are moved and entertained. And, ultimately, it's a triumph of the human spirit. Hannah Free represents all the beautiful, brave queer women and men who've insisted on living their truth and on loving both who they are and whoever they want.


Cherien Dabis


2009 Sundance Film Festival

Bio: Named one of Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch" in 2009, award-winning independent filmmaker Cherien Dabis made her feature writing and directorial debut with Amreeka, which premiered to both audience and critical acclaim in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. At Tribeca All Access in 2007, Dabis was honored with the first-ever L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth Vision Award, and last year she won the Renew Media/Tribeca Film Institute's Media Artist Fellowship, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Also a television writer and producer, Dabis worked on Showtime Network's groundbreaking, original hit series The L Word for three seasons. A graduate of Columbia University's MFA film program, she has written, directed, and produced several short films, which have screened at some of the world's top film festivals. The first of her family born in the United States, Dabis was raised in Ohio and Jordan, and currently resides in New York City.

Description:Amreeka tells the story of Muna, a Palestinian, who immigrates to the United States with her teenage son, Fadi, right after the first U.S. invasion of Iraq. Life in America is not the typical "American Dream" for Muna, who has a hard time finding a job and winds up flipping burgers at White Castle. Life is hard for Fadi, too, as he tries to acclimate into a midwestern American high school where the kids think that everyone who is Muslim and from the Middle East is now the enemy. This film gives a real and honest assessment of what it's like to be an "outsider" trying to fit into mainstream culture while also trying to keep your own cultural identity. The performances are heartfelt, especially from Nisreen Faour as Muna. Hiam Abbass co-stars as Muna's sister.

Interview Date: January 21, 2009

Women and Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?

Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about ten thousand people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans, we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while, everything was fine, and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War. Then they scapegoated my family and, overnight, we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father, who is a physician, lost many of his patients because they wouldn't support an Arab doctor; and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my seventeen-year-old sister threatened to kill the president.

It was an eye-opening event, my coming of age. I became politicized, and very aware of the media and how the media were perpetuating the stereotypes that were directly affecting us. So I decided to become a storyteller. I don't know if it was as conscious a decision as that, but I knew that I wanted to do something to change the way the media related to Arabs, to change the way we were represented. I also wanted to change the fact that we are underrepresented. I simply wanted to get our stories out there — we have so many and I thought if people could see it from our point of view, they would realize how funny and absurd it is.

W&H: Is the film contemporary?

CD: The film is relatively contemporary. It's a soft period piece and takes place during the second Iraq invasion in 2003.

W&H: You are trying to give a different vision of Arabs and break through typical Hollywood stereotypes.

CD: People can be lazy in their storytelling and then characters become one-dimensional and easy to villanize. Then it becomes the story of good vs. evil rather than people are people. It's easy to fall back on the formulaic stereotypes, and I think it is much more difficult to create characters that are complex, rich, and multidimensional.

W&H: This film seems quite timely with what just happened in the Middle East.

CD: The film is not really political. It's political in context, but the heart of the story is the relationship between the mother and son. It's the story of a woman who desperately wants to secure a better future for her son and will do anything for him including leave her homeland and start over completely. She wants to flee her controlling mother, her failed marriage, and start anew to get to be someone else, somewhere else. The backdrop of the film is the adversity they have to overcome, and the stereotypes and prejudices that people have about Arabs. These are some of the challenges she faces, but she is optimistic and hopeful, and she surprises others with her optimism.

W&H: Do you think it's a good time for this film to come out? Will people be more receptive to it now?

CD: Absolutely. We have a president with an Arab middle name. He's the first African American president. There is a feeling of hope. It's a new era. Barack Obama represents the new America and in some way my film represents the America that this country should be. What this country could be if people were a little more open, friendly, trusting, and accepting — like Muna. So much of this business is about timing, and the timing is really good with the change in the administration.

W&H: It's hard for people to make films nowadays, harder for women's stories, harder for a woman writer and director, and even harder for stories about women of color. Talk about the struggles to get this film made.

CD: I started writing it in 2003 when I was a graduate student at Columbia studying film. I already spoke about my experience in 1991, and exactly a decade later, in September 2001, I moved to New York and started film school. It was surreal to be in New York right after 9/11 and what was happening set the tone for my film school experience; 9/11 got many people to stop and think, "What am I doing with my life and why am I doing what I chose to do?" It made everyone reevaluate where they were, and it was especially true for people in film school because film seemed so frivolous at the time. People were going to donate blood and we were making movies — who cares? That was the feeling for a little while after 9/11.

For me, it reminded me of the reason why I became a filmmaker. I was hearing stories of Middle Easterners being scapegoated, once more. And then the United States invaded Iraq again, and history was literally repeating itself. That was when I said, "OK, I have to sit down and write this story." The world is ready for a Palestinian immigrant story, one that can reach mainstream audiences. I was aware of not wanting it to be political, I wanted it to have humor, and I want people to see it. I don't want it to be ghettoized because I didn't make it just for the Arab community.

W&H: What do you want them to think about when they leave the film?

CD: I want them to really fall in love with the characters. It's a glimpse into a world they might not see otherwise. I want them to walk away knowing that the culture is beautiful and should be appreciated and that stereotypes are unnecessary. I want them to walk away with a feeling of love and hope that they have just met people they really liked.

W&H: Talk about the Sundance experience.

CD: It's been a whirlwind.

W&H: What was the biggest high?

CD: My world premiere was on Saturday afternoon at the Eccles Theatre, which seats fourteen hundred people, and it was entirely packed. It was such a thrill and I was so nervous. I had to introduce the film and was sad that my mother couldn't be there so I called her on my cell phone and had her on the phone while I introduced the film and had everyone said "hi" to her. Everyone shouted, "Hi mom." I got so emotional, and she was giggling and sobbing. It was such a sweet moment, one I will never forget. Then the movie started and everyone was laughing in the right places; they were so with the film and afterward, there was a standing ovation. It was a magical moment.

W&H: The films about guys are generating most of the buzz. Have you noticed that?

CD: Yes, it's interesting. I have noticed that it is easier to get a film with a male lead financed, and to get those movies seen and sold, and I don't know why. On the other hand, I wasn't prepared for how tremendously positive the response has been for this movie. In some ways, it is the perfect reception and maybe if it was not such a difficult market, we would have sold the film already. But I am hopeful and the prospects seem good.

[Note: Amreeka was released by National Geographic Films in September 2009.]


Katherine Dieckmann


March 5, 2010

Bio: Writer-director Katherine Dieckmann began her directing career by directing music videos for such bands as R.E.M., Wilco, Aimee Mann, and Everything But the Girl, and was the originating director on Nickelodeon's groundbreaking live action children's serial, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, for which she received a CableAce nomination for Best Direction of a Comedy Special. An assistant professor in the Film Division of Columbia University's Graduate School of the Arts, where she teaches screenwriting, Dieckmann lives in New York City and upstate New York with her husband and two children.

Description:Motherhood, starring Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, and Minnie Driver, is a day-in-the-life comedy that tracks a harried mother's identity crisis on the day she has to throw her daughter's birthday party. In addition to making plans for the party, Eliza Welch decides to enter a blogging contest for a parenting magazine that asks contestants, "What Does Motherhood Mean to Me?" As one thing after another goes horribly wrong on this fateful day, Eliza finds her answer to that question.

Interview Date: October 30, 2009

Women and Hollywood: You said in the New York Times recently that a man can write great women's movies but you don't think a man could have written this story. Can you elaborate?

Katherine Dieckmann: Think about a movie like You Can Count on Me. I think that in some ways it's a very female movie in the orientation of the writing. But I think that until you have really been inside the experience of being a mother you can't understand the cultural and pragmatic obstacles are. That's what I meant by that.


Excerpted from In Her Voice by Melissa Silverstein, Elizabeth Harper, Heather McLendon, Eva Krainitzki, Laura Shields, Emilie Spiegel. Copyright © 2013 Melissa Silverstein/Women and Hollywood. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Wendy Jo Carlton: Hannah Free,
Cherien Dabis: Amreeka,
Katherine Dieckmann: Motherhood,
Alison Eastwood: Rails & Ties,
Shana Feste: The Greatest,
Debra Granik: Winter's Bone,
Marleen Gorris (Director) Nancy Larson (Writer): Within the Whirlwind,
Courtney Hunt: Frozen River,
Callie Khouri: Mad Money,
Kasi Lemmon: Talk to Me,
Issa Lopéz: Casi Divas,
Angelina Maccarone: Vivere,
Adriana Maggs: Grown Up Movie Star,
Jodie Markell: The Loss of the Teardrop Diamond,
Sandra Nettelbeck: Helen,
Pratibha Parmar: Nina's Heavenly Delights,
Sally Potter: Rage,
Cathy Randall: Hey Hey It's Esther Blueberger,
Amy Redford: The Guitar,
Patricia Riggen: La Misma Luna,
Shamim Sarif: The World Unseen, I Can't Think Straight,
Lone Scherfig: An Education,
Céline Sciamma: Water Lilies,
Lynn Shelton: Humpday,
Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo: After.Life,
Susanna White: Nanny McPhee Returns,
Joan Carr-Wiggin: A Previous Engagement,
Sam Taylor-Wood: Nowhere Boy,
Doris Yeung: Motherland,
Emily Abt: All of Us,
Pietra Brettkelly: The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins,
Abby Epstein: The Business of Being Born,
Beadie Finzi: Only When I Dance,
Jennifer Fox: Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman,
Roberta Grossman: Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh,
Lisa F. Jackson: The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,
Aviva Kempner: Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,
Lynn Hershman Leeson: !War Women Art Revolution,
Gini Reticker (Director), Abigail Disney (Producer): Pray the Devil Back to Hell,
Hannah Rothschild: The Jazz Baroness,
Nancy Schwartzman: The Line,

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