A Night to Remember

Jessiline Berry: Yes is YES

Filmmaker Jessiline Berry took time this week to share about her new film project A Night to Remember, her personal experience of sexual abuse, and her decision to utilize her skills as a filmmaker “to do right by [her] survivor sisters.” I hope you’ll read what she has to say, back her film project, and pass the word.  Let’s help get her film made and out into the world.

DBW: Jessiline, I was so moved by your Kickstarter video where you describe your film A Night to Remember, talk about the devastating impact of date rape, and convey the importance of getting this story out into the world. What inspired you to create this film and who do you hope will see it?

JB: Violence and abuse have, unfortunately, been significant in my history. I could say I’m a strong woman now in spite of it, or because of it. But as strong, smart, and articulate as I am, when it came to dealing with being date raped, I was kind of surprisingly silent. I was 29 years old when it happened. I was about to finish my masters at an Ivy League institution. I had been in therapy to deal with the trauma of an abusive marriage. I had overcome. I started dating again after my divorce, and met a nice guy who took me to nice meals, and movies at the Magic Johnson theater, and eventually raped me. And I was like…how did I miss this…how did I misjudge this man? I thought I should’ve known better. At the time, I spent way more energy blaming myself than blaming him. I remember I didn’t even tell my therapist because we were wrapping up our time together because I had done so well, and the trauma of my abusive marriage was basically behind me. I was embarrassed to tell her I had been victimized again.

“I felt I was feeding into rape culture by not speaking out.”

Society too often treats sexual violence against women as debatable, as a crime. I can’t even say I don’t get it because, after my rape, I victim-blamed myself, and in large part, didn’t report because I didn’t want to ruin this bright young man’s future; who cares about my future, right? And when I eventually started disclosing what had happened to me, there were some challenging responses, even among allies–friends, and family members who had been victims of sexual assault themselves. I’d hear things like, “Well, men are like that. You have to be careful.” Someone even suggested that if I wore lacey panties people might think I was a slut and not believe me when I said I was raped. I was shocked and saddened by these comments, but, thank God, eventually I got mad. And this year, it just felt like I was existing in an alternate universe when it became clear how widely acceptable it now is for a man to sexually assault a woman, knowing that “she won’t say anything.” I mean, you can think and talk this way and get elected President of the United States! That shocked me out of my silence. After all the abuse I’ve experienced, I’ve never reported any of it to the police. Whether I was too young to know how to stand up for myself, or too scared of retaliation, or just too filled with shame, I didn’t report. And this year, I just felt my silence was compliance. I felt I was feeding into rape culture by not speaking out.

Jessiline Berry

Jessiline Berry

Since I went public, so many women have reached out to me with their own consent stories. Some of those stories fit the legal definition of acquaintance rape, and others just fit the moral definition of screwed up. And it’s disheartening how many women just deal with the aftermath of these experiences on their own – never talk about, or never even let themselves acknowledge that something possibly illegal, but definitely shitty happened to them. I’ve now connected with so many women and organizations that provide safety, healing, and sisterhood for victims of rape and sexual abuse. I feel duty-bound to do by right by my survivor sisters. The most natural way for me to help is through art. Although date rape, and the issue of YES is YES consent, is at the heart of this film, A Night to Remember is not an issue film. It really aims to explore how two people can be in the same moment, yet have very different experiences. It examines the notion of your truth, my truth, and the truth.

At this time in our country – even beyond the issue of date rape – that’s a really important examination. I’ve talked with so many men about the issue of Yes is YES sexual consent, and they’ve acknowledged that it’s confusing for them, and that even a guy who wouldn’t consider himself capable of rape, could ruin his life by not understanding the idea of YES is YES consent. In fact, someone very close to me was accused of acquaintance rape, and it was really challenging for me to show up for him. Ultimately, the charges were dropped, but from my vantage point, it was just even more clear that everybody – men and women – needs to have a really frank discussion about consent.

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DBW:  Something that really struck me in your compelling description of the story you’re preparing to film is the way that two people can discover they share so many cultural connections but are startlingly far apart when it comes to the issue of consent. As you were working on the script, what helped guide you to work through this complex interpersonal landscape to bring this situation alive through a story that goes beyond addressing a pressing social issue and takes viewers into a powerful film experience?

JB: That’s a really interesting question because the film is art before it is activism. But, for me, the two are never really that far apart. The main character, Rayna, is an educated, bohemian-chic, Black woman who exists in an unapologetically multi-culti bubble in Los Angeles. Her crew are the type that are “woke” enough to scoff at the idea of being post-racial, but are themselves the picture of a post-racial utopia. So, when Rayna meets Will, smart, sensitive, funny white guy at her friend’s party, and it seems that he really sees her – like, not just sees her body, or her style, but sees her – she’s taken. Things take a turn for the worse in the final act of the film, but before that it’s really a story about two people negotiating, between themselves and within themselves, their willingness to experience intimacy – emotionally and physically. Rayna and Will decide to be really frank with each other on a lot of levels.

“I’m always fascinated by differences in perspective and point of view.”

They represent pretty common opposites, in terms of identity politics–woman/man, Black/White, even educated “elite” and working middle class. As these two opposites adventure throughout the city of Los Angeles on their epic first date, they come to understand how much they have in common and they even seem to be willing to respect what makes them different. There’s a lot of examination of race and sexual politics in their coming together. It’s almost as if these two are setting themselves up for a uniquely honest love affair; they talk about all the things we’re often scared to talk about with our friends from other cultures, because we don’t want to be seen as culturally insensitive, or worse. But this stuff manages to bring Rayna and Will closer to the potential for love. Even the way I want to portray the city of Los Angeles – it’s a visual interpretation of identity politics. The L.A. in this film is not the LaLaLand we see portrayed in so many Hollywood movies, because it’s not an extreme. It’s not Beverly Hills, or Hollywood, or Compton; it’s everything in between. And I love that the viewer gets to experience different parts of L.A. through the eyes of these two very different characters. It’s a photographic study of the tale of two cities so much of us experience in our everyday lives. I was working on a commercial once, and the Art Director came to my apartment in Mid-City to settle up accounting and commented on how he usedta live in a bad neighborhood once too. And I was like…”too.” Is this dude saying I live in a bad neighborhood? And, bless his heart, I just felt like him seeing a lot of black and brown folks made him think it was a bad neighborhood, but to me, black and brown folks feels like family.

I’m always fascinated by differences in perspective and point of view. I’m excited about exploring that, not just in the dialogue, but by really exploiting the tools of cinema. How a city, a relationship, a moment can look, sound, feel so different depending on whose point of view the viewer is experiencing.

DBW: When and where are you planning to shoot the film… and how do you envision managing the production so cast and crew can handle the emotionally challenging nature of the story?

JB: We are just at the midpoint of a Kickstarter campaign to raise $55.5k to start production in the Spring of 2017, in Los Angeles. Ultimately, the film is indeed emotionally challenging. Much of it is reminiscent of my experience being date raped, and I anticipate that there will be challenges for me, and the cast and crew.

But we can’t play the mood of the ending. That wouldn’t honor the film, or the issue. Because nobody starts a date thinking they’re gonna get date raped. So, that energy can’t be the energy of the majority of the film, or the shoot. I have to lead the crew with professionalism, and really, I have to make it fun. The DP, Layton Blaylock, is this super chill, kind, seasoned filmmaker with whom people just love working. I’ve worked with Layton before, and I feel really safe in his hands, and I think he feels really inspired by my vision. I trust him, and he trusts me, and that leaves space for me to work with the cast with freedom and spontaneity. We gotta stay in the moment, you know? The characters are on a date. The characters are falling in love – with the city, their youth, and potentially each other. So the shoot needs to feel like an adventure. And we’re going to be shooting in some really fun, quirky, quintessentially L.A. locations. We’re gonna have fun!

“In a way, I want to simulate intuition, and how we often ignore it.”

DBW: Can you share about some of your earlier directing or other film work? How has it prepared you to tackle this project?

JB: This won’t be my first time tackling challenging subject matter with nuance and even humor. My short film, That’s Good, That’s Enough, was about right to life issues as it affected a middle-aged married couple, but it was also a really artful, nuanced piece of filmmaking. That short was invited to several festivals, and won Best Student Film at the Mid-Atlantic Black Film Festival. Another short, Spring Cleaning, was a psychological drama that touched on grief and mental illness. Layton was the DP for that short, and it earned him the International Cinematographers Guild Emerging Cinematographer Award. So, Layton and I are a pretty great duo, and I’m excited about what we’ll do with A Night to Remember. Also, one of my favorite directors, Karyn Kusama, is a mentor, and is working with me on a boxing movie I developed in the Film Independent Screenwriters Lab. I want to infuse A Night to Remember with a slow-drip of uneasiness. The viewer should feel something is a little “off,” but never know what that is. In a way, I want to simulate intuition, and how we often ignore it. Karyn’s film, The Invitation, was like a masterclass in creating and maintaining tension from an unidentifiable source. After I saw that movie, I realized my body ached because she had made me so uneasy that I had been tensing my muscles for nearly two hours. It was genius. I hope to have her influence as I prepare to shoot A Night to Remember.

DBW:  How can film lovers engage to support you on your filmmaking journey?

JB: This movie is get-it-done budgeted. No frills. Our Kickstarter campaign ends January 9, 2017, and we need to raise $55.5k to meet our goal and have the bare minimum needed to start production. We need backers and sharers! Donations to the Kickstarter are gold, but sharing the Kickstarter campaign is platinum. The way this movie will get funded is by me reaching beyond my circle, and then those people reaching beyond their circle, and so on and so forth. It will take a lot of disconnected people, coming together to connect around this film and this issue, to get the movie made. So, please contribute, go to our website, like us on Facebook, and tweet @ANTRfilm with your support, or even your stories of sexual consent issues.

“Women have so much to offer, and so much to say, and any barrier that exists to women expressing themselves, in any industry, but especially in art and media, is a barrier that limits the potential of our entire society.”

DBW:  I have greatly appreciated your active engagement in the #DirectedbyWomen initiative. In fact you conducted the very first #DirectedbyWomen Conversation when you interviewed Deborah Goodwin about her film The Pastor. I know this is a natural extension of the work you’ve been doing in support of women in film. Could you share something about your approach to helping women flourish in the film world?

JB: I am many things, but first and foremost, I’m a woman. It informs so much of how I move through the world, and how the world views me. Sometimes, that can feel like a cross to bear, but mostly, being a woman is an amazing gift and a great way to experience this iteration of my soul’s life on this planet. Women have so much to offer, and so much to say, and any barrier that exists to women expressing themselves, in any industry, but especially in art and media, is a barrier that limits the potential of our entire society.

I’ve always been a champion of celebrating the female perspective, in front of, and behind the camera. In grad school at Columbia University, a colleague and I got a group of female students together and kinda lobbied the Film Department to address gender parity in our potential careers. We created the group, Columbia Women in Film, and though it was slow going to start (God bless our helpful instructors like, Richard Pena and Eric Mendelsohn), that completely student-run group still exists to this day, and has really flourished. I know at some point, the Film Department was giving fellowship money to student officers of the group. The students that started it didn’t benefit from that money, but we have so much pride in that we set a foundation that benefitted others. I also teach screenwriting, and at my last teaching institution I was one of two faculty advisors for a women in film group the students created. Those ladies were amazing, and driven, and so talented. I loved watching their ideas come to fruition and how empowered they were working together. As a teacher, I make sure my students are watching and reading films about women and by women. You’d be surprised how many top-100 lists don’t have a single female filmmaker on them. I’d talk to other teachers and be shocked at how they didn’t even realize their syllabi exclusively taught the work of white, male writers and directors. We have to be intentional about gender parity. We’re making up for a lot of lost time. I consider that part of my job as an educator. Through FemmeMaker Productions, I aim to keep encouraging, supporting, and showcasing women’s contribution to our industry.

That’s why I love #DirectedbyWomen. It’s an initiative that stays away from the negativity of the statistics, but rather focuses on celebrating us. Women directors deserve to be celebrated!

DBW: The #DirectedbyWomen initiative invites the world to fall madly in love with films #DirectedbyWomen. Could you share a few films by women directors that you wish more film lovers would discover, experience and delight in?

JB: The Piano, and Jane Campion changed my life. Even to this day, with Top of the Lake, she continues to be a huge influence on me as a fan and an artist. Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy was another film that blew me away as a Black woman director. Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat, Karyn Kusama, and now filmmakers like Dee Rees and Tina Mabry – there are so many talented women making movies right now. I’ve been a member of Film Fatales, Women in Film, and a Cinefemme is a newer organization, started by Michelle Kantor, but they are a really powerful group of talented, visionary women – women who really like empowering other women.

I’m totally here for that. I just want to see even more women be trusted and funded, so we can get more great stories and style out there.

DBW: Wishing you amazing success bringing this powerful story into the world. Thank you for sharing your authentic vision and voice with the world.

Find out more about and contribute to Jessiline Berry’s A Night to Remember Kickstarter today.

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Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir: A call-­to-­action

DBW: What moved you to create your documentary Prison Dogs about prison inmates, who train service dogs to support veterans with PTSD? What’s at the heart of the film?

GG: We were looking for a prison reform story. This story resounded with us because it really focused on second chances, not just for the men who were incarcerated but for the veterans too. That the vehicle was something you wouldn’t think of — a puppy — for healing and for the inmates to give back and the veterans to regain their lives — was a full story.

PP: It’s difficult to tell stories about prison inmates. Access is always a challenge and people have many things they need to worry about — people who are being punished for wronging society are often low on the priority list. But for so many reasons, we need to understand how best to rehabilitate our prison populations. Geeta and I thought this story would serve as a great way to put a human face on the unacceptably high recidivism rates that plague our country.

Prison Dogs Yard

DBW: Where have you screened Prison Dogs? Have you had a chance to show it to prisoners or veterans? If so, how have they received the film?

PP and GG: We’ve screened Prison Dogs at the following festivals, Tribeca Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Portland Film Festival, Skyline Indie Film Fest, Austin Revolution, Pickford Film Center’s Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, BendFilm Festival, Edmonton International Film Festival, Film Columbia, Twin Cities Film Fest, Reel Voices Film Festival and Hawaii International Film Festival.

Prison Dogs audience at Tribeca Film Festival

PP: One of the former inmates featured in the film said that it was eye-opening for him to hear the backstories of the veterans’ lives when he first saw the film. Upon viewing the film, one of the veterans was shocked to realize just how far she had come from that first day she entered the prison to meet her future service dog and found herself with her “anxiety through the roof.”

DBW: As you filmed and built the documentary in post production were there aspects of the experience that took you by surprise and led you in new directions?

PP: We always knew that access would be a problem, but it’s not until you are in the edit room where you realize what limited access really means. We wouldn’t see the inmates for stretches as long as six weeks and in a developing story, that’s a long time!

GG: Seeing the power of second chances — how prison inmates were able to give back to veterans, who are so often neglected, while simultaneously gaining new skills which would allow them to become contributing members of society once they had served their time was really inspiring. The parallels between the PTSD the veterans experience from war and the trauma the men in prison experience was also very meaningful. It led us to focus on the bond the incarcerated men and veterans formed.

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DBW: What are some of the strengths and challenges of sharing directing responsibilities on a documentary like this one?

PP: There are only strengths. Geeta and I work well together and have a natural division of responsibilities. We absolutely have moments where we look at things differently, but we work through them and I absolutely believe that the outcome is improved out of discord.

Perri Peltz

Perri Peltz

GG: Strengths were having my co-director Perri Peltz — we check and balance each other really well. Perri comes from news production and I from post production so we bring different skill sets to the table and learn from each other. As far as challenges go, dealing with incarcerated individuals is challenging from a perspective of access. The Department of Corrections was very accommodating but we could only see the men about once every six weeks, which is less than ideal from a filmmaking perspective.

Geeta Gandbhir

Geeta Gandbhir

DBW: Where can film lovers see Prison Dogs?

PP and GG: Prison Dogs is screening at film festivals across the country. Anyone can watch the film on iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play and more by visiting PrisonDogsFilm.com/watch) We’ve received inquiries for DVD purchases (some with Christmas gifts in mind) and that’s an option too!

DBW: Tell us about the 22 push-ups challenge.

PP and GG: The 22 push-ups challenge set and achieved its goal of 22 million push-ups to raise awareness about veteran suicide. While this isn’t Prison Dogs’ focus, the film clearly shows the invisible wounds of war experienced by veterans with PTSD. Reentering civilian life is extremely challenging when you still live in a state of hypervigilance, with everything a threat, unable to sleep through the night, unable to connect with family and friends. To honor veterans’ sacrifices and spread the word about Prison Dogs, we counted down 22 days to Veterans Day, posting daily videos of 22 push-ups on Facebook and nominating someone new each day to do the same.

DBW: Anything else you’d like to share about Prison Dogs or other film projects you may be involved with?

PP: We have loved working on Prison Dogs and the unique opportunity to work with veterans, inmates, and adorable dogs!

GG: We have seen that the rate of recidivism is incredibly high and it’s incumbent on all of us to find ways to change that. Our film is a call-­to-­action for people to get involved in prison reform and helping veterans as well. This has been a passion project for both of us, we think both the incarcerated and veterans deserve second chances and society’s full support — we hope this film galvanizes audiences to think the same way and impact change.

Please visit us at PrisonDogsFilm.com and connect with us on social media at @prisondogsfilm!

DBW: Thanks so much for taking time to share about your work. Wishing you great success.

 

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Covering Costs for the #DirectedbyWomen Initiative

Thanks so much to everyone who has participated in, shared about, and backed the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party initiative since the idea first germinated in early 2014.  So far we’ve thrown 2 global parties, built a database of almost 10,000 women who have directed film, celebrated the birthdays of thousands of women directors, gathered lists of films by women directors, shared videos, rallied support for crowdfunding campaigns, fostered conversations, maintained a global events calendar, inspired film lovers to relish films/TV shows/web series/expanded cinema/etc #DirectedbyWomen, and so much more.  And this has all been mobilized on far less than a shoestring budget – more like an aglet budget.

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At the moment the initiative is in the hole. I’ve been paying for expenses out of my own pocket. $1200 in expenses for 2016 Worldwide Film Viewing Party still need to be covered and there are zero funds yet available to sustain activities going forward. If you’ve been having fun engaging with #DirectedbyWomen… if you appreciate what #DirectedbyWomen is contributing to the global film community… I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d chip in. I’m not running a crowdfunding campaign. I’m simply asking you to use this Paypal link to send me what you can to ensure the continuation of the project. Anything you offer would be a wonderful gift – greatly appreciated.

Let’s continue to build a deep culture of appreciation within the global film community.

Help #DirectedbyWomen flourish... Contribute today!

Thank you so much!

munay,
Barbara Ann O’Leary
Catalyst, #DirectedbyWomen

 

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Nicole Franklin: #FilmAFeatureIn8Days

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DBW: You had the opportunity to bring your film TITLE VII to Urbanworld earlier this month. Can you take us into that experience a little bit? What’s it like to engage your work with the Urbanworld audience?

NF: What an honor it was to be a part of the Urbanworld experience for the first time as a filmmaker (I was actually an actress in a short featured there a few years ago). As I’ve said through my entire career, if it weren’t for the “urban” film festivals, most of us filmmakers would have never been heard of! And having this opportunity two months out of filming to being a spotlight “Clips & Conversation” program was a real credit to our very focused team. From the invitation to join Urbanworld to preparing for our screening and red carpet (that was a blast!), we were treated with so much care and enthusiasm from festival director/head of programming Gabrielle Glore and producer/filmmaker liaison Aidah Muhammad. They really paid close attention to what the film was about, our filmmaking process (even the fact that we filmed a feature in eight days), and encouraged us to stay in touch when we premiere early next year. Urbanworld—20 years old now and such a signature event on the festival circuit—is now a memorable part of our TITLE VII journey.

Title VII

DBW: What’s at the heart of your film and what inspired you to create it?

NF: TITLE VII tackles the subject of workplace discrimination but takes it a step further: A boss who discriminates against employees of the same race. In real life, this topic is so taboo that it is rarely talked about, much less seen at length on the screen. I am just now able to talk about it. I had a boss when I was a 19-year-old intern who made my life hell. It was an all-Black office and she was so horrible to me—telling me that I should leave the internship because no one in the office liked me—that I swore to never work in an all-Black situation again. I’ve since let that go, but it took a while!

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned employment discrimination based on sex, race, color and national origin. Yet, discrimination is still part of US corporate culture 52 years later.

Title VII

The film centers on a Black female CEO who has the worst possible day at work. It is truly, the worst. And—maybe it was of her own doing. She practices same-race discrimination. She does not hire Black people at the office and she comes from a past where she is called “Darkie” at every turn by a close family member. She denies her heritage, thus denies others any opportunity to live freely in their own skin. What was my inspiration to create the film? Other than recalling my own experience, I read a book by Daisy M. Jenkins titled Within The Walls where a Black male CEO clearly kept his Blackness at a distance. I loved that character. I optioned the book from Daisy a year before filming and my four drafts of the screenplay underwent a complete revision by co-screenwriter Craig T. Williams who made the film even darker (excuse the pun!), sadistic and urgent. The nice touch which he thought would be a crazy idea, but he tossed it out there anyway: What if we made the lead character a woman? That was hot. We went for it and so did the cast and crew. In fact everyone in the cast is so committed to playing employees with bad behavior at this toxic office, they brought to life characters I rarely get to see on screen.

DBW: I understand you shot the film in 8 days! Can you share some of the advantages and obstacles? And please tell us about the #FilmAFeatureIn8Days talk you’ve developed to share what you’ve gleaned from that experience.

NF: I am willing to share this knowledge any chance I get! I was prepared to do a microbudget feature due mainly to the fact that FDUFilm at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Florham Park Campus, offered to come on board my next project with student crew, equipment and locations at no cost to production. Lucky me! So filming summer of 2016 was not a long-range plan which meant my schedule was tight. The original idea was to film in 15 days. But as we got closer to production—possibly 45 days from principle photography—I talked to a very encouraging screenwriter/director and told her quite candidly, “Even with the resources, we’re going to be out of money halfway through this shoot…filmmakers have done features in seven to nine days before, right?” She said, “Hell yeah! And you could do it too!” This is my friend Leesa Dean. I said, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to film this on an eight-day schedule.” She gave me the confidence but in a quick Google search I didn’t see too many examples of people sharing their experience for me to sustain that confidence. I was nervous, but I had no choice!
What I did keep finding was the legendary story of Roger Corman filming Little Shop of Horrors in two days. My takeaway from his experience: Film the play. I had talented actors on board. I love directing actors. Successful microbudgets are rooted in character dramas. We had the ultimate character drama. I told my actors in rehearsal (and we maybe had six days total of rehearsal), “If you mess up a line, keep going. I’ll catch you on camera somewhere.” We had two cameras but we were not a two-camera shoot. We only had one set of lenses! But I knew I had to give my actors the confidence through discussions about those character bios and objectives. They had to know the meaning behind all of their lines. Just go for it.

How did we film in eight days? A majority of our scenes were done in one to two takes and my talented student AD took the schedule and ran with it—including giving me good options on where to go next. Outside shots were done in two days, and inside shots (in the air-conditioning, thank goodness—it was July!) were the six days following. But there was so much going on in the script that even though the story takes place over the course of one day, each day had a different scene and camera move to film. So I hope that kept it interesting for the cast and crew.

Director Nicole Franklin and DP Cybel Martin

Director Nicole Franklin and DP Cybel Martin

Ultimately I have to give kudos to our DP Cybel Martin and lead actress Chicava HoneyChild. We were moving so fast. Cybel would set up our camera plan but ask me those important questions such as “What motivates this dolly shot? Let’s do a runthrough of this scene so we can see what this character is trying to convey here, etc.” The week before we had one day with the crew to run through the more “difficult” camera shots—but they functioned so well as a class that they knew their equipment and classmates, so technically we were good. During the rehearsal we had cast on set running some of the more difficult scenes, so the following week there would be some “familiarity” with the office. And, as on most shoots, we filmed out of sequence. More than a few times, Chicava would be the one to say, “I just came from the scene with ____ and I’m still not over it. I don’t think I would say this to him at this time right now…” and stay on continuity with those emotions like no one’s business. As an actress she had to go to the extreme every single day of filming. Probably the toughest part of #FilmAFeaturein8Days was the marathon of stress and high energy. For other “tidbits” yes, I’ll be doing workshops in a few places over the next few months, but follow the hashtag on Twitter as well and you will get even more out of me. It was an education! But I’m proud to say, we did it!

Title VII

DBW: What can you share about the process of engaging with your cast and crew that inspires you as you look ahead to your next directing project? And do you have another project in the works yet?

NF: I don’t have another feature in the works yet. My hope is this microbudget will finally get me on set as a working director in episodic television. Yes! I’ll let you know! For now my focus for TITLE VII is to get into festivals, get strong reviews (fingers crossed), have people purchase the film or watch it on TV and enjoy it (and please send us those reviews as well!) and host TITLE VII Town Halls so that we can bring communities together around TITLE VII issues. Our film has race discrimination, sexual discrimination, age discrimination, comedy and death. You name it, it feels like we did it. Ultimately we know there will be something in it that will strike a nerve. And the actors are so good and the editor, Veronique Doumbe, kept that pace moving so well, it will hopefully be a dramatic piece with heavy replays.

That being said, did the cast and crew have a feeling we may get this far? We had a few cast members who were with us early on leave the project because “Eight days, Nicole?” was a concern. I have to say the cast we ended up with whole-heartedly knew we could do that. The students, on the other hand, may not have had that confidence. They work together all the time. They know they are skilled. But they did not know me as a director. Now the film chair was really good about having me meet with the students eight months before and visit campus frequently for updates, production notes and meetings, but there was an element to our shoot that taught me, if everyone is not fully on board 100% you will feel that in the air as a director while working. I had to protect the cast and my small key crew whom I brought (DP, Script Supervisor, Makeup/Hair Artist) from feeling there was low confidence in my abilities. Did I have to put on an act? Not at all. I am a hard worker. I LOVE preparation. But I’ve lived a life of having to prove myself first in order to get the surrounding players to believe in me so this was not new. It was more difficult in this situation because for about 26 years at my day gig as an editor, I got comfortable with people knowing my skills, accepting my ability in my role, and our discussions center on the work at hand, period. But in front of college-aged crew and the professor, I didn’t ever think I’d have to defend the way I work to get a project done. Maybe it was an oversight on my part, but if we are all there to put the best film possible in the can, when is there time for any distraction? It was stressful, but we got through it. I would just share my experience with anyone who will listen, you have to have 100% confidence that you’re following a leader who knows what she’s doing. She has your best interest at heart—for the film to show off what a great collaboration looks like. If there were any other motivation, chances are the film is not meant to be.

Nicole Franklin

DBW: When you look back on the making of Title VII, are there things you’ve discovered about yourself as a filmmaker? Hidden strengths that have revealed themselves?

NF: I actually was making the film knowing I was going to have major surgery 20 days later. I was in physical pain every day. I don’t want to now say, “Yes! I can make a film while carrying around a bucket-load of fibroid tumors so I can do anything!” but I think I was just reaffirmed that when there’s a job to be done I’m there to do it.

In my marathon 17 years of independent filmmaking as a career documentarian with small crews, making a narrative indie feature was crossing the finish line. A major difference I noticed right away was that narrative films—if they involve more than 10 people—are mainly about people management. That was new. That was very new to me and it felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day. In fact, my actors could probably confirm that more rehearsal time would have been most welcome! But for me as a director it was about the actors owning those roles. Let’s clear up any questions about your objectives, your past and your relationship to everyone in the room. Our cast—and 90% of the work is casting—just got it. And those who have seen it really take their hats off to them. I am truly grateful.

DBW: Who are some of the women film directors whose work particularly inspires you as a filmmaker?

NF: Mira Nair always takes the lead in my list of favorites. I love that she loves brown people and brings beautiful stories of her culture to the screen. And years ago I helped produce a spotlight program on her from New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) and I offered to edit her clips together. When I did, she said, “Nicole, you know my films better than I do!” Images just stick with you, you know? Allison Anders’ Grace of My Heart is a masterpiece in my book and her raw storytelling with previous films featuring the neighborhood girls leading up to that were an inspiration…Jodie Foster is fun and an actor’s director for sure. Jane Campion is amazing. But even new young directors like Dee Rees and, of course, the beautiful images of us from Ava DuVernay are something to be celebrated. And, since I now want to head into episodic television directing, the talented Neema Barnette has always been on my radar as well. I have a blast talking about documentary directors who are my sisters in the genre in which I grew up too. There are too many to mention without leaving some out, but please visit our Black Documentary Collective Fan Page and you’ll see when to catch us on PBS or in the educational space!

DBW: Thanks so much, Nicole, for talking with us about your work. Great to connect. Keep us posted as you move ahead with this and other projects.

NF: Loved speaking with you and LOVE all you do, Directed by Women!

To find out more about Nicole and her work, please visit her website.

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At Tallebudgera Creek for the Solid Screen Festival Opening Ceremony 2016

Jenny Fraser: Diverting from the gatekeeper’s stairway

Linda Biumaiwai doing the Yugambeh #WelcomeToCountry for Solid Screen Festival at Tallebudgera Gold Coast

Linda Biumaiwai doing the Yugambeh #WelcomeToCountry for Solid Screen Festival at Tallebudgera Gold Coast. Linda Biumaiwai belongs to the Mununjali people of Beaudesert which forms part of the Yugambeh Language region.

DBW: It’s great to have the SOLID SCREEN Festival taking place during #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party. Your festival features work by “Indigenous Women ScreenMakers and acknowledges historically important screen culture.” Tell us about the program and what your festival is all about.

JF: The focus for the 2016 Solid Screen Festival is Australasia Pacific. The main curatorial premise for Solid Screen Festival is based on who can be present at the screening, because the important thing to me is that the director can introduce the film, and ideally they will be a mix of locals and internationals. Personally, I find that direct access to listening to a film maker can inspire Indigenous audiences in a magic way. This process means that the screen works for Solid Screen Festival are the last priority on the list after making sure that things like travel and accommodation are organised. Because the Solid event focuses on women I know I have to cast the net widely and invite many more than will attend, due to women being primary care givers and also holding down jobs and other commitments simultaneously. It’s worth it though, as the speakers are documented and their voice can then go that bit further towards the longevity of screen culture. In Australia this is unique as there aren’t many Indigenous Film Festivals and the dissemination of information about Indigenous Screen Culture in Universities and other institutions is almost unheard of these days.

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DBW: What inspires the use of the term “ScreenMakers”?

JF: I am a New Media Artist so I have to work hard to grow my artform area in Australia. It’s great to go overseas and get inspired by what is happening in screen culture there, but sometimes it can be too long between trips and part of the initial inspiration is realising that the strength of our own storytelling needs to be drawn out and highlighted as well. I learnt a long time ago that Australia is suffering from Cultural Apartheid and nothing much happens in Indigenous New Media Arts if I don’t make it happen, and it’s a Catch-22 because the more I make it happen, the less I am included – in both the mainstream white art world and also the minority Indigenous niche artform area. So I am showing the field how it’s done and re-Dreaming the artworld with events and showcases that I would like to see my own work in more often as well. I curate others who have a screen based practice to show that we actually exist, and we don’t all need to be rising stars in the film industry – we can divert from the gatekeeper’s stairway. It’s 2016 and in Australia we have had access to and use of digital devices for some time now. The divide between the Film Industry and other Indigenous Screen Storytellers is unnecessary, but it’s not going away.

DBW: How did you get involved in creating this festival? How has it evolved? Where are you heading next?

JF: There are some mainstream New Media Arts forums and artists camps in Australia now and then, but they don’t include enough Indigenous participants and they don’t cater to the Cultural Safety for Indigenous needs. Even when there might be one created specifically with an Indigenous focus, they are often problematic because its run by a Non-Indigenous organisation, and they often just employ their white mates as the facilitators, which defeats the purpose of the intended focus. I had always wanted to do my own and it took me about a decade to get funding for the first one in 2014 which was held at Innot Hot Springs, a remote area in Far North Queensland. Then in 2015 I couldn’t get much support again so I just decided to tour it to The Cairns Institute which is a great building for screenings, where I have an honourary position. I was also invited to tour Solid Screen to Kayche Festival in the Yucatan in Mexico around Mayan communities and while traveling I also hooked up screenings with the Hawaiian Women in Filmmaking in Honolulu and at an Indigenous Conference called Healing Our Spirit Worldwide in New Zealand. I’ve just presented a new Solid Screen Festival and Healing Retreat for 2016 and this time it was on the homelands of my ancestors at Tallebudgera and Numinbah Valley on the Gold Coast in South East Queensland. I didn’t want to do the festival again because it’s too much work, but it was important and inspirational for me to bring the good energy and Indigenous spirit to my homelands. It wasn’t easy, particularly because Queensland is so racist, but it was worth it, because my country is a beautiful backdrop, in both Saltwater and Freshwater country.

stingray-sisters

Stingray Sisters – streaming VOD

DBW: Can you share something about the work that screened at the festival this month? Are there places online where film lovers can find out about and possibly stream work by any of the Indigenous Screenmakers you will be including in your program?

JF:  There are stills and info about the screen works and films in the SOLID SCREEN Festival 2016 Facebook Photo Album. And here are a few videos…

DBW: Looking ahead to next year’s #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party I’m beginning to see a new process evolving – identifying power centers around the planet where film lovers/makers/programmers will concentrate attention to bring vibrant focus to films/moving images directed by women – and allowing those concentrated energies to fuel celebration globally. I’d love to explore teaming up with you, your festival, and others to make sure that Australia/New Zealand are contributing power to the global celebration. I hope that resonates with you.

JF: Yes, Directed By Women is a great initiative and we are happy to be a part of it because it helps us to focus on the bigger picture. Next year we might tour Solid Screen Festival back to Cairns again and show the new batch of videos that were showcased this year. We’ll be sure to take part in #DirectedByWomen again in 2017 so that we can all feel the good vibes and support around the world.

DBW: I look forward to that. Perhaps others engaged in the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party 2017 will feel inspired to connect with you to co-create events to screen Indigenous work in other places as well. Let’s keep weaving together new opportunities.

Find out more: Jenny Fraser Good Medicine CyberTribe World Screen Culture Blackout Solid Facebook Page.

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