Cady McClain: Seeing is Believing

Cady McClain with Deborah Riley Draper

Cady McClain is the director of the documentary Seeing is Believing: Women Direct, which is now on the festival circuit as both a short episodic and feature length doc. The short episodic won a Jury Prize at the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the feature length version just won the Audience Award at the SOHO Film Festival. It will also be released as a multi-part series to feature more directors. She interviewed more than 50 women directors for this project. 

Cady McClain has worked in film since 1979, starting as a child actor in films such as My Favorite Year. In her 30 plus year career, she can count the women who have directed her on one hand. Her frustration about this was one factor that led her to spend two years making this film and series.

Struck by the joy of directing in her early 20’s, she didn’t begin to shoot film until five years ago. “Directing came into my life in my early 20’s studying in NYC under Curt Dempster of Ensemble Studio Theater but it wasn’t until my early 40’s that I dived in, due to a great deal of pressure from my mom to not take what she saw as unnecessary risks. Now I want to encourage all women to take risks and tell their stories. We must not stay silent any longer.”

McClain’s loves extend to fine art in the form of collage and writing songs, poems, and stories. As a director, her work focuses on life’s challenges, giving space to those who are obscured and remain invisible.

Cady’s perspective on women who direct film opens the mind to new possibilities of life direction as “we are either expanding or contracting”. Now the question is, what are women expanding or contracting into? What is the meaning of woman? And who gets to tell that story and define what woman is? Most media labels for women equate to high heels, dresses and motherhood. But most (self-defined) women, rarely wear dresses or high heels (they are mainly for playing dress up anyway), and motherhood is not the only way to pass on a story, as children move on with their own lives.

And if our lives are a story we want to pass on, what better way than in a collage of images, sounds and feeling? Through Cady’s eyes, she offers us a perspective that is uniquely hers, and the order, sense and direction come from a body that is different to the history of directors. Her body is filled with experiences from art, theatre, TV and film. She says, “the process of making art is a joy, even when it’s hard”. Cady in her youth was held back by her mother, who out of fear begged her not to go into directing. But after gaining years of creative experience, she began directing her first short Flip Fantasia (2014) in 2013.

Since then, she has directed several other shorts, The World of Albert Fuh (2015), The Best Potential Caretaker of Your Life (2016), Butterflies (2017) and The Missing Piece (2017), as well as being Emmy nominated for her directing work on the web series Venice the Series (2017). Now we look forward to watching her first documentary Seeing is Believing: Women Direct. She tells us, “It has been quite a journey. I went into it because I have a passion for directing and saw that women were not being given the opportunities they should. It seemed to me the best way to make some kind of forward movement for everyone was to share the wisdom and insights from those who were prevailing despite the odds.”

Cady McClain
Cady McClain

DBW: How would you describe yourself? Favourite things? Places on Earth? 

CM: Hard working. A seeker. If you give me a challenge I will probably take it. I still love New Orleans, it’s wildness. I like to take photos of flowers in the tough parts of the city.

DBW: How would you illustrate the way you shape a story?

CM: I have made art for years, collage in particular. So all my work has that feel of contrasting images placed up against each other.

DBW: What film are you working on at the moment? 

CM: I am finishing up the feature, short, and series Seeing is Believing: Women Direct as well as two shorts: Butterflies (about a young mixed race woman who is bullied in high school) and The Missing Piece (a short for the KITS: Kids in the Spotlight program, written by foster youth). I’ve been contacted regarding a few other exciting film projects and am directing a play this fall that investigates the cross sections of gender and ambition.

DBW: How do you feel your perception and life experience influences your work as a director? 

CM: Because of how life has played out for me I know a lot about pain and suffering, unfortunately. So it’s important to me that my work has both humor and hope but isn’t saccharine. The visual nature of film really allows us to drop into dark worlds without flinching, and I really enjoy that quality of the medium.

DBW: What is the world missing when there is a lack of diversity in storytellers?

CM: It’s missing a richness of other experiences. To only know one way of living is so sad. Travel used to be a way people could stretch beyond their immediate circle, but now the internet allows us to peek into other’s lives in such a rich way. We can get to know a little more about other people’s lives and experiences now, though media, and therefore can stretch beyond our limited ideas. It’s so important that those stories get made and get seen!

DBW: Why do people need to see women in different kinds of roles?

CM: We are either expanding or contracting, I really believe that. Without expansion, women will get slowly forced back into limiting roles which is a despairing thought. It simply cannot be allowed to happen.

DBW: What is one change you would like to see happen?

CM: I’d like to see more women being more supportive of one another. It’s my biggest peeve: when women are critical and dismissive of one another and play games of rank or priority for some stupid reason. It’s participating with an oppressive thought pattern of the past and really needs to stop. We can do so much better.

For more information on Cady McClain and her work, click on the link to her website or to the website for her film Seeing is Believing: Women Direct.

Cady McClain
Cady McClain