Ofelia Yánez & Michal Birnbaum: Fighting for justice… Bridging cultural divides…

Ofelia Yánez & Michal Birnbaum

Director Ofelia Yánez & Co-Producer/Writer Michal Birnbaum have teamed up to create Division Ave., “short film about the fight for justice of a Latina cleaning lady in Hasidic Brooklyn. Inspired by true events.” They’ve recently launched a new crowdfunding campaign. #DirectedbyWomen chatted with them this week about their new film, finding each other through #DirectedbyWomen’s list of women who have directed, and more.

DBW: You’re embarking on a new film project Division Ave. Tell us about it. What’s at the heart of your film?

MB: It’s a film about two women who realize something needs to change in their lives and they have to fight for it for themselves. Fernanda recently came to the US from Mexico, she works in cleaning to support her family back home. She is sent by a shady cleaning agency to clean houses in Brooklyn. Nechama is a Jewish Hasidic homemaker in a community where women get married as teens and immediately have kids. They find out that the contractor who hired Fernanda doesn’t pay her and decide to find him and confront him together.

DBW: I was really excited to hear that #DirectedbyWomen’s list of women who have directed was instrumental in bringing Ofelia onto the project. Discovering and cultivating new collaborations is such an individual process. It would be a gift if you could share how that has been unfolding for you both.

MB: From very early stages of the production I knew I wanted a woman to direct it and to have mostly women on the film’s crew. My research led me to the #DirectedbyWomen pool of directors. I was looking through the works of different directors and came across Ofelia’s film The Good Kind. I was so touched by it and knew immediately that I wanted to work with her. She has a way of telling a story in a very honest and non-cliche way.

OY: I was thrilled to know that Michal found me on the #DirectedbyWomen list. What a wonderful resource to have available! The visibility and validation as a director, to be included in a list along with such amazing and accomplished women is truly an honor. The fact that out of all the options available, Michal selected me to bring her project to life is truly humbling and thrilling. I am in awe of Michal, Lorena and their determination to bring such an important story to the screen, and have very much enjoyed collaborating with them both.

Ofelia Yánez
Ofelia Yánez

DBW: Have you put together your cast and crew? What strengths do they bring to the project that gives you the confidence to plunge in and make something powerful and moving?

OY: We are in the early stages so we don’t yet have everyone, but Michal and Lorena have done a wonderful job at pre-selecting key players. They have launched the Kickstarter campaign, and it’s important to note how critical this process is in terms of allowing us to put the ideal team together to bring this project into fruition. Supporting work led by a mostly all female team is super important to the growth of the filmmaking community as a whole. So much beautiful work has been created, but there is still so much more to be done. The more support there is for women filmmakers at every level, the more we will encourage up and coming artists to keep creating.

DBW: You are in the fundraising stage of the project. How can film lovers engage to help your film flourish? What kinds of interactions would nurture and support your work at this time?

OY: Talking about the project and following the process is the best way. Word of mouth, which these days means posting and re-posting, is the best way to help put us on the map and reach our goal. Crowdfunding works when the crowd helps see the project through, so I can’t stress how important it is for people to please share the project with others and follow it at every step. The film is a collaboration, and supporters are just as important to its creation as the cast and crew. It’s exciting to see the finished product and know that you helped make it happen!

MB: I agree, I think social media is one of the most powerful tools of the current Feminist wave. Especially if you are a filmmaker. It allows women to have their voices heard with no filters, it’s a way for us to get to the crowd in the most immediate way. Throughout the campaign we will release video updates that people can share and talk about. We will have a few special rewards that will be added as the campaign goes on – so stay tuned!

DBW: Can you share a little about previous projects you’ve each worked on? Does Division Ave. feel like it builds on what came before? Or perhaps you’re taking a big leap in a new direction?

MB: I’ve done a lot of theater in New York, I am addicted to the unmediated connection with the audience. Film for me is the way to get to the masses. You don’t have to live in the city to watch it. I’ve done a few independent films in NYC as an actress and it is now the first time I am producing my own script so I am absolutely thrilled about it. I couldn’t have done this without my Co-Producer, Lorena Rodriguez, who is also an actress. You can check out my website: www.michalbirnbaum.com

Michal Birnbaum
Michal Birnbaum

OY: This is both a leap and somewhat familiar territory for me. The very first project I created and produced for was mostly concentrated on social issues, so I’m no stranger to defending a cause through visual mediums. However, my short film, The good kind, focused on the LGBTQ and Latino communities, so it’s new for me to develop characters in and for the Jewish community. I initially turned down the project because I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge to approach it, but Michal reassured me and offered her help and guidance. Her trust and persuasion really moved me to take the challenge and join the team. I can’t express how excited I am to direct this film.

The good kind trailer can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/92804184
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheGoodKindMovie

Past screenings: The Pride Film Festival, aGLIFF (Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, Cinema Diverse: The Palm Springs Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Latin Queer Art & Film Festival, Latina Film Festival & Conference at Indiana University, Bloomington, and New Frontiers: West Coast Queer Cinema in San Francisco.

Awards: Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Short at the Pride Film Festival of Brazos Valley, Opening film at Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, Festival Favorite at the Palm Springs Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

DBW: We’re in the midst of the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party. Film lovers are on the lookout for films by women directors to tantalize them and expand their film viewing horizons. Do you have any thoughts about films by women directors that you’ve seen and would love people to have the chance to experience? Perhaps ones they might not have heard about yet?

OY: My friend and mentor, Adelina Anthony, just finished her first feature film, Bruising for Besos, which is kicking butt in the festival world! It’s such a brave and beautiful film, and one that I had the privilege to see grow from its early stage of creation. Adelina is an accomplished stage actor, writer, and overall creator, and I have no doubt will play a big part in moving us forward as female filmmakers. Another short film everyone should look for is Gold Star, written and directed by another good friend and multi-talented artist, Karla Legaspy. The film just won the 2016 PBS Online Film Festival’s “People’s Choice” Award, and when you watch it, you’ll see why. It’s a tender, gorgeous, and necessary film, just like Bruising for Besos.

MB: The Israeli short “Shmita” is an unusual project. Directed by Gal Rosenbluth, the film follows a young female soldier that falls for an officer. In order to make sure that she stays in her military base for the weekend, she convinces everyone that they have to observe the Jewish Sabbatical year since it is God’s commandment. The premiere will take place next month in Haifa International Film Festival.

DBW: Anything else you’d like to share?

MB: I want to encourage filmmaker to hire women for the technical crew as well. It’s time for women to play a much more substantial role in the industry, both on the camera and behind it.

Lorena Rodriguez
Lorena Rodriguez

OY: I’d like to thank Michal and Lorena for allowing me to join them in this adventure, and ask for everyone to support Division Ave. Help spread the word far and wide, and keep supporting female-led work in general.

DBW: It’s been great conversing with you. Keep us posted. I can’t wait to see what arises as you move forward on this project.  Thanks so much.

To find out more and support this #DirectedbyWomen FUTURE Film Viewing Possibility, visit…

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/749742205/division-ave
Website: www.divisionavefilm.com
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/divisionavefilm/