2007 Woodstock Film Festival - Amazing Women in Film - Oct. 13, 2007
Amazing Women in Film
October 13, 2007
Women in the film industry continue to carve a strong and meaningful path in a world that used to be traditionally dominated by men. With more women sitting in the Director's Chair and holding top positions as executives, producers, and administrators, has the balance finally shifted to a point of equality? Join us as a diverse group of powerful women discuss their work and the state of the film industry, from the woman's perspective.
(TA) Thelma Adams currently writes film reviews for US Weekly and contributes regularly to a plethora of publications, including The Independent, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, The Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post and Indie Magazine.
(DD) Donna Dickman is the senior VP of publicity at Focus Features, running the East Coast PR department for the Universal specialty arm.
(KD) Karen Durbin is the film critic for Elle magazine, where she writes a monthly two-page column. She also writes features for Elle and articles on film for the Sunday Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times. Previously, she was the film critic for Mirabella magazine and its arts and entertainment editor. From April 1994 to September 1996, she was the editor in chief of The Village Voice. Durbin wrote and edited at the Voice in the 70s and 80s, where she helped unionize the paper and oversaw its extensive film coverage for seven years.
(MM) Mary Stuart Masterson made her film debut at the age of seven in The Stepford Wives. She has starred in over 25 films (including At Close Range, Some Kind of Wonderful, Immediate Family, Fried Green Tomatoes, Benny and Joon), and numerous plays and musicals (including the Tony Award nominated Broadway musical Nine). Along with her brother Peter, she is in the process of launching a film production company. The Cake Eaters is her narrative feature directorial debut.
(KR) Katie Roumel began producing films in 1995. Her credits include Kiss Me Guido, Series 7, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Camp, and A Home at the End of the World. Last year, Roumel produced An American Crime, and Savage Grace with Julianne Moore (to be released by IFC in April 2008) and Then She Found Me with Helen Hunt (2008). Roumel's latest project is with writer/director Shawn Lawrence Otto (House Of Sand And Fog) and will go into production in 2008. Before producing independently, Roumel was a partner at the NYC Independent Film Production Company Killer Films with Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler.
(TA) How did you get where you are in film? Where did you want to be when you started out?
(KD) Wanted to watch and write about films. Started writing at college (Bryn Mar) where a cinemateque. The first foreign movie I saw was La Strada there. I knew I wanted to be a journalist. Did my baby steps at The New Yorker after graduating. Worked at The Lindsey Agency for a while. Then went over to The Village Voice. Was a politics editor there. Wrote about feminism and pop culture in the 1970s. I was asked to write about film in the 1980s. Wrote analytical features about movies, ie. The Eyes of Laura Mars with Faye Dunaway. Went onto being an editor at Mirabella. Then back at the Voice again. When leaving that job, I wanted to write about films full time. Went back to Mirabella again. Then finally Elle.
(TA) What are the joys of being a film critic?
(KD) Seeing movies for a living and going to film festivals. I try to connect people with movies by filmmakers they never heard of. It makes me nuts when reviewers don’t understand movies. For example, a review in The New York Times on the Darden Bros.’ Rosetta. From beginning to end in that review, they mocked it.
(TA) Where did you start?
(DD) There are very few publicists who go into the field wanting to be a publicist. They fall into it. I originally tended to work in theater behind the scenes in the 1970s. It was hard to make money. Eventually got a job at the Theater Guild. Stumbled upon United Artists, which was an entertainment and insurance company. Went into their office, spoke to human resources who told me about a job in the publicity department. Had a couple of interviews and got the job. I loved doing it. Never went to film school. Working there was like an education. Got to work with the press who really understood films, which I really appreciated. I love getting people excited about films that I’m excited about.
(MM) Started acting at the age of eight. It was kind of an accident. Mom and dad were actors mostly in theater. Dad’s director was in our apartment. I was sick and offered him a drink. He offered me a job. When I was that young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I spent a lot of time back stage. There’s something transcendent about working in theater. It’s an experience you can’t re-do the same way again. I feel that way on a movie set, especially working behind the camera. Everything has been a process for me, not a product emphasis. Try to tell a story. I like being behind the camera. It’s not a democracy. It needs to be a benign dictatorship being a director.
(KR) Women’s studies in college, which was pretty much useless in nature. Concentrated on feminist film criticism. I really hated to write. Also had a minute working in politics in D.C. Then moved to New York. I realized producing was where I wanted to be. Interned at Killer Films. I’m attracted to the business side of films. Support Christine Vachon’s vision. Not producing by committee, but there’s still a marketplace to be navigated.
(TA) Women who are happy are those who find their passion and just do it, even if along the way they have to make compromises.
(MM) Sometimes you have to take one job for the mortgage, and another for the art.
(TA) You can find a way to write and be risky. Writing for USWeekly makes me able to writer about movies I like. As a female critic, you really want to get out there and encourage good movies for women.
(KD) Jim Hoberman once wrote a review of a Hungarian film in the 1980s. In the film, two men rough up a woman. Jim is one of the most feminist men I know, but there was no mention at all in his review that this culture was comfortable with men hitting women. It took me out of this otherwise good film. Jim was shocked at himself that this drove by him. There are not too many women film critics.
(TA) Probably 80% film critics are men. I’ve been a member of the New York Film Critics Circle for 12 years. Have been the chairperson twice. In all that time, may only have been three women out of 30-35 people. Jamie Bernard fought me about get onto the circle. Among the group, it can be self-destructive. Women have to stand for each other and fight for one another. The movie “Laurel Canyon,” Todd McCarthy reviewed it and slammed it. It’s a woman’s story. A great movie. It got killed because 80% of critics are men.
(TA) Can you talk about some positive changes for women?
(MM) Growing up, the rules changed. Mom was traditional and stood by her man. She came to New York as a liberal artist. All her friends’ marriages were failing. I witnessed enraged women trying to be empowered. There was this resentment among some of them. Mom was one of only women to stay married. How do you balance being female and your biological clock, having a family, etc?
(TA) An issue is deciding whether you can have kids or not and still have a career. It’s easy to do as a film critic.
(KD) In an Elle Magazine roundtable discussion, women filmmakers talk about these issues. Kelly Curry (Sp?) said she couldn’t have any kids. Kimberly Pierce said you can’t be bonded as a woman and have a career.
(TA) Sometime women fall into a trap where they want to be the captain of industry. You can’t have it all, but what can you have?
(MM) You can have it one at a time. The male perspective seems to be end-focuses and driven to a goal. Even the way women write could more character-driven, and less plot-driven.
(KD) I think that men have been socialized to compartmentalize. Women don’t. Women are conditioned the other way.
(MM) As a film director, you have to multi-task. If you put blinders on, you’re going to miss something.
(TA) One thing women have is bringing people together and being collaborative. Is this our great advantage?
(KR) The skills I have are what make me a good producer. Those things innately female like the ways I am collaborative and listen. The way I was socialized.
Q: Do you have projects in mind for the future? What’s your criteria for selecting them?
(MM) Like to do lots of different things. Plays on Broadway. Acting in movies. I’m going to be directing a film that’s not financed yet with John Leguizamo set in Iraq. Also wrote a pilot that takes place in New York that I won’t be acting in, but producing. I love to write. Started a novel. Every project requires 100% dedication. It’s so hard to move forward. Try to decide what to focus on. I’m starting to film a script my husband will direct. Budget is $50,000. Starts shooting next week.
Q: We’re likely to have a female Democratic presidential nominee. Any films in support of that?
(KD) It would be great to see something like that. There was a documentary about Clinton & Dole made by a woman. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
Q: What do you think about younger generations are using the Internet (Myspace, YouTube) to express themselves.
(TA) That’s going to change the speed of making films.
(DD) Just hired a woman at Focus Features to track online press including social networks and blogs.
(KD) Some of the best stuff I read is online.
(TA) Reporting online is really problematic. Not going to be objective. The code of ethics is more or less followed with print journalism.
Q: How do you juggle doing multiple projects?
(PK) Keep re-assessing yourself. Ask yourself, do I need to make money or feed my soul.
(MM) Follow your bliss. Once a project is going, stick with it. Nurture it like a baby.
Q: If you’re a crafts person (I’m a composer) and see a woman filmmaker you’d like to support, but you’re blocked from getting to her, how do you gain access?
(TA) Be persistent.
(DD) Find the right person who will listen to you. Someone who works closely with the filmmaker.
(MM) Don’t expect anyone to find you.