See How She Runs:
A Celebration of Badass Women in Film
I drafted this essay just as the pandemic seemed to ease. Now, the backdrop of world events has changed in tragic and terrifying ways. I may have started with a lighthearted tone, but I feel the importance of storytelling and supporting emerging storytellers in a profound way. I am thrilled to have come back to the movies, and to share two hours in a theater and be reminded that I am not alone in my feelings of fear, shame, joy, laughter and love. There’s no other art form that has that same capacity to create empathy and connection, and I think it’s more important than ever.
Badass: A term for a smooth, cool-headed person that gets it done. (Source: slang.org)
When I was in high school, my track coach taught me to run faster by focusing on runners ahead of me as the targets to pass. I was a decent runner then, but I’m better now. Perhaps one reason is I look to those ahead of me, not as competition, but as a magnet pulling me forward. My current running partner, Julie Lipson (a 2019-20 Women in Film awards season Vote for Women nominee for best adapted screenplay), is faster than I am, and with an impressive IMDB page. Recently, we were both in a fundraising race. She finished before me, and then cheered me on. When we both received podium spots for our respective age groups, it occurred to me that this is how you sustain a career in the highly competitive film industry. You run your own race, encourage everyone AND are inspired by those who lead the way.
Left: Writers Julie Lipson and Nada Djordievich post-race. Photo: Gail Lipson
Filmmaking is an endurance sport, and there is no singular path, pace, or style that can get one to the finish line. I love reading stories of the circuitous route to getting a film made, and I get excited by people whose work demonstrates new possibilities for widening representation in the industry. Last year, I attended a San Francisco Bay Area Women in Film networking event, and Board Member Amy Harrison asked us to think about and name a mentor. While I have not been fortunate enough yet to have a mentor, I have a long and slightly idiosyncratic list of women in film who I have admired from near and afar, who inspire my creative journey. Here’s just a few of many who keep me running forward.
Foremost in my mind today is Radha Blank, selected for the March 4, 2022 inaugural episode of the From Writer to Writer-Director series produced by the Writers Guild of America West (WGA West). I highly recommend watching this interview available on youtube. The writer, producer and director describes how “adversity and rejection” fueled the genesis of her multiple award winning Sundance project, The Forty Year Old Version. She also describes the producing support she received from Lena Waithe that included guidance, investment support, as well as “getting out of her way.”
Dorothy Fadiman was the first filmmaker I ever met and the first Academy Award nominee. The mother of a high school friend, I saw how hard she worked, and how courageous, visionary and prescient her work has been. The director, writer and producer of the 1992 short, "When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories” has amassed a library of more than 40 films of social justice, human rights and personal growth from the Bay Area and around the world.
Photo: Dorothy Fadiman directing a documentary in India. Courtesy of Concentric Media.
Nina Yang Bongiovi
As someone who desperately wants to see the Bay Area become a hub for narrative features as well as documentaries, I am grateful for Significant Productions’ partner Nina Yang Bongiovi for producing the Oakland films Sorry to Bother You and Fruitvale Station, and also for producing the directorial debuts of female directors, Rebecca Hall (Passing) and Chloe Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me).
Gloria Calderon Kellett
I follow Gloria Calderón Kellett on Twitter, as she provides positive and practical advice for those seeking entry into those seemingly itsy- bitsy-teeny-tiny industry doors. The writer, actor, director and creator of With Love is helping to build a more equitable world in television, in all ways, and especially for Latinx and LGBTQ stories of belonging and community. (For more on the historical representation of Latinx artists in film, see Emily Caledron’s post on this website.)
Lynn Shelton (1965-2020) is said to have realized that it was not too late for her to become a director after hearing a talk at Northwest Film forum, when filmmaker Claire Denis said she started directing in her 40s. Shelton then went on to direct 9 features and more than 40 television episodes, after turning 39.
This year’s awards season heralded many female directors, but the reality is that women composed fewer than 25% of creative roles in the top 250 films of 2021. To upend that statistic, producers will need to look to more than just experience or men will continue to dominate the industry. In the interview with Radha Blank mentioned earlier, she says many directors would have chosen to surround themselves with experience for their first feature film, but instead she chose collaborators for their shared vision and passion for the project. She said she took a chance on them, as other people had taken a chance on her.
Nada Djordjevich is a writer and producer and former WIFSFBA board member.
Want to learn more about films mentioned?
Radha Blank’s Forty Year Old Version is available for streaming on Netflix.
Dorothy Fadiman’s documentary films are available at the Concentric Media website.
Nina Yang Bongiovi produced films, including Passing and Songs My Brothers Taught Me, are now streaming.
Gloria Calderón Kellett’s recent show, With Love is available on Amazon Prime, and much of her television work including One Day At A Time can be found on streaming services.
Julie Lipson’s co-written feature, Rust Creek, is currently streaming on Netflix.
Lynn Shelton’s episodes of Little Fires Everywhere and many of her directed features are currently streaming.
For an analysis of women’s employment in film, see studies by Dr. Martha Lauze of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, including The Celluloid Ceiling in a Pandemic Year: Employment of Women on the Top U.S. Films of 2021.
We want to hear from you
Do you know a Bay Area filmmaker who we might want to spotlight or do you have your own project success that we can celebrate together? We invite you to join WIFSFBA in-person and remote events, where you can find writing mentors, supporters, and new friends, who inspire you to run your run.