El Cerrito event to celebrate women and film
By Lou Fancher
Women in the film industry find harmony and dissonance.
Harmony prevails at events like Lunafest, the one-night nationwide traveling festival celebrating films made by women filmmakers while raising funds and awareness for women’s causes and charities.
Lunafest East Bay on March 18 at El Cerrito High offers a VIP pre-event reception, nine short films, coffee, desserts and a raffle with prizes at intermission, and a panel featuring two of the season’s filmmakers. Lara Everly (Free to Laugh) and Diane Weipert (Niñera) will be interviewed by local author Patty Enrado.
The evening will be emcee’d by Lunafest filmmaker and El Cerrito High graduate, Anna Schumacher. All of the net proceeds benefit The Breast Cancer Fund, El Cerrito Community Foundation and El Cerrito High’s IT Academy.
A preview screening of this year’s films, which range from 4 to 15 minutes in length, reveals primary themes: courage, humor, incarceration, employment, family, community, children, love and work relationships, aging, athleticism, health.
But despite what appear to be universal, gender neutral subjects and the economic power demonstrated by the $3.6 million Lunafest to date has raised, dissonance continues. A lack of parity in pay, limited opportunities compared to male counterparts and uneven perceptions of skill combine to tip the scales against women directors, writers, cinematographers and actors.
San Francisco-based Weipert says the current landscape for women in films is complex.
“The upper echelon of almost any industry is populated by men, so people believe that’s what’s needed,” she says. “Some women don’t help the cause. They’ve been in a vicious industry for so long that they don’t feel they have the luxury of promoting other women.”
Young filmmakers she meets today sometimes have limited understanding of the struggle women have gone through to establish themselves as filmmakers.
“They see ‘feminist’ as an extreme,” she says. “They see Hillary Clinton running for president and see it as no big deal.”
In film schools, Weipert says, ingrained tendencies have male students wanting to be directors and female students more often looking to writing or editing. “It’s astonishing how rare it is that women want to take the reins,” she says. “It’s frustrating. We don’t get the messages that we should direct or ask for more money or be confident in our work.”
Girls and women also rarely see themselves reflected in what Weipert calls “kick-ass films” in other than supportive roles. “I never saw myself in any positive way in action films,” says Weipert. “If you’re the victim or the sidekick, it’s not a positive thing. The fact that we say “chick flick” is demeaning. Sadly, it’s natural for people to diminish women. ‘Terminator II’ and Linda Hamilton was the first film I saw that was different. She was such a bad-ass. It was cathartic.”
The energy she drew from seeing Hamilton fuels her work and personal drive — she says her young son is “an organic feminist” who evaluates film as she does; with a filter for gender stereotyping. As a filmmaker pushing against traditional expectations, she develops and directs films with strong, independent female characters, like the nannies in “Niñera,” or Valentina, the young immigrant in her latest project, the feature-length film, “Boyle Heights.”
Schumacher in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where the Kensington native now lives, says she embraces the mission behind Lunafest while issuing a caveat.
“Gender-different stories are also transgender, and there are all kinds of male and female stories.” Schumacher says reaching a place or time when women feel empowered to share their stories without society imposing boundaries will require that women “buckle down, claim their space, find allies in the more privileged genders.”
People, she says, will have to change how they listen. “Women aren’t allowed to be vocal without being called emotional. It can be difficult because creativity involves intimacy, sharing and vulnerability. And as a woman, if I have an idea, I’m going to have to believe in it more than my male counterparts, maybe more than I should have to.”
Therein lies the dissonance: believe passionately, advocate, take the reins, risk obstacles and judgment. Even so, both filmmakers say coming together with women — and men — to celebrate women-made films is vital and exhilarating.
Schumacher says “talking about what it’s like to be under the same sky” bridges cultures and recognizes humanity through the lens of art.
Weipert believes female directors are uniting in unprecedented ways. She suggests that the need to create independent spaces for women’s stories is simultaneously a sign of continued bias and a necessary, harmonious first step toward integrating women’s films into the mainstream.