HALF THE PICTURE celebrates the groundbreaking work of female film directors by interviewing, Ava DuVernay (Selma), Lena Dunham ("Girls"), Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight") and Jill Soloway ("Transparent") among others. The film seeks to investigate and shed light on the systemic discrimination that continues to deny many talented women opportunities in Hollywood.
Hi Amy, thanks for talking to TNC, how is everything going?
Great, crazy and wonderful, thanks for asking.
You had an amazing 2018 with your documentary Half The Picture, did the reaction to the film surprise you?
I wasn’t surprised - so many women directors are hungry to see our struggles represented and our work celebrated. It’s been gratifying, though, to have people come up to me after screenings and say lovely things about the film and what it means to them. It’s a testament to the women in the film and the connection so many of us have to their work.
Half The Picture won the #WhatNext Prize at Sundance London, what did it mean to win this award?
I was so caught off guard that I kind of stumbled toward the area where they were making speeches and giving out awards and clumsily accepted the award without saying a word. When Bo Burnham accepted the other award that night, for his fantastic film EIGHTH GRADE, he said a few words of thanks, like a normal human being. So, despite the fact that our whole film is about women speaking up and telling our stories, I failed to take that wonderful opportunity to say anything! Even something as simple as “Hey everyone, your stories matter and deserve to be heard - GO MAKE YOUR MOVIES!” Oh well, live and learn.
Does winning or being nominated for awards add any additional pressure on you as a filmmaker?
Nah - because it’s so damn hard to get attention for small films, you are deeply, profoundly grateful for any award, recognition or good press that helps people know about what you’ve made. Awards aren’t the endgame by any means - the greatest satisfaction lies in making the film and sharing it with an audience - but any tool you can use to raise awareness about your movie is powerful, so I’m grateful for the awards the film has won.
Why do you think Hollywood still remains a difficult place for women directors?
We live in a patriarchal society - Hollywood is a difficult place for women, as is government, tech, academia, law. In spheres where power, prestige and money increase, women have a difficult time getting traction, opportunity and recognition. It’s the way of the world. It’s particularly harmful in entertainment however, because movies and TV make up our collective culture and when you only have a small group of people, largely straight white men, telling all of our stories, the same groups of people get lionized, marginalized, victimized, in the stories that are told, which just perpetuates the current power structure.
"There is no part of this that doesn’t make me laugh but it's not an out and out comedy."
Can you tell us a little bit about Half The Picture, how did this film come about?
HALF THE PICTURE is a celebration of the work of women film directors - Ava DuVernay, Lena Dunham, Karyn Kusama, Catherine Hardwicke, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Miranda July, Kimberly Peirce and many, many more - who talk candidly about their lives and careers in the business, the good, the bad and the ugly. Ultimately, it’s the story of people being told, time and time again, that they don’t belong, but who forge ahead anyway and make incredible works of art. I wanted to meet these women to ask them how they did it, and by extension, how I can do it, too.
What was the inspiration behind this film?
I felt like I was being bombarded with all of the discouraging statistics about working women directors - the numbers of first-time directors, TV directors, feature film directors, indie directors, studio directors, doc directors, award nominees, etc etc etc - the numbers are all terrible. So I wanted to talk to women who HAD made it, to ask them how they broke through.
Who was the first director you spoke to about being in this film?
I worked as Miranda July’s assistant for about a year and as the Backstage Director on an interactive theatre piece she performed in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, so I knew her and asked her and thank goodness she said yes. After that I told everyone, “Miranda July is going to be in our film!” So that helped and from there it just grew and grew.
Did you have any apprehensions about approaching them to be in this film?
No, I was worried they wouldn’t respond to my request or would say no but thankfully most of them said yes. And the ones who didn’t, well…
What is the hardest part of bringing life to life?
The edit was really challenging because there are so many great stories but we wanted the film to move quickly and have energy and humour so sadly, we lost a lot of great stuff that I loved. More clips for social media, I guess.
Also, we had no money so that was a struggle - trying to do a lot with a little. Indie filmmaking, baby.
What is the most important lesson you learned from making this film?
You have to have a thick skin, don’t take rejection personally, and if working in this business is something you really want to do, YOU JUST HAVE TO KEEP PLUGGING AWAY AT IT AND MAKING YOUR OWN WORK. Just keep working. Perseverance and finding joy in that process (even when it’s tough) are everything.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
How has your approach to film changed since your debut?
Hearing stories of women who overcame obstacles to make their films has only made me more committed to making my own films - use what you have, where you are, to make what you can. That’s how you get better.
Has there been any advice you've been given that has really stuck with you?
Kimberly Peirce said that the great indie producer Christine Vachon told her when they were releasing BOYS DON’T CRY that Kim’s job was to do every interview she was asked to do. She told her that as the director, she’s the best advocate for her film and that her job isn’t done until her film reaches its audience - promoting the film is part of the job. So, I apologize it’s taken me so long to answer your interview questions, but here’s me taking Kimberly Peirce and Christine Vachon’s advice! Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about our film, I’m really proud of it.
Do you have advice for any fellow filmmakers?
MAKE YOUR OWN FILMS and try to find your joy in that process, even when it’s hard.
And finally, do you want people to take from Half The Picture?
Through stories, we learn what it means to live as someone else, and in telling our own stories we share what it feels like to be us. That’s it - that’s what this human journey is all about. So whether you’re a filmmaker, artist or curious human being, you can revel in the wonder, defiance and passion of the women you meet in HALF THE PICTURE and get inspired to create, to appreciate and to live fully without anyone telling you what you can or cannot do in this life.