After Clémence Polès and Natalie Fält had come up with the idea to launch the Female Filmmaker Fest, embarking on its maiden voyage in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent this weekend, the two began brainstorming dream scenarios to highlight all the films that they felt may have been underrepresented over the years, not limiting themselves to any particular time period or geographic region. It was why Polès thought nothing of tracking down the Senagalese filmmaker Safi Faye to see if they might be able to get a print of the director’s 1996 drama “Mossane,” which never received a proper U.S. release following its premiere at Cannes, for an ultra-rare screening of the film on American shores.
“It was such an honor to just be on the phone with her, but just trying to basically convince her for three hours – she’s very protective of her film just because she’s been through so much trying to regain the rights for that film,” says Polès, who wasn’t about to be discouraged. “I completely understood where she’s coming from and [now] we’re just really excited to be able to show that film, just because I think it’s a masterpiece and it’s a shame that it hasn’t been seen by enough people.”
Rectifying that situation for not just Faye, but a host of other female filmmakers from around the globe was one of the initial pillars that Polès, a New York-based web consultant and strategist behind the recommendation website Passerbuys, and Fält, an L.A.-based filmmaker and founder of Women and Film, could build on for Female Filmmaker Fest, which grew out of an interview they did together for Passerbuys. Initially when the two talked in the winter, it wasn’t a lament for the state of women in the film industry, but rather a deficit of eclectic film programming in Los Angeles following the abrupt closure of the Cinefamily and a lack of other venues showing fare that was off the beaten path, so the two decided to do something about it, plotting a three-day affair with contemporary films ranging from the world premiere of noted music video director Cara Stricker’s short “Maverick,” Crystal Moselle’s recent Sundance sensation “Skate Kitchen” and Sophia Takal’s “Always Shine,” with the directors in tow for Q & As, but also special screenings of Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay,” Lucretia Martel’s “The Headless Woman” accompanied by a selection of Barbara Hammer shorts picked out by UCLA Film & TV Archive programmer KJ Relth, and María Novaro’s “Danzon” with the writer/director present for a post-screening conversation.
“As a filmmaker, I wanted to showcase some of the women that have inspired me,” says Fält, “Like María Novaro has been making films since the ‘70s, but a lot of people in the U.S. don’t know her, so that was somebody we wanted to bring to the festival and then also [films] people know about, like “American Psycho,” for example, is a film that everybody has seen, but a lot of people don’t realize it’s directed and scripted by women.”
The festival is an extension of the work that Fält has already been doing with Women and Film, which hosts workshops and screenings year-around to raise awareness around female filmmakers not only for the public at large, but amongst the female filmmaking community who may not necessarily realize how much support there is out there for them when going about their individual pursuits. It is to that end the Female Filmmaker Fest is taking just as much care in putting together a group of panels about making movies as selecting the films they’re going to present.
“We wanted it to be both films and panels [from the start], and more of an emphasis on panels [since] that’s how we [could] differentiate this festival from others,” says Polès. “It’s not competition-based and [it’s] really having this platform to celebrate incredible female filmmakers through screenings, but also to [have them] talk and share their stories, offering resources, advice, and guidance to really give them anything to help break into the film industry.”
Besides the filmmakers who will be onhand for the screenings, Fält and Polès have assembled a truly impressive array of panelists from all levels of the industry for what surely will be provocative and practical conversations that include “Adventures in Music Video and Beyond,” with Sharon Oreck, “Lovetrue” director Alma Har’el and Jenn Nkiru, “Redefining Representations of Women On Screen” with “The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil, “Last Man on Earth” star Cleopatra Coleman, “Before I Fall” director Ry Russo-Young, See-Saw Films exec Negin Salmasi, “Pose” director Janet Mock and Marvel casting director Sarah Finn, “How to Break Into the Industry While Still Paying Rent” with Moselle, “M.F.A.” director Natalia Leite and “Equity” director Meera Menon, “How to Balance Motherhood and Filmmaking” with Novaro, Lake Bell, and cinematographer Quyen Tran, and “How to Fund Your Feature” with “Wildlife” producer Alex Saks, “Last Black Man in San Francisco” producer Khaliah Neal, “Landline” producer Rachel Shane and Vice Studios chief Natalie Farrey.
“All the panels we’re talking about are all panels I wish existed — I want to know [that information] as well and I[they’re subjects] I feel that aren’t talked about enough, especially how to fund your feature,” says Fält. “So having women willing to give their advice on that is amazing.”
Adds Polès, “It’s a very expensive industry to break into — film school alone is very expensive and getting your film funded is very expensive, so how does one do that if they don’t come from money? That’s something people don’t really talk about, so [we wanted to] have panels that are more resource-based.”
While their ambitions for the festival are grand with plans for a New York version should their first foray in L.A. be successful, their team has remained relatively small with Fält and Polès bringing in co-conspirators in creative director Dasha Faires and documentary producer Mimi Packer, all of whom were busy putting the final touches on the festival program when we spoke. Still, if bringing together a community has been the end goal, the co-founders of the Female Filmmaker Fest can consider the event a wild success even before it begins, pulling various entities galvanized in recent months to address diversity in the industry into one collective effort.
“We’ve had support from A24, Women in Film and Moms in Film [among others], and everyone’s doing such great work that it’s nice that we’re all joining forces together for this three-day celebration of women in film,” says Polès. “Everyone’s been really supportive and excited to be part of this and [it feels like] we’re all feeling the need [for] this space for it.”
Adds Packer, “We want to create a space for positive celebration of all the work that women have contributed and talk about female filmmakers positively, rather than women not getting the credit they deserve.”
“We’re just trying to make people more aware of all the women that have paved the way as well as all the contemporary women that are making [films] now,” says Fält. “There have been women making movies since the beginning of movies, and they just haven’t been given the light, so we want to celebrate that and when we’ve reached out to people, pretty much everyone that I talk to [says], “Let me know how I can support.”
And the Female Filmmaker Fest seems like an effort well worth supporting.