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Guest Post: Supporting Women’s Voices in Independent Film

Jere Rae-Mansfield

Guest Post by Jere Rae-Mansfield

As a distributor of independent feature films for over 30 years, I have enjoyed watching women unite and rise to prominence in the film industry. Not only the titans who grace the pages of tabloids and red carpets, but those who make heartwarming, meaningful, or thought provoking productions through their ingenuity and perseverance.

Out of Monterey Media’s last nine films released, five were written, produced, and/or directed by extremely talented women. And they all feature a knack for distinctive storytelling, thoughtful choices for casts and crews, and resourcefulness of locations.

Distinctive Storytelling Capability

The ability to tell a story via film is unique in that different audiences view it through their own experiences. Many want to lose themselves in the moments of a film and others want to study it from a distance. Therefore, as a collective we look for a film that touches us in some way. Women filmmakers have a certain knack for hitting the emotional button with honesty and sometimes-unnerving authenticity.

As more women engage in the entire process of filmmaking (not only as the editors, writers, and performers who helped build and sustain the film community), stories are told from a voice that takes a different perspective on an issue or occasion or relationship.

At Sundance this year, “Transparent” showrunner Jill Soloway made a request for male directors: “Stop Making Movies About Rape.” Her reasons are her own, but essentially she asks, “What do men know about female rape?” She raises an interesting point. The same idea applies to stories about childbirth, motherhood, a mother’s loss of a child, and other women-specific topics.

I am curious: Would a film about whaling men written, directed and produced by women be widely accepted?

Thoughtful Casting and Crew Choices:

I was subtly reminded that in our newest release, “The Levelling” (written and directed by Hope Dickson Leach), choosing a talented female lead (Ellie Kendrick) — who plays a character with the intelligence, inner strength, and backbone to stand up, question, and persevere — provides the audience with a glimpse of a real person, one with the tenacity to move on and heal. More and more we are seeing female lead characters putting their experience and determination before their glamour or wardrobe.

Resourcefulness of Locations:

With limited budgets for indie films, women filmmakers are eager to assist each other, pitch in, and share information and contacts. They are not afraid to ask for location permission without fees, accommodations for their talent, or even to borrow costumes.

In Maggie Greenwald’s “Sophie and the Rising Sun,” produced by the all-women team of Nancy Dickenson, Lorraine Gallard, Brenda Goodman, and Greenwald, an entire small town in South Carolina was included in making the film in one manner or another. The locals welcomed the talent into their homes, offered meals, waived location fees, and generally embraced the film’s production.

The Evolving Landscape for Women

As women demand more control over their personal lives, it would seem that their careers are following suit and their skill sets are becoming more refined.

Being allowed to experiment in the independent film world is a stepping-stone to working on widely-distributed films and television. The indie community embraces that experimentation, as seen with two of our recent releases, based on short stories by James Franco and helmed by women directors/writers: “Yosemite,” directed by Gabrielle Demeestere, and “Memoria,” co-written and co-directed by Nina Ljeti. Ljeti, a former student of Franco’s, benefited from his guiding hand but made the film her own. She came up with the concept of shooting in 4.3 letterbox and financed the production via crowdfunding.

Women are the seeker-gatherers of our world. They find unique ways to survive and flourish in any environment — farms, suburbs, cities, and everything in between. They make patchwork families and create meals from whatever is in the refrigerator. Their willingness to adapt and determination to find solutions create an incredibly unique kind of filmmaking.

Jere Rae-Mansfield is Monterey Media’s CFO and Co-Managing Founder. After attending the University of California at San Diego, she became a working Screen Actors Guild member and an accomplished producer. Rae-Mansfield has advanced Monterey to solidify its current reputation in the independent film distribution arena. The company’s films have featured stars like James Franco, William Hurt, David Strathairn, Marcia Gay Harden, Michelle Monaghan, Famke Janssen, Bill Pullman, Forrest Whittaker, and Minnie Driver. Rae-Mansfield also directs Monterey’s outreach for philanthropic causes.

Guest Post: Supporting Women’s Voices in Independent Film was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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