Docs

Austin Translation: Debra Zimmerman, Women Make Movies

As Women Make Movies celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the organization's executive director Debra Zimmerman (pictured) talks to realscreen in Texas about the changing landscape for female filmmakers, and discusses the not-for-profit distributor's plans to launch a digital platform.
March 14, 2012

As Women Make Movies celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the organization’s executive director Debra Zimmerman (pictured) talks to realscreen in Texas about the changing landscape for female filmmakers, and discusses the not-for-profit distributor’s plans to launch a digital platform.

How is your SXSW experience going so far?

I am so blown away by the fact that the digital universe has totally taken over the town, the festival, the film world… the film world is, like, this tiny now [pinches fingers together]. But it’s really interesting.

What documentaries are you hoping to catch here?

Well, I wanted to catch Wonder Woman, but it’s sold out – it’s one I’m interested in for acquisition. We also have a film here called Scarlet Road, which I’m very excited about. It premiered on Monday and is about a sex worker from Australia who specializes in disabled people. It’s very out there and cool and interesting.

How many visits to SXSW is this for you?

Well, I have this bizarre perspective on the festival because I haven’t been here in more than 10 years – this is my first one this century! I think I last came in 1998, and it’s totally different. It’s like another universe – and it’s a really interesting universe. It’s a lot of young guys with beards, there’s a lot of corporate sponsorship, it’s a lot of digital and social media… which I actually find kind of quite fun.

Women Make Movies (WMM) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – what are your reflections on that?

I want to retire! [laughs] I feel great, it’s an amazing experience. I look around and I see all of these start-up companies, and all of these new initiatives, and I think, oh cool, Kickstarter, social media… well, we were doing that a while ago. But it’s interesting to see it in a new incarnation, and it is a new incarnation.

Take this ‘Kony’ video that that went viral – I see that as such an amazing testament to the work that we’ve been doing, because it’s about kids believing, being interested in, Tweeting and blogging about human rights activism. And that’s an incredible thing. That’s what I see at SXSW which I have to say I don’t see at a lot of festivals: there’s a real element of hip, young, cool and human rights. And that combination is fantastic.

How do you see the landscape for female documentary makers today, compared with when WMM launched?

Of course it’s much better, it’s so much better, but it still isn’t good enough. When you’re talking about 25% representation [of female directors] at Sundance, it’s not good enough, but it’s so much better than it was when we started.

Before I give lectures, I often flip through the local newspapers to see how many films by women are showing. I did it in New York recently, and it was 13% in one newspaper and 25% in another. Forty years ago, it would’ve been 1%. So that’s a huge, huge change, and it’s really exciting. But it’s not enough.

What does the future hold for WMM?

Global domination! [laughs] We’re very excited because in the last couple of years we’ve started expanding our global production assistance program to include filmmakers from the global south and filmmakers from outside the United States, and we’re really excited about those projects.

We’re also looking at a digital platform, and that’s very exciting. We think that will be launching in 2013. It’ll be a distribution platform for both streaming and downloading.

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