Tribeca ’13: Women take center stage

During a lively session at the Tribeca Film Festival, a panel of female filmmakers advised colleagues that when it comes to tackling certain subjects, it can pay to "embrace being a woman in a man's world."
April 22, 2013

During a lively session at the Tribeca Film Festival, a panel of female filmmakers advised colleagues that when it comes to tackling certain subjects, it can pay to “embrace being a woman in a man’s world.”

The ‘New Chick Flicks’ panel session, held at Barnes & Noble Union Square in New York, featured a number of filmmakers with docs at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, including Big Men director Rachel Boynton, Alias Ruby Blade producer Tanya Ager Meillier, and Libby Geist, producer of ESPN’s ‘Nine for IX’ series.

The session also featured Laura Goode, the writer/producer of narrative drama Farah Goes Bang, and was moderated by producer Abigail Disney.

Boyton told attendees of the long process of making her doc, which focuses on the power struggle for oil in Ghana and Nigeria, and said that one of the reasons she may have secured access to the often secretive world of big oil was that the players she profiled felt “less threatened” by her than by a male filmmaker.

“Being a woman is always an issue,” said Boynton. “When you’re dealing with a world that’s all male, like the oil industry, there are advantages to being a woman. It’s important to be aware of it, and to know how to use it to your advantage.”

She added that one advantage that worked for her during her shoot was being married, which quickly tempered unwanted advances. “If you’re not married… then you can pretend to be married,” she told attendees, to laughter. “You have to embrace being a woman in a man’s world.”

Boynton also discussed the difficulty of balancing family life while trying to make her film, describing how she had to stop taking her malaria medicine as she was trying to conceive, and subsequently spent much of the shoot in Africa being terrified of mosquito bites.

“I had two children while I was making my movie and that’s certainly not something that men have to deal with,” she offered.

Elsewhere, Goode spoke of using what she termed as “aggressive charm” to get parts of her Thelma & Louise-style film made, such as convincing a gas station owner to let her shoot at his business for free.

“Men operate from a position where they want to help you,” she said. “I’m a blonde woman in my twenties – that’s a huge advantage, because I’m constantly underestimated.”

The at-times-lively session saw a spirited interlude in which the panelists argued among themselves about whether part of the problem was that female directors can tend to be too risk averse, with reference to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ philosophy.

Discussing ESPN’s all female-directed ‘Nine for IX’ series, which is a spin-off of the network’s broader ’30 for 30′ series, Geist said that women directors often secured markedly different interviews from male athletes than male directors would, citing Barbara Kopple (The House of Steinbrenner) as an example.

She also said that ‘Nine for IX’ was a good opportunity to address the gender imbalance of ’30 for 30,’ which was almost entirely male-directed.

“We looked at the roster of filmmakers used for ’30 for 30′ and realized that – like in the majority of film and sports – we were underrepresented,” she offered. “But I think the success of ’30 for 30′ has given us a lot of freedom… in a way that a lot of networks don’t get.”

She added that, in terms of commissioning for ESPN, female filmmakers should be confident when approaching the network, and not meek.

“I remember we had an email from one director,” Geist recalled, “and it said, ‘Hi, I’ve just won Sundance, and I love sports, I’d love to do a film with you’ … we were really impressed. Confident stands out.”

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