Pariah, which began as an award-winning narrative short in 2006, explores a semi-autobiographical coming of age story through the eyes of a Brooklyn teenage girl, Alike (played with luminous fierceness by Adepero Oduye), “who juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a search for sexual expression.” Following five and half years of fundraising efforts toward a feature-length expansion of the short film, supported from The Sundance Institute and other sources, the narrative was shot on location in December 2009 over nineteen days in Brooklyn, NY. With the 35mm footage in the can, Rees and her producer, Nekisa Cooper, decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to complete post-production in time for its premiere at Sundance.
Like many of the best Kickstarter videos, Rees chose direct audience address by appearing onscreen with her producer in the pitch.
This personalized approach allows potential donors to connect with the back story, to witness the filmmaker-against-the-odds passion. In the case of Pariah, the Rees and Cooper also evoked the viral “It Gets Better” YouTube series in support of questioning gay youth. While the comfort zone of most filmmakers remains behind the lens, this willingness to personalize the outreach in a confident but urgent conversation with potential supporters makes all the difference in a successful campaign and can often lead to completing “the last leg of the journey,” as Rees requested in her video. The success of Dee Rees’s Kickstarter campaign adds to the accolades of a filmmaker recently named by Filmmaker Magazine as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”
In addition to Pariah, two of the other four Kickstarter Sundance entries this year featured significant contributions by women as Co-Writer/Director (Lauren Wolkstein for The Strange Ones) and Producers (Megan Griffiths and Lacey Leavitt for The Catechism Cataclysm).
While Pariah’s fundraising goal of $10,000 managed to kick over to $11,011 in the final hours, women filmmakers in other extraordinary cases have managed unexpectedly double or triple their goals, making Kickstarter’s top funders list. In Jennifer Fox's case for the successful documentary My Reincarnation, she broke all Kickstarter records, raising $150,000, outstripping her original goal of $50,000.
Documentarian Alison Klayman, mid-shoot on a feature-length profile of iconoclastic Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, not only made the top funder list, but helped break the news of Ai Weiwei’s April imprisonment by the Chinese police in April, even appearing on the Colbert Report with the story.
These anecdotes and statistics are super-charged with possibility for women media makers. As Brenna Ehrlich of Mashable notes “film reigns supreme when it comes to raising cash” on Kickstarter, indicating that women’s innate social media proclivities take on gamechanging possibilities for the next decade of media production.
A version of this article originally was originally appeared on the Women’s Media Center blog: