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Guest Post: Notes from the Field: The Importance of Female Collaboration

Features
by Merete Mueller
June 12, 2014 3:00 PM
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Issa Clubb Brooklyn Film Festival Exchange Panel; L-R Leah Meyerhoff, Merete Mueller, Zara Serabian-Arthur

This past Saturday, the Film Fatales, a collective of women feature-film writers and directors, joined other New York City-based filmmaker collaboratives for a discussion hosted by the Brooklyn Film Festival. 

Alongside Film Fatales founder Leah Meyerhoff, members of UnionDocs, the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, and Meerkat Media, we talked about the fertile time and place for filmmaking that we find ourselves in here in 2014 New York. Greater access to filmmaking equipment and DIY approaches to funding and distribution means that more films are being made than ever before. And yet, we need to make sure that this proliferation of films includes more stories told by women and with women at their centers. To this end, Film Fatales is a collective of women filmmakers aimed at supporting each other in getting our films made and seen. 

Why a female filmmaker collective? Why now? Everyone on the panel agreed that with such a concentration of creative capital here in New York, formal collectives can provide the structure needed to make conversations productive and collaborations possible. And women filmmakers in particular need to stick together. As Leah put it on Saturday's panel, "Filmmaking can be a competitive and lonely field. As female directors, we face a specific set of challenges and opportunities and benefit greatly by pooling our resources and joining together to help each other make our films. We truly are stronger together."

She continued, "While it used to feel like female filmmakers needed to compete with each other for that coveted spot at a film festival or a seat in a studio meeting, the landscape has shifted, and we have realized that we are better off helping each other and working together to change the system. Women filmmakers are no longer satisfied with tokenism. There is room enough for all of us, and we will be more successful individually if we are also more successful as a group."

Alex Mallis of the Brooklyn Filmmaker's Collective agreed, "Similar to Film Fatales, we operate under the 'rising tide lifts all boats' theory." 

Many collaborations have sprouted from the monthly dinner-party discussions that form the bread and butter of the Film Fatales collective. Fatales members are co-writing and co-directing new projects together, working as director/producer teams, and hiring each other as crew members. Deborah Kampmeier, for example, was inspired by the group to make her current micro-budget feature Split and has been relying on other Fatales for editing feedback. Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo collaborate on the Vice series "Every Woman" and their web-series "Be Here Nowish." Gillian Robespierre found the AD for Obvious Child after a Fatales meeting hosted by Ry Russo-Young. And Paola Mendoza and Gloria LaMorte are collaborating on a documentary currently shooting in Columbia.

Once films are finished, Film Fatales helps to mobilize audiences for their theatrical premieres here in NYC. This weekend, a group of us be will heading to the IFC Center to support the release of Kat Candler's Hellion, and recent screenings of Elena and Lucky Them were also sponsored by the Fatales with curated panel discussions following the screenings. From development through distribution, the Film Fatales are joining together to support each other as filmmakers and continue to promote the creation of more work by and about women. 

At the end of Saturday's panel, there were many women in the audience who spoke up about the need for a group like this in their own careers: "Does something like this exist for women making short films and music videos?" "I'd like to start a similar group for women cinematographers." "When will you be able to accept new members here in New York?"

It's obvious that there's a need and a desire for female filmmakers to come together in more formal ways to support one another and share resources. As the Film Fatales have grown, with ever continuing interest from potential new members, Leah has looked for ways to expand the group sustainably. Local chapters have begun to form in Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco, Detroit, New Orleans, London, and Toronto. In the interest of keeping conversations intimate and the logistics manageable, the NYC group plans to subdivide into smaller chapters soon, each based in a different neighborhood of the city. 

To aid in this expansion, Leah and other Fatales have drafted a "Starter Pack" that includes a suggested agenda for meetings, descriptions of the various roles needed to keep things streamlined and organized, and a sample text that can be used to send out invites. The Film Fatales website now offers instructions on how to organize and facilitate a local Fatales meeting. 

For more information on becoming a chapter leader in NYC or in your own city and to receive the "Film Fatales Starter Pack," email filmfatalesnyc@gmail.com.

Merete Mueller is a writer and filmmaker currently based in Brooklyn, New York, and a member of the Film Fatales. Her first feature-length documentary, TINY, premiered at SXSW in 2013 and aired on Al Jazeera America. The film is currently available on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via First Run Features. 

Previously: NYC Women Filmmakers Mentor Each Other and The Film Fatales Inspire DIY Chapters

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