By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood October 13, 2013 at 11:00AM
Shana Betz served as Executive Director for the MVPA, the premiere trade association for the music video industry, and executive produced the Director's Cuts Film Festival, a cutting edge film festival of short films by the top music video directors. After leaving the MVPA, Betz produced many short format projects, including THE STRANGER, which won the Eastman Kodak New Filmmaker Award. She also honed her acting and comedic voice while performing with Tim Robbins' world renowned ensemble, The Actors' Gang, in Los Angeles where she toured the country as the only female in George Orwell's 1984. In 2009/10, Betz partnered with Robbins to program and produce the WTF?! Festival and Axis Mundi Series which had over 40 music, literature and film events. Shana's transition to writer/director began in 2010 when she received a grant to write and direct a short film for the Girls! Girls! Girls! Project, an anthology of shorts by women about women. She next participated in the 2011 Film Independent Directors Lab Fellowship with Free Ride. She is currently in post-production on her second feature, a supernatural mystery/thriller.
Free Ride is playing as a part of HIFF's Spotlight Films program.
Women and Hollywood: Please give us your description of the film playing.
Shana Betz: Free Ride is based on my life story. It follows my mother's rise and fall in the marijuana trade in the late 70's in Florida with my older sister and I attached at the hip.
WaH: What drew you to this story?
SB: Love. I was fascinated by my mother. Bad choices coupled with a forceful personality and vibrant beauty was a combination I needed to decipher. I think the film was a way for me to do that creatively. I also wrote the script as a love letter to my sister. As the older sibling, she took the brunt of our mother's fallout and I wanted to give her a less tainted perspective that she didn't get to have as a child.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge?
SB: I was drawn to writing a personal story about a very public subject. To relate how an uneducated, single mom gets lured into the drug trade without demonizing her and her mistakes was an enormous challenge. No one likes to see a mother making mistakes and putting her children at risk.
WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?
SB: Hire as many women as you can on your crew.
WaH: What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?
SB: Despite the personal nature of Free Ride, my second film is a supernatural thriller. Even if someone might assume that I am only interested in directing personal dramas, I am enthusiastic about all genres with great characters.
WaH: Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?
SB: The challenge of not knowing exactly what the new distribution pathways are is an opportunity for independent filmmakers to create their own. Horizons abound!
WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.
SB: Mary Pickford forged a pathway where I am now treading. I will forever acknowledge her perseverance.
Kimberly Peirce is another powerhouse influence. Boys Don't Cry was a big influence when I began acting.
Titus by Julie Taymor. I love her theater background. She took a masculine subject like Shakespeare and applied a roundness and femininity that theater work tends to foster. Her Imagery is inspiring.