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Sundance's Women in Film Event Calls Out Hollywood Sexism, Awards $32k in Grants

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by Inkoo Kang
January 20, 2014 2:18 PM
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Director Rory Kennedy

There was apparently one running theme at the eighth Women in Film panel hosted by the Sundance Film Festival: entrenched industry sexism. 

Six women directors and producers, representing five documentaries and one narrative feature, took part in a discussion about the future of women in Hollywood. Director Rory Kennedy (Last Days in Vietnam) declared, "We live in a sexist world and Hollywood is at the heart of it." 

Valerie Veatch (Love Child) was more specific in laying out the difficulties facing women directors: "The financing structure of Hollywood films is also part of the problem.... Women not playing nine rounds of golf stops us from having access to the money, to the hedge funds and the other financing." 

Producer Effie Brown, whose narrative feature Dear White People began as a Twitter and YouTube project, argued for exploring avenues outside the studio system. "We can be pro-active, we can create daycare in our production offices," she said. "There's all sorts of new media like YouTube for us to get our stories out there. We have to use them."

Whether working inside or outside of Hollywood, producer Lori Cheatle (Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart) had advice for all women in the filmmaking world: "Women need to hire other women and create opportunity." 

Director Hilla Medalia (Web Junkie) and Tracy Droz Tragos (Rich Hill) also participated in the panel. 

Tragos was one among six recipients (representing four films) of the Women in Film Awards. The awards came with grants of $32,000 and were endowed mostly to neophyte filmmakers, including playwright Eve Ensler. 

Women in Film's press release has descriptions of the women directors and their projects: 

Frances Bodomo is a Ghanaian filmmaker who grew up in Ghana, Norway, California, and Hong Kong before moving to New York City to study film at Columbia University (BA) and the Tisch School of the Arts (MFA). Her goal is to make conceptually strong films that bring fresh African images to the forefront. Her first short film, "Boneshaker" (starring Oscar-nominee Quvenzhane Wallis), premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and played at over 20 film festivals including Telluride, SXSW, and the Los Angeles Film Festival. Her latest short film, "Afronauts," recently premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and will go on to play at Berlinale 2014. She is developing the feature version of the film.   

Tracy Droz Tragos won an Emmy Award for her first documentary, Be Good, Smile Pretty, which aired on PBS's Independent Lens and is a film about her journey to know her father, who was killed in Vietnam. With Rich Hill, Droz Tragos returns to her father's hometown to explore familiar themes by following the lives of three local boys who yearn to find solace in their scattered families and belonging in their impoverished community.   

Private Violence is Cynthia Hill's fourth feature documentary. Her work, ranging from depicting tobacco farming to Latino migrant laborers and southern foodways, challenges dominant narratives. Hill allows unexpected stories to unfold and lays bare the assumptions behind the systems that drive people's everyday lives. Her producer/director credits include Tobacco Money Feeds My Family, The Guestworker, February One, and A Chef’s Life. Hill is cofounder of the Southern Documentary Fund, established to support place-based storytelling.   

Andrew Droz Palermo is one of Filmmaker magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" of 2013. In 2011, he was the cinematographer on his first feature, Adam Wingard's smart horror film You're Next. For the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, he shot A Teacher, directed by Hannah Fidell, and Black Metal, directed by Kat Candler. Next up is One & Two, a narrative film he co-wrote and will direct. Rich Hill is Droz Palermo's first documentary, a proud collaboration with his cousin Tracy.  

Eve Ensler is a Tony Award-winning playwright and the founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and One Billion Rising, a campaign by women for women. She is the author of The Vagina Monologues, as well as many plays and books, including her recent memoir, In the Body of the World. Ensler starred in the HBO version of The Vagina Monologues and produced the documentary film What I Want My Words to Do to You, which won the Freedom of Expression Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.  

Tony Stroebel, owner of Redletter Productions, is a Johannesburg-based cinematographer and editor. He left a career in construction to focus on using film and music to tell stories about people living in challenging circumstances. In 2011, while mentoring underprivileged youth in Zamdela township in film and media, he met Eve Ensler; since then he has traveled with V-Day, documenting its global work to end violence against women.

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