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TIFF Women Directors and Producers: Meet Sabine Emiliani and Stephanie Levy

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood September 6, 2013 at 10:00AM

Sabine Emiliani's documentary editing has garnered accolades from Sundance to Cannes to the Academy Awards. Ms. Emiliani's 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, March of the Penguins earned critical and commercial success, including over $127 million at the box office alone.
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Midway
Midway

Sabine Emiliani's documentary editing has garnered accolades from Sundance to Cannes to the Academy Awards. Ms. Emiliani's 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, March of the Penguins earned critical and commercial success, including over $127 million at the box office alone. Ms. Emiliani's work has won the prestigious American Cinema Editors Award for Best Editing for a Documentary as well as numerous Best Documentary Film awards worldwide. Midway is her directorial debut.

Midway will be making its world premiere in the TIFF Docs program.

Women and Hollywood: Please give us your description of the film playing at TIFF.

Stephanie Levy (Producer): Midway is a cinematic film about the albatross on Midway atoll and their sad demise due to our plastic trash in our oceans. Our film is a love story and elegiac warning.

Sabine Emilliani (Co-Director): It's a wildlife documentary "thrown" in a war.

WaH: What drew you to this script?

SL: One of our film's directors Chris Jordan started going to Midway as a still photographer, he then decided to start experimenting shooting motion that there may be a story and wanted to make a documentary. I came on as producer in mid-2012 and immediately hired Sabine Emiliani, the gifted editor from the March of the Penguins to cull through 350 hours of footage to craft a story. From there we needed to reshoot more footage to create proper sequences for the exquisite story she created. She did an amazing job and in the end our film is a beautiful love story about the albatross, they are a metaphor for all of us. It's their story and ours. I am fortunate to work with such talented collaborators. Making this film has been an amazing journey.

SE: There was no script at the beginning, Stephanie the producer knew about my work through March of the Penguins. She called me and I met with her and (co-director) Chris Jordan. Chris told me about what inspired him on Midway Island, they showed me some footage, and I was on it...

WaH: What was the biggest challenge?

SL: That depends on the day. As the producer of Midway, a low-budget indie, I wore many hats and some days, most actually, I do the work of 6.

SE: Really...memorizing 360 hours of footage, organizing all of it, and building the narration at the same time...

WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?

SL: I am a producer and the greatest advice I can give is to never give up and to push your way through the mire of our industry. My wise uncle used to tell me that Hollywood is a boys club and women have such a small chance, if any. I understand his words and they ring loud some days but that should not stop any woman as I feel that there is a huge opening now for new talent, and women will forge through and lead the way.

SE: Follow your idea and instinct, and never think in terms of gender...

WaH: What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

SL: I was once told that I was a female Harvey Weinstein. I actually liked that comment even though the person who said it to me meant it as a stab. I admire Harvey greatly. I always aim to persevere as he does and to not give up on things one believes in. He's actually a role model of mine. I think the greatest misconception sadly is that my soft side isn't always taken seriously and if I show professionalism and resilience and determination it's sometimes construed as being hard. Men are like this all the time but sadly no one calls them a bitch!

SE: I don't know if there is a misconception now...let's see in a couple of days (I'm joking)!

WaH: What are the biggest challenges and or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

SL: As a producer this is my greatest challenge: to create important films and then have them get seen by as many people as possible. I think now more than ever there are so many possibilities to distribute one's work. It takes effort and creativity, so I recognize that my job doesn't end when my film is delivered to TIFF - I know that that may be merely a new beginning!

SE: Maybe, holding the interest of the audience.

WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.

SL: I don't have one favorite - I love Kathryn Bigelow and Jane Campion - both are resilient filmmakers and incredibly talented storytellers. I hope to meet them one day soon!

SE: Agnes Varda, because she made Cleo de 5 a 7, a French nouvelle vague movie. She is a poet, a dreamer. I love her work. She makes film in her image without thinking in terms of fashion.

This article is related to: Women Directors, Women Producers, Toronto Film Festival, Documentary, Midway


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