By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood April 25, 2014 at 2:00PM
Sheila Canavan makes her directorial debut with Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of
Barney Frank. Canavan grew up in Boston and met Frank as a young
college student, when they were both working for Mayor Kevin White. Canavan is a well-known consumer law attorney concentrating in predatory
lending fraud and the financial abuse of the elderly. She has served on the Federal
Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council from 2004-2006. Her other film work
includes Yosemite, The Fate of Heaven and Waldo Salt: A
Screenwriter's Journey. (Press materials)
Co-directed by Michael Chandler, Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27.
Please give us your description of the film playing.
Recently retired Congressman Barney Frank is one of our most well known and least understood political figures. In the fun and poignant Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank, we meet the man who drives a 1998 Ford Escort and does not own a home or a smart phone. Through intimate cinema-verite footage, interviews and archival material we meet this lion of the Congress, demonized by the right and blamed for causing the financial crisis, as he wields his wit and humor like a wrecking ball in the service of his ideals while preparing for his historic wedding to Jim Ready. Introducing a young, idealistic 13-year-old growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, and inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt and Allard Lowenstein, the film takes us through his improbable and painful journey as a lonely, closeted man to an authentic life as the first openly gay and married Congressperson.
What drew you to this story?
Barney Frank is an unforgettable person. Even though we only worked together briefly, many years ago, I could not help but think of him every time I heard people, including President Obama, speaking of politicians, and particularly of our Congress people as naughty folks who cannot get along. I was drawn to his story to try to understand what it takes to serve our country at a time when the public's view of Congress is so poor.
What was the biggest challenge?
Fundraising is almost always the biggest challenge -- and it was for this film. Story-wise, it was striking the right balance between the personal and the professional. Mr. Frank said he came out to integrate his lives, so we were mindful of not separating them.
What advice do you have for other female directors?
Right now, people are supportive of female directors and so doing your research on the support systems and tapping them is very important. A successful film career involves many ups and downs. Hopefully, the ups will be a little higher as your progress than the downs.
What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?
Interesting question. Perhaps that I am too idealistic, when in fact I think I am quite grounded and practical in serving my ideals the best I can while working in film and in the law.
Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?
A friend once told me that you need to learn and understand the rules of the business very well so that you can then break them.
Name your favorite women directed film and why.
Ondi Timoner's We Live in Public is one of the most brilliant and groundbreaking films I have ever seen. Rory Kennedy's Ethel was extraordinary storytelling. Liz Garbus's The Farm: Angola, USA. Sofia Coppola and Nora Ephron for everything and Kathryn Bigelow for Point Break. These women pay attention to storytelling and craft.