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Programmer Roundtable: Women Filmmakers

Tribeca Film Senior Programmer Genna Terranova moderates a panel discussion with five of this year's women filmmakers, who talk about their creative process and what inspires them.

It is a great year for women filmmakers at Tribeca. Tribeca Film Senior Programmer Genna Terranova had the chance to speak with several of them (Jacqueline Schaeffer, writer/director of TiMER; Lucia Puenzo, writer/director of The Fish Child; Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte, co-writer/directors of Entre nos; and Bette Gordon, director of Variety and Handsome Harry) and ask some questions that have been on her mind since she saw their films for the first time a few months ago. Here is a snapshot of what these incredibly talented women had to say.

Genna Terranova: First off, congratulations on the films! You all did such an excellent job. So my first question would be to ask you what it was that prompted you to write, choose or adapt the material?


Jac Schaeffer [Director, TiMER: I wrote TiMER because I couldn't wait any longer.  I had made this vow to myself that I would direct a feature before I turned 30, and I wanted to stop just saying that I was a filmmaker and actually make a film.  The vow seems silly and arbitrary now, but I think all that self-imposed angst made for some good character development. 
Lucia Puenzo [Director, The Fish Child]: I started to write an adaptation of my first novel, El niño pez (The Fish Child), and the more it changed from the novel to the script, the bigger the challenge... Something about the furious love story between two girls of such different social backgrounds and the intertwined genres by which it was told made the story a big temptation for me.
Paola Mendoza [Co-Director, Entre nos]: Entre nos is inspired by a true story—my mother’s story. I grew up hearing about how we first arrived in this country, the trials and tribulations, the tears, the laughter, and I was always fascinated by her story. I collaborated with Gloria [La Morte] on the script.
Bette Gordon [Director, Variety and Handsome Harry]: Nick Proferes wrote the script and asked me to collaborate with him. I was drawn to the male characters in the story because of their rawness, possessing a male energy reminiscent of actors I grew up watching and loving—Lee Marvin, Ben Gazzara, Steve McQueen, and William Holden—men who didn’t say much but exuded a physicality. Handsome Harry allowed me to explore male sexuality through a female lens.
Genna Terranova: What caused, if any, the most sleepless nights during the filmmaking process?
Jac Schaeffer: Locations! Shooting in LA with an indie budget is no picnic.  Favors are hard to come by and 35-mm guerilla shooting is difficult to pull off in the city where even children know what a film permit is.

The Fish Child

Lucia Puenzo: Probably the pre-production and the editing. There were weeks during which we were searching for the best structure for the story, even trying some things that were not in the original script. During the shooting I was so exhausted I would literally go to sleep with my clothes on.

Bette Gordon: We were a low-budget film and only had 19 days to shoot, so I had to think a lot on my feet and deal with the limitations and sacrifices of shooting quickly. We had many locations and sometimes we did 20 set-ups a day, so the biggest challenge was holding on to the original vision given the circumstances.
Genna Terranova: A recent study (of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University in 2008) said that women comprised only 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the 250 top-grossing domestic films. How do you feel about statistics like this?  Has being a woman presented any challenges or advantages in your career as a filmmaker?
Lucia Puenzo: In Argentina we have many women directors, more and more in the last years. And I´m sure none of them would say it has been tougher for them to make a film because they are a woman.


Bette Gordon: I am floored every time I hear those statistics. Women are on sets, but more often in supporting roles like hair and make-up or script supervisor or producer. We see women taking care of the work of men.

There are ways for women to work through just as I did. I started as an artist with a do-it-yourself philosophy, and being self-sufficient made the practice easier.  I forged through and made wild experimental indie films and just kept going.  My subject matter has perhaps allowed me to keep working, especially with Variety, because I chose topics not investigated enough. I think I hooked in at the right time and place. 
Paola Mendoza: The lack of women in major creative roles is disappointing, to say the least.  As far as my career, I feel as if I have to prove myself and my capabilities to those who do not know me. But I never think of it in terms of a gender; instead I think of it in terms of an artist.  If people question my ability because I am a woman, it’s a reflection of their lack of consciousness and their inability to understand humanity.
Genna Terranova: What films in the last year inspired you?
Jac Schaeffer: Good Dick. The Visitor. Cloverfield. Wall-E.
Lucia Puenzo: A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes), The Seventh Continent, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, The Wedding Singer, Ed Wood, Big Lebowski, Annie Hall, The Savages, Little Miss Sunshine, After Hours.

Entre nos

Gloria La Morte [Co-Director, Entre nos]: Slumdog Millionaire, The WrestlerMan Push Cart.
Genna Terranova: What is in your DVD queue to watch?
Lucia Puenzo: Sideways, American Splendor, Stranger Than Fiction.
Gloria La Morte: The Big Chill, This is Spinal Tap, I am Cuba, Mongol.
Paola Mendoza: Synecdoche, New York; Nick and Nora’s infinite Playlist; To Live; Medicine for Melancholy; Saw V.
Genna Terranova: And lastly, is this the first time you will play a film with Tribeca? What do you look forward to going into a film festival?
Lucia Puenzo: I look forward to watching other films. Many good films never reach Buenos Aires, so it's a good opportunity to see them in New York. 
Gloria La Morte: Proudly, this is my second film at Tribeca.  I look forward to the reception that my film is going to get... it is the ultimate payoff. The other is the company of films and filmmakers I am a part of.
Bette Gordon: Playing my films at Tribeca excites me because this is my neighborhood. I love the idea of being in my own neighborhood, in a place that when I first moved here was so unformed that I felt I was an urban explorer. Near my first loft on Greenwich Street, there used to be an empty lot across the street where you could hear crickets at night.

Meet Gloria La Morte at the FREE Community Kickoff Party at Tribeca's Barnes & Noble on Monday, April 20; he will speak on a panel, "New York as Muse," along with fellow TFF '09 directors Michael Sladek (Con Artist), Julio DePietro (The Good Guy), and Josh Zeman (Cropsey).

Entre nos will premiere Saturday, April 25th at 6 PM.

TiMER will premiere Sunday, April 26th at 9 PM.

Handsome Harry will premiere Saturday, April 25th at 9 PM.

Variety will screen Wednesday, April 29th at 5 PM.

The Fish Child will premiere Monday, April 27th at 6:15 PM.

In each case, more screenings will follow. Get your tickets today!

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