An Interview with FILM FATALES Founder Leah Meyerhoff

Film Fatales is a rapidly growing collective of female filmmakers. Its members include women in film who have directed at least one feature-length narrative or documentary film. Beyond that, it’s also a space for like-minded women in the industry to offer support, advice and a little inspiration to their peers as well as to the other women in the group.

The WILD sat down with founder and director Leah Meyerhoff (I Believe in Unicorns) to discuss what’s behind this impressive and revolutionary haven of creatives and troubadours making waves in today’s landscape of independent (and mainstream) cinema.

Film_Fatales_Oct_2014_Leah_EmilyLeah Meyerhoff, Founder and Director of I Believe in Unicorns

How did Film Fatales begin?

Film Fatales started over a year ago when I was prepping my debut feature I Believe in Unicorns. I was just calling or emailing filmmakers that I knew who had already made features and saying, “Hey I’d love to get coffee, get some advice…” Like what every filmmaker does. And some of those who were the most generous with advice and help were female filmmakers.

I ended up having a dinner party where I invited about six of them over to my house, saying “This will be more efficient than having coffee; everyone just come over!” And we all talked about film for two hours and it was just so amazingly helpful and supportive and empowering that I was like, “Let’s do this more often!” And one of them said, “I’ll host the next one.” And another woman hosted the next one and the next one… and then it grew exponentially from there. So, within that year, every woman in that circle said, “Oh, I know another woman” and so now it’s become a semi-organized—I wouldn’t call it a non-profit organization—but it’s an organic group of women directors who meet every first week of the month in each other’s homes and support each other’s projects both on a level of advice and on a hands-on practical level.

People co-write, they co-direct, they co-produce for each other. They suggest crew for each other. It’s community building and it’s a fantastically supportive community. I think filmmaking can be so lonely especially if you’re not in film school. You’re editing alone, you’re writing alone, you’re traveling to festivals alone. And so, just to have a network of other filmmakers that you can share with is fantastic. Especially female filmmakers! And rather than being competitive, it’s collaborative. Which is really important because, I think—as you know—the statistics are abysmal. Less than ten percent of directors are women. There are so few female writer/directors and even fewer cinematographers and those numbers have been consistent for decades.

Film_Fatales_Oct_2014_Erica_02Erica Anderson of Seed&Spark

Why do you think that is?

I think the main reason is that film as an art form or as a business is a business of “who you know.” Historically, it’s been a business made by men and people hire people that they’re comfortable with. And they hire people that have proven themselves already– so people end up hiring or financing films directed by men because more men have made films before. Women are more likely to be first time filmmakers… Or just have made less films. I don’t think there’s inherent sexism but I think the institution itself leads to this pattern of the same male directors getting hired again and again and again.

Film_Fatales_Oct_2014_Hilary (1)Hillary Sproul, The WILD’s Film & Entertainment Editor 

I think it’s also a cultural thing.

Culturally, women become actresses, more likely. Or producers. Which is supporting other people’s projects rather than their own. Also, the qualities that people associate with directing often are more “masculine” qualities, like being aggressive or assertive. There’s a whole host of cultural, social, economic reasons… There’s a huge conversation as to why more directors are male.

The idea behind Film Fatales is that there are women out there who are directors and who want to keep directing films. Rather than complain or give up or say, “Oh, it’s too hard,” we’ve turned it into: “Let’s help each other.” There are enough of us out there, especially in New York and in LA, to meet up and support each other. The idea is that there’s strength in numbers and the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory. For example, any time Unicorns gets accepted into a film festival, I’ll write back to the programmer and say, “Thank you so much; here are ten other films you should consider that are currently traveling the film circuit directed by women.”

A group meeting in Brooklyn Heights

The Woodstock Film Festival begins this week with eight narrative features directed by women and that’s unprecedented. It’s the most female directors they’ve ever had and there’s starting to be more awareness and press around this problem of, not only there not being enough female filmmakers, but also there not being enough female roles onscreen.

The Geena Davis Institute just did a study: less than thirty percent of speaking roles in films are women and that’s crazy. I mean, if we can’t even get to the point where half the characters onscreen are female? It’s actually fascinating. They looked at the background extras and less than thirty percent of the crowds are women. There’s no reason for that. There’s no reason to not just hire half men and women. It’s so ingrained in the culture. In Hollywood there’s this false assumption that all audiences will watch films about men but only females audiences will watch films about women. There’s this idea that men aren’t interested in watching films with a female lead character- that they can’t relate, that they’re called “chick flicks”, that they’re somehow lesser than, whereas women will go see action movies, superhero movies about men and not complain. That’s historically how it’s been in Hollywood. It’s institutionalized basically.

As I’ve been traveling around the festival circuit, I’m often the only female filmmaker at these festivals and it’s like, “Okay, Film Fatales is a counterpoint to that.” Instead of constantly being the only woman in the room, now I know that I’m surrounded by these other women out there and they’re having the same experiences. It’s like a revolutionary act. It’s empowering as a female to be able to say, “Look at all of these other super-talented women also making films.”

text by: The WILD

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