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Female Filmmakers Share Horror Stories, Advice with Students at ‘Women Strong’ Event: ‘Don’t Quit’

Women-strong

With Sundance about to start and an ongoing drumbeat for gender parity in Hollywood, women in the film industry offered bracing tales of what to expect — and encouraging words to keep at it — to an audience of young, largely female student filmmakers at “Women Strong,” an event co-presented by the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition and New York’s School of Visual Arts, the coalition’s first academic partner.

After a screening of five short films — ranging from narrative to animation to documentary and all made by female students and alumni of SVA — a panel of pros told war stories about succeeding in a male-dominated industry that is only now beginning to mobilize for change.

“It’s the little comments you get sometimes,” said Rachael Levine, a cinematographer, director of photography and camera operator on projects including HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero” and the upcoming film “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” “Like, ‘Oh, is this your first time doing this?’ It’s like, ‘Well, it is today, on this set.’ You just kind of have to roll with it.”

Panelists, including producer-turned-attorney Laverne Berry and producer-director Katharina Rohrer, told stories of investors and distributors, both male and female, questioning female leadership of projects they deemed more “male.” “With both of my films, I get asked how I’ve managed to tell such a masculine story,” said Jenna Ricker, whose second feature, noir outing “The American Side,” will see release this spring. “When we were seeking funding, I had women say to me, ‘Well, I would trust a guy with this, but not you.’”

Women can also be hemmed in on the other side, by industry types who think it’s the responsibility of female filmmakers to focus on women’s stories. “You have to figure out your answer to questions like that, because they’re inevitable,” Berry noted.

Moderated by media consultant Caitlin Burns, the panel finished with the participants offering advice to the young filmmakers in the room. For many of the panelists, the advice boiled down to, “Don’t quit.”

Introducing the panel, Shellen Lubin, the co-president of the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition, offered sobering facts with a dash of hope. “At the academic level, filmmakers average about 50/50 in terms of gender breakdown,” she said. “Every step of the ladder that you go, as projects involve more money and higher prestige, those numbers drop off. You get fewer and fewer women.

“But what’s incredible,” she added, “is that right now, everyone is aware of it. People are noticing.”

Women Strong Program

“SVA WOMEN STRONG is an evening celebrating SVA women filmmakers, both past and present. Hosted in collaboration with the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, five short films will be screened from our women alumni, followed by a panel comprised of professional women working in the entertainment industry. The panel will address a variety of issues facing women in the industry, including hiring opportunities, economic gender parity, and strategies for for young women as they launch their careers post-graduation. A reception will immediately follow.”

-Joan Brooker-Marks

Panelist bios:

Jenna Ricker

Jenna Ricker came to NYC to study acting at the Tisch School of the Arts. Preferring storytelling from behind the scenes, she wrote her first screenplay, The Garage, a quarterfinalist of the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowship. Jenna was honored to receive the Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker for her directorial debut, the award-winning Ben’s Plan. Her second feature film, The American Side, was hailed by the Hollywood Reporter as “an adrenaline-charged pop-noir mystery” and will premiere in theaters this spring. Jenna is a member of Film Fatales Collective and the Directors Guild of America.

Laverne Berry

With extensive experience as a television producer, Director of distribution for the New York public television station, and now as a media attorney, Laverne Berry provides business and legal entertainment counseling for film, television, publishing, digital media and transmedia clients. Based in Brooklyn, New York, her clients come from NYC, the US, and several European countries. Ms. Berry is an original member of New York Women in Film and Television, and served as its president from 2007 To 2010. She currently serves on its advisory board.

Caitlin Burns

CEO of Caitlin Burns & Associates, a New York-based consulting firm that offers business consulting to media companies, as well as production and strategy for international brands, television, film and game franchises, advertising and public policy groups. She currently serves as Vice Chair of the Producers’ Guild of America’s New Media Council and East Coast Co-Chair of the PGA Women’s’ Impact Network. and is a vocal advocate of gender equality in all of the media industries. Past clients and projects include Pirates of the Caribbean, Tron Legacy, and Descendants for Disney, Avatar for Fox, Halo, for Microsoft, and Transformers for Hasbro among others. In 2015, Ms. Burns co-founded Datavized, an immersive design studio dedicated to using 360 platform environments for data visualization.

Rachael Levine

Rachel Levine was born and raised in the New York Metropolitan area and has been hooked on photography since her early years in high school. She has been a Camera Operation on many commercials and independent features in addition to being a Cinematographer on numerous films. Some of her credits include; Somnia, Oculus, Phil Spector, Our Idiot Brother, Roger Dodger, and Thumbsucker among others. Rachel received honors for her cinematography as part of the 2004 and 200 International Cinematographers Guild Film Showcase.

Kat Rohrer

Kat Rohrer is a 2003 graduate of SVA. She is the founder of GreenKat Productions and has written and produced both narrative films and documentaries under its banner. Her documentary, ‘Fatal Promises, which deals with human trafficking, has been shown in festivals across the U.S. and Europe and is used in fund raising events to heighten awareness of the global fight against traffickers. She is currently in production on a new documentary, ‘Exodus Reverse’, which follows young Israelis emigrating from Israel to Germany/ Austria and their grandparents who had to flee those former Nazi countries.