Today I was watching some of an interview I did with the filmmaker Nicole Conn and I found myself smiling. One of the great pleasures of this documentary has been getting to know women like Nicole: women who are smart, talented, and beautifully unique. Nicole is not categorized as a “mainstream” filmmaker yet, but she is an important one, and in a way she personifies why I am making this doc. She personifies what I value: she is true to herself. She is true to her vision.
She is true to her vision.
She loves old black and white movies. She believes in romance. She is a gay woman. Her calling and talent is filmmaking, so she has made three seminal films about passionate relationships between lovers that happen to be female.
Somehow her films, as wildly successful as they are (and they are WILDLY successful) are still not considered “mainstream.” So I have to ask myself, what is “mainstream”? What is it about one narrative (a narrative that is not inclusive of the reality of a very large percentage of the world’s population, mind you) that continues to have a hold over what we as a society deem “normal”?
Without finger pointing or getting political, I think it is fair to say that it is a mode of storytelling that is on the verge of becoming irrelevant.
Why should lesbian cinema be marginalized? Or “faith based” films, “Black” cinema, “Latin” cinema, “Asian” cinema, “Indian” cinema or “Women’s” cinema for that matter? What IS normal in a world full of variation? Why must we categorize everything and what is “mainstream” when the internet exposes us all to the cultures of the world?
What is “normal” in a world full of variation?
Let’s take a field of wildflowers as a nice metaphor. Is the daisy the predominant flower and therefore the most valuable? It’s a nice daisy, but I think we would all agree: it’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What we appreciate about the field of wildflowers is its variation, it’s limitless, imaginative variation.
The process of making this documentary has exposed me to more kinds of storytelling and people than I ever thought possible. It has been so fulfilling to watch the art films of German filmmaker Diana Cignoni; the transgender series, “HerStory,” directed by Sydney Freeland; and the powerful short film “And Nothing Happened” by Naima Ramos-Chapman that explores the surreal after-life of a rape survivor. I think I’ve become a better person by watching Meera Menon’s powerful “Farah Goes Bang,” and the off-beat martial arts short film action fantasies of Toy Lei. And the documentaries exploring American India life by Anne Makepeace are nothing short of breathtaking. These women are visionaries.
I’m gambling that I’m not alone in this quest to expose more women’s stories to the world.
Watching these films and more have exposed me to worlds I did not know about and gave me insights that broadened my understanding of the world. One thing I learned is that categorizing films into “women’s stories” is a neat and tidy way to keep women from making their stories. Who likes to be limited, judged as “less than,” laughed at? I also learned that being a visionary means holding your ground: not letting the words of others push you away from what you “see” in your mind as worthy.
Being a visionary means holding your ground.
I made this documentary because I want to give women and girls HOPE, ENCOURAGEMENT, and TOOLS. Something they can watch quietly in the middle of the night to hear other women talk about how they work without being judged, talked down to, or lectured at. I want all women who desire to tell a story to feel heard and seen, validated and understood.
Today, Sunday September 25th, I am beginning a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help me finish what has become a five hour documentary. If you feel so compelled, I would be deeply grateful for any small support you can give.
So much fun to be asked to guest blog! Thanks Lorien Eck, for being such a lovely woman and artist, and for inspiring me to take some time out to talk about my own inspirations this year! (Check out her art!)
CM: Tell me about your film. Why are you making this? Aren’t you an actor?
CM: I guess it’s personal. I wanted to quit acting and be a director when I was 22, but my mom was sick (she had Cancer) and begged me not to. I couldn’t deny her needs, so I waited. After she died, I tried again, but experienced a little betrayal from a woman I was working with on a performance art piece. I had really put my heart into this piece, been writing it for years, put in my own money. The entire concept was mine. After the show ended she took the concept, got a grant for it, and made a whole second show out of it (and didn’t tell me). I was really heartbroken. When I found out, I asked her, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” She claimed she had, but she really hadn’t. It was still total artistic thievery and a complete betrayal of a friendship that I had held as deep and meaningful. The pain of that event stopped me from trying to direct for a long, long time. Sixteen years, to be precise.
CM: You made two films in 2013. What compelled you to get into film?
CM: To answer this question properly, I’d have to go back and talk about what happened on a soaps that I was working on because honestly, it hadn’t crossed my mind to direct a film. I was an actor. I wrote songs and poems. I went to art school. I was trying to find both myself and a person I could make a home with… but directing film seemed far out of my reach, so I didn’t even consider it.
When they killed off my character on AMC (Dixie) at the end of 2006 it was a real motivator for me to reconsider my future. And for the record (again) killing Dixie was a move to get the fans shocked and surprised in that “anything can happen to your favorite characters, so stay tuned,” sort of way. And as most people know, there was a huge uproar and they asked me back in 2009 and offered me a two year contract in 2011. Then they asked me to do the internet version of the show in 2013. I was even on the cover of Soap Digest in 2009 with the line “We Screwed Up: What Went Wrong and How AMC is Making it Right” under my face. These are the facts.
But that event really did hit me hard. I felt like I’d lost my family, the place that “had my back no matter what.” So I had to really dig inside myself and find a new path.
I do think a lot of women have been afraid to speak out, but for many, right now we are at a tipping point where the need to be heard is stronger than the fear of staying silent.
CM: Sounds like this still gets to you sometimes. Does it?
CM: I’ve probably have one of the thickest skins you’ll ever meet. Like, rhino thick. I know I come off as a pretty gentle person, but when things get tough, I’m the person you want around. My favorite saying is “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” But I’ve got feelings, you know? I have a heart.
CM: But good things have come out of that adversity. You continued to work on soaps, and have had a lot of recognition for your films, even a “Honorable Mention for Best Director.” That must have meant a lot.
CM: It absolutely did. It was a real validation that I had the two things directors need most: determination and vision. And I experienced real respect on those shoots. The crew I worked with were all men and they were terrific. We had a great time working together. Next time, I am going to hire more women behind the camera, because now I know how many fantastic women there are who deserve the opportunity.
CM: You are making a documentary about women filmmakers. Why a doc and not another short, or even a full length narrative feature?
CM: I think the reason behind me talking to women filmmakers (as well as women in TV and theater) has a great deal to do with my looking for strong, creative, female leaders that I can look up to and learn from. My Mom died when I was 25, and my Dad was an alcoholic and almost never around… and he died when I was 35… so I’ve really had to search to find people who were beyond me in their life experience and understanding, you know, role models. School only takes you so far. It’s experience you need to listen to. I really needed to hear from people who were DOING the work I looked up to. And I’m so glad I did. It’s been an amazing journey so far.
CM: What is the purpose of the film?
CM: Ultimately, the goal is to shine light on these artists ability and what makes them persist in creating meaningful stories, against dismal odds. I’m not looking to deny how bad it’s been, but I feel there’s a lot of press out there about the limitations and obstacles. And yes, things have got to change in so many ways… But I feel like the kind of stories these particular women are telling are real game changers.
For example, Leah Meyerhoff digs deep into the interior life of a teenage girl with her coming-of-age film “I Believe in Unicorns.” I mean, when have you seen a film about a teenage girls INTERIOR life?? C’mon. That’s pretty rare. Deborah Kampmeier explores the importance of becoming whole again after losing your innocence (not pure, but WHOLE, a really important distinction) with “Houndog,” and is digging even deeper into feminine power and spirit with “SPLit.” Meera Meron explores the raw bonding within female friendships on a whole new level with “Farah Goes Bang,” and just directed the first film about women on Wall Street in 27 years, “Equity.”
CM: Why are these stories so important?
CM: I think there is this passive bias that women tell “soft stories,” and that is an erroneous cliche that is partly to blame for women being kept out of the larger marketplace. These artists are digging into aspects of the female gender that, when I see and hear them revealed, make me want to cry out of sheer gratitude. Up until now, despite having worked on soaps, I haven’t seen these points of view. I haven’t seen enough of MY reality as a woman reflected back in the stories we are telling ourselves as a culture. But that’s changing now. It’s a huge and thrilling shift.
CM: Why is this so important… to see a woman’s reality reflected back via stories on stage and screen?
CM: To be a good storyteller is to know life, and to know what the culture needs to confront. A great film forces us as an audience to look at certain aspects of human nature, even when we’d rather look away. We as a culture value those storytellers because they know we need to look, they know we need to confront ourselves and they make us do it.
Women are 51% of the population. To not have their point of view, to not honor their insights is to have a culture that is out of balance. A culture that will turn in on itself, sicken and die. We can’t just look at one side of the coin. We must have women’s stories in order to have a healthy society.
The world needs more people who are willing to step forward and talk about what is going on, so we can all grow and learn together
CM: But you seem to also be saying that women tell stories that are just as raw as the stories that men tell.
CM: Yes, but it’s in a different way. I think it comes down to understanding this issue of “what is female.” It shouldn’t be confused with “what is feminine,” because “femininity” is a word with a lot of cultural layers on it. “Femininity” can suggest a passivity, and I don’t know many passive women, do you? They all seem pretty active in their lives, even if it’s by being subversive. And to address the women out there that are passive or that struggle with passivity: passivity is a behavior that is informed by fear. You’re passive when you’re afraid. I have a lot of compassion for that as I’ve known a fair share of fear in my life. I do think a lot of women have been afraid to speak out, but for many, right now we are at a tipping point where the need to be heard is stronger than the fear of staying silent.
CM: What’s so inspiring about these stories for you?
CM:The female aspect within is much deeper than gender. It’s a spiritual aspect that both sexes have. Men need to know that it’s okay to have a complex side of themselves that isn’t all action. Women need to know that they aren’t just relegated to being a sounding board. Kids need to know that they don’t have to follow entrenched gender roles, but find their own truths. Looking at the deeper female nature is a way to allow this wisdom back into the culture.
CM: So you think that women storytellers and women’s stories will help heal the world?
CM: Why look so deep into the issues of why stories are important? Why not just enjoy life and relax a little?
CM: I’m not sure I can answer that question. I’ve been on my own quest to continue to pursue what I feel is important. Which is to tell stories that illuminate the human experience in general, and women’s experiences in particular. And by listening to the women who have taken the road less travelled, I’m getting some incredible insights and wisdom that I am excited to share with the world.
And that’s this film at its core is about. I want to empower women and those who identity as “female” to feel less alone in their journey by showing them all the amazing artists who are fighting to tell underrepresented stories, their stories. I also hope to inspire others who want to tell these stories to take the risks toward making their dream happen. The world needs more people who are willing to step forward and talk about what is going on, so we can all grow and learn together. It feels like an amazing time of change and possibility, and I hope this film will help propel that change forward.
CM: You sound like a politician or a self-help guru! C’mon, isn’t that what you are, deep down?
CM: No, absolutely not. I’m an artist. Artist’s talk about life in their art and that’s all I’m trying to do. If what I make inspires others to think about life a little differently, or makes them laugh, or makes them want to get up and tell their own story then I’ve done my job.
I am very excited that my second short film has been accepted into the SOHO International Film Fest in NYC. It also was accepted into the LA Film Festival, the Best Shorts Film Festival (Award of Merit), the LA Film Review (Honorable Mention Best Director), and the Indie Gathering Film Festival (Winner- Best Comedy/Drama Short).
I had such a fun time at the LA Indie Film Festival. So many wonderful pals showed up to support my work, and the audience (made up of not only my friends, but total strangers, too) laughed all through the film! What a delight!
Best of all, my wonderful husband was there to cheer me on and support the work. What a great guy!
I am so thrilled to share with you that my second short film has been accepted into a highly respected festival in Hollywood, the LA Indie Film Fest.
If you are in the LA area and would like to join me at the screening, here is a link that will take you to the website where you can buy tickets. The screening will be within a block of other short films, and there will be a Q&A with the attending filmmakers afterwords.
Date: Saturday, March 7th, 2015 (this is a correction!)
Place: The Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa Hollywood, CA 90046
I firmly believe in “cleaning out one’s closets” both internally and externally. That said, I can’t seem to ever get mine clean ENOUGH. Argh. I’m constantly finding “treasures” that I simply can’t part with… that is, until I force myself to “get real” about what I really “need” (which is generally not so much crap!)
While on a storage unit purge recently, I found a letter from one of my distant relatives, a cousin of my mom’s, written to her. She told my mom what an impressive “creative” she was, detailing how she was talented in drawing, painting, writing, etc. This relative was also an artist in her own right, a collage artist, so I was struck by what a lovely, encouraging compliment this was.
I was also struck by the awareness that I, too, am a multi-tasking creative. I write books and music; write, direct and produce films; make my own collages; and of course, act. I am better at some of these arts than others. Trust me, more than once in my life have I thought, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” But I try to ignore that voice and putter about in whatever art seems to be calling to me at the time. Now I try and focus on the fact that my mom passed on this gift, and that I should treasure it and be grateful.
In the last year of my mom’s life she gave me another gift: a copy of the book “The Artist’s Way.” If you read my book, “Murdering My Youth,” you know my mom had some issues (to put it lightly), but this book made a huge difference for her. I would’ve loved to have seen how it changed her life even more, but sadly her time on earth ran out. Still, I was so grateful for the changes this book made in her that I picked it up myself. Wanting to stay connected to the best in her, I went through the lessons in “The Artist’s Way” not once, not twice, but three times. I still go back to it again and again for reminders of how to negotiate treacherous creative waters; how to re-inspire myself; and how to create a life where I felt safe to create. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
My belief after years of making art of all kinds, is that all arts come from a similar place within us, and all arts are meant to connect us, to make us think as human beings about our experience here on earth. This is why I continue to work, because I love that feeling of taking something from within my imagination or experience and feeling that connection.
My latest short film is all about connection: the loss of it, the fear of it, the desire for it. I don’t know if I have ever worked so hard as I did directing and producing this latest project. Films are not only expensive to produce, but time and labor intensive. They are also a collaboration amongst artists in all kinds of arenas: from the color correction to working with actors, it’s always an experience of talents mingling.
I suppose you could say each project I do is like me taking a bunch of stuff out of my closet, putting it together in a way that tickles me, and then sharing it. First with the other artists I work with, and then with the audience.
It means a lot to me that the artists who accept my invitation to work together have a good experience. I think I can say without reservation that I’ve found a truly amazing and talented crew. But it also means a lot to me that the audience keeps coming back to me to hear what I’ve discovered, to see how I’ve put together something that quite possibly is not just a private moment for me revealed, but a universal experience we all share, and perhaps feel a little embarrassed about.
So thank you for watching my work, and connecting with me. Thank you for joining me on this journey of creative discovery. It means the world and I am so grateful.