This Movie Changed Me – More on Wonder Woman

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on July 30th, 2018.

Yes, I know. I know I said that I had written my last post about Wonder Woman. And then I said it again. I’ll probably say it again at the end of this post as well, but at this point I don’t think anyone will believe me, because I’m pretty sure I will always have another Wonder Woman post to write. Cool stuff just keeps happening! For instance, recently I was invited to record a podcast for This Movie Changed Me with Lily Percy and the On Being Studiosabout last year’s Wonder Woman film.They reached out to me due to my many, MANYposts and articles over the years about not just the movie, but the character as well, and I readily accepted their invitation. The episode was released a couple of days ago, and I’m beside myself with joy for many reasons. Here’s my top five!

You can find the link to the episode HERE.

1) Podcasts are cool. Over the last several years we have seen this medium explode in popularity, and for good reason. It has become much easier for people to produce a quality podcast, and more importantly, it’s become much easier for audiences to connect with it, meaning it’s easier than ever to access stories from an incredibly diverse set of voices. I have often thought about starting my own podcast where I interview incredible people who share my passion for advancing gender equity, and that still may happen. In the meantime, I invested in a startup company called Wait, What? that produces and creates podcasts because I thought the founders were fantastic, and so far this company is doing really well. Their first property was Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale, a podcast that focuses on how companies can grow from fledgling startups to successful enterprises, and it was the first American media program to commit upfront to a 50-50 gender balance for guests. Needless to say, I am on board with that!

2) I will talk about Wonder Woman with anyone who will listen, so to be invited to do so by a studio that I respect so much was a dream come true. On Being Studios is the production company founded by Krista Tippett in 2013 to produce and distribute Tippett’s growing network of podcasts. It began in 2001 with a monthly radio show called Speaking of Faith, but has since grown into the weekly On Being podcast that now reaches over 1.5 million listeners monthly. I discovered this podcast a couple of years ago and quickly devoured every episode. I’ve since been fortunate to get to know Krista and I feel privileged to call her a friend. To get to participate on one of her shows, talking about something that means so much to me, was truly an incredible experience.

3) This recording felt like the culmination of a journey many years in the making. In 2011, I asked my writing partner, Laura Moore, to work with me to prepare a report on the character of Wonder Woman, and specifically to look into why we still didn’t have a Wonder Woman movie, but characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider Man were already on their second incarnations. For the record, that was 2011. All three of those characters are now on their third iterations. Just saying. What began as a simple question eventually became a two year project and a 70 page report, and while I won’t go into all the details, the gist of the findings was that there was no good reason to not have a Wonder Woman movie on the big screen. We called out Hollywood on this lack of representation and demanded that Wonder Woman finally get her due. We released this report in April of 2013, and by the end of the year Gal Gadot had been cast in the role of Wonder Woman for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film, with plans for her solo film to be released shortly after. Now, far be it for me to take all the credit for getting the ball rolling on this, but I have to say that the timing is an awfully big coincidence.

4) I have written extensively about Wonder Woman both on LinkedIn and on my personal website, with some posts going back over 10 years. With the help of Laura, I have decried over and over again the lack of female superheroes to be role models for young girls, and specifically the outrageousness of the notion that we got three Spider Mans across six films before we got to see Wonder Woman. For me, it wasn’t just that I love this character and wanted to see her on the big screen. It was about how the media views women in general, and how it is possible to tell the story of a woman who is powerful, courageous, and brave, and at the same time unapologetically feminine. To tell a story where leading with love is seen as a strength and not a weakness. Where women lead by example, and where they are fully formed characters who are allowed to be both strong and vulnerable, conflicted and compassionate. It’s a narrative that has been sorely lacking in Hollywood, and it’s time for this narrative to take center stage, because if the box office and critical reception to Wonder Woman are any indication, audiences are just as hungry as I am for these types of stories. After 10 years of writing about this, I was thrilled to get to share my knowledge and passion around this subject, and to bring it to the wider On Being audience.

5) Finally, I loved doing this podcast because this movie truly did change me. I was extraordinarily lucky to get to go to the premiere in Hollywood last year, and I’m not going to lie, more than a few tears may have been shed at finally getting to see the movie I had been waiting for decades to see. Not just a Wonder Woman movie, but a truly great Wonder Woman movie that embodied so much of why this character is so special and important to me. While waiting for this film to to come to the big screen I had been working full time as a champion for gender lens investing and philanthropy, and the timing of the film marked a landmark in my own journey trying to be a super shero: being named Co-Founder of Women Moving Millions. Now, and forever more, these two events are connected and it feels like a before and an after.

This post would feel incomplete without mentioning my favorite scene in the whole movie, and one I had a chance to talk about on the podcast. The scene where Wonder Woman comes into her own as a superhero as she marched across No Man’s Land. Clearly my enthusiasm was shared by others – just listen to the cheers in this video to this truly amazing moment.

In closing, Wonder Woman proved once and for all that Hollywood is capable of producing fantastic stories about incredible women, and I will keep campaigning for more films like this until there are just as many female role models as there are male role models for all the little girls and boys out there. And if you are wondering if there will be a sequel, the answer is a big YES! It is already in the works.

And that folks, is my last post on Wonder Woman.

Until the next one…

And a big thank you to Laura for sharing my love for Wonder Woman and being with me every step of the way.

PS – if you have a favorite podcast, please feel free to share it in the comment section and why you love it!

Imagine Yourself a HERO

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on February 5th, 2018.

The Sundance Film Festival takes over the small town of Park City, Utah for 10 days every January. Yes, it is all about movies, but it is also about so much more than that. It is a full-out cultural experience. The programmers choose from thousands of feature fiction, non-fiction films, shorts, episodic, and virtual reality works to present to a global audience of industry folks and film lovers alike. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it can make a career to have a work premiere at Sundance. In many ways this festival is like winning a gold medal for storytellers.

I am lucky enough to live in Park City, and for the past 5 years I have served as a Trustee of the Sundance Institute, which is amazing because I LOVE movies. For 10 days I am ALL IN, seeing 20+ films, attending panels, meeting with filmmakers, going to parties, and much, much more. Sundance is non-stop from 8am to 12am every day and I love every second of it. What makes this festival so incredible is to not only experience the work, but to get to know the creators of that work as well. At Sundance it truly is all about the filmmakers. Year after year I have noticed that themes often reveal themselves in the films being presented, and this year was no exception. The tag line for 2018 was “the story lives in you”, and it could not have been more appropriate. The characters in so many of my favorite films this year all had these profoundly complex back stories.

In particular, Jennifer Fox’s The Tale was easily the most talked about film at the festival, but it won’t be coming soon to a theatre near you. Instead, The Tale will be coming to a television screen near you as it was picked up by HBO shortly after its Sundance premiere. Described as one of the first truly great films of the #MeToo movement, despite having been in the works for years, The Tale is not only an incredibly powerful film, it’s also incredibly timely, as it manages to tap into the current cultural zeitgeist in a way that is astonishing. I was at the premiere of this film last Saturday, and believe me, it very much earned its standing ovation. Starring Laura Dern and Isabelle Nelisse (she was 12 when filming took place), it is about a woman who “discovers the coded details she composed 40 years earlier” of “a special relationship she had with two adult coaches.” It is a film about memory, agency, the choices we make, the choices we think we make, and ultimately, the choices we don’t make. The Tale is both a stunning film and a crucial movie for our times, so please look out for it on HBO later this year. (photo with the incredible Director, Jennifer Fox)

One film that will be finding its way to cinemas in the coming year is opening night film Blindspotting (Twitter @blindspottin), which was picked up by Lionsgate last week. Featuring searing performances by leads Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, this is a movie for your must see list. (photo with these incredible actors below)“Exploding with energy, style, and raw emotion, this film unravels today’s intersection of race and class with urgent and poetic justice.” There were many films about this intersection, including MonsterMonsters and Men (@monstersmenfilm), Burden and others, and never before in my experience at the festival have there been so many complex male characters that challenge beliefs around what it means to be a ‘real man’. There was a rap sequence in the film that blew my mind and for good reason. Lead actor Daveed Diggs was one of the original cast members of Hamilton.

Other highlights for me included Puzzle, picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, Monster, from Executive Producer John Legend, and Heart Beats Loud, which had probably the most epic title song ever. On the documentary front, the best of the best included Won’t You Be My Neighborfrom Focus Features, 306 Hollywood, award winner On Her Shoulders, and Generation Wealth by the magnificent Lauren Greenfield (@lgreen66) and Studio 54.

Onto the Virtual Reality. Sundance has been programming VR pieces for the past few years, and may have been one of the first major film festivals to do so. This year the number of submissions in this category exploded. “The New Frontier section champions filmmakers and artists who explain, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling.” I was transported to the Amazon to spend time with the first woman shaman in Awavena, dove in to the animated world of a teenage Puerto Rican girl in Battlescar, and was trained as an astronaut in Space Explorers: A New Dawn. While all of these films were incredible, Hero(@iNKStories) was transformational. Please find a video I filmed right after experiencing this piece below.

Stories matter. One of my favorite quotes is by Harold Goddard. “The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.” The Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support independent storytellers, helping them to tell the stories they want, no, strike that, NEED to tell. Yes, of course, the hope is that the end product is sold, but it is clear that what might matter more is that the end product is seen, is heard, and is experienced.

Please support independent film and artists. Take some time on the Sundance website and watch the short videos on the artists behind the work. Their stories are as amazing as the stories they tell.

Here are the winners.

To find great films and where to watch them, here.

What Story Lives in You?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 18th, 2018.

Every year around this time, I pound the vitamins, enable my email’s auto reply, and mentally prepare myself for the fact that I won’t be getting a good night’s sleep for the next two weeks. I do this because every year, the last two weeks of January are completely taken over by the Sundance Film Festival. From opening night to the closing awards show and party, Sundance is 11 days of films, events, panels, and parties, and this year will be no different. Or maybe it will be?

This is the first Sundance in a post-Harvey Weinstein era. This is the first Sundance since the sexual harassment and abuse scandal that has rocked Hollywood since last fall, and this is the first Sundance since the tide of change has swept through the entire industry. This is a topic that will be sure to dominate conversations, panels, and Q&As, and on Saturday, January 20th, a Respect Rally will be held in Park City to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Women’s Marches and last year’s March on Main (disclosure: I am a sponsor of the Respect Rally). It has also resulted in changes such as a very visible and thoughtful policy around code of conduct. The Sundance Institute is proudly partnering with the Utah Attorney General’s office to provide a 24 hotline to report code violations.

The theme of Sundance this year is the relationship between the storyteller and the audience. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that stories matter now more than ever, but even more important than the story is that the story gets heard and absorbed. Or in this case, seen. Women and men have been telling their stories of abuse and misconduct for decades, but often through secret channels and whisper networks out of fear of retribution. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault are sadly nothing new, but what’s changed in the past several months is that people are finally ready to listen to these stories, to believe these stories, and finally, FINALLY, we are ready to do something about them. Stories matter, but so does the audience and how these stories are received, and I look forward to delving deeper into this issue over the coming days of the festival and beyond.

The destiny of the world is determined less by battles lost and won than by the stories we come to love and believe in. – H. Goddard.

Now on to the festival…

This year’s festival is featuring 238 works altogether, including 122 feature films and 69 short films. Altogether, the Sundance Institute received over 13,000 submissions for the 2018 festival, and I can’t wait to see what made the cut. In addition to these films, an entirely new category is debuting for indie episodic work, which is a testament to the growing presence of this medium. While this content has previously been screened at Sundance as featured programming, episodic work is now being recognized as the force it truly is with its own section within the festival. Sundance is also debuting two new awards, including the Festival Favorite to be determined by audience ballot across all screenings of all feature films, and the NEXT Innovator Award that will be presented by RuPaul. There’s also a brand new theatre, incredible works and technology to discover in the New Frontier VR and AR section, and with over 46 countries represented, this year’s festival is truly an international affair.

It is also a year of increased representation for women. Earlier this month at the Golden Globes, Natalie Portman made a point of recognizing that yet again the nominees for Best Director were all male, despite the fact that Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird won one of the top awards of the night as the Best Comedy or Musical. In a far cry from Hollywood, where only 4% of the directors of the top grossing films of the past 11 years were women, 42% of all features and shorts that are to be screened at Sundance this year are directed by women (37% of features and 51% of shorts). This represents a 4% increase in female directors of features over 2017, and a 3% overall increase in female directors. One can only hope that those numbers will continue to go up in the years to come.

As I look over my schedule for the next 11 days, I can’t help but feel equal parts exhilarated and exhausted, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can follow the conversation online with #Sundance2018 and follow my adventures at @JackiZehner on Twitter. Below are a list of some of the films I’ll be seeing over the coming days, with descriptions pulled from the festival program. New this year are Meet the Artist videos on many of the pages, but you can also find them on Youtube HERE. If you’re in Park City happy festing! And if not, I’ll be back after the festival is over with my best of the fest of films to look out for in cinemas in the coming months.

Blindspotting – Collin is trying to make it through his final days of probation for an infamous arrest he can’t wait to put behind him. Always by his side is his fast-talking childhood bestie, Miles, who has a knack for finding trouble. They grew up together in the notoriously rough Oakland, a.k.a. “The Town,” which has become the new trendy place to live in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. But when Collin’s chance for a fresh start is interrupted by a life-changing missed curfew, his friendship with Miles is forced out of its comfortable buddy-comedy existence, and the Bay boys are set on a spiraling collision course with each other. Exploding with energy, style, and raw emotion, Blindspotting unravels today’s intersection of race and class with urgent and poetic justice. This is the opening night film tonight!

Private Life – Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) have been repeatedly trying to get pregnant, undergoing multiple fertility treatments while also exploring adoption and other options. As they hit obstacles and face up to the reality of their chances, their strained marriage seems to be further than ever from completing the elusive path to parenthood.

Monsters and Men – One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice?

Juliet, Naked – Annie is stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan—an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. Duncan is far more devoted to his music idol than to Annie. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, it leads to a life-changing encounter between Annie and the elusive rocker himself.

Eighth Grade – Eighth-grader Kayla Day always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She makes YouTube videos aimed at other adolescents dealing with similar issues—feelings of isolation, anxiety, and invisibility—but after so easily summoning this wisdom and confidence when addressing her (barely existent) audience, Kayla finds it paralyzingly difficult to apply in real situations. In the final week of a thus-far-disastrous school year—and with high school looming on the horizon—Kayla struggles to bridge the gap between how she perceives herself and who she believes she should be.

The Tale – Jennifer, a globetrotting journalist and professor, lives an enviable life with her boyfriend in New York City. That is, until her mother finds a story Jennifer wrote at age 13 depicting a “special” relationship with two adult coaches. Reading the yellowed pages of “The Tale,” Jennifer discovers the coded details she composed 40 years earlier are quite unlike her recollection. Deeply shaken yet determined to square her version of events with the truth, Jennifer sets out to find her two coaches. Returning to the Carolina horse farm where so much transpired, Jennifer’s gangly yet tenacious seventh-grade self reawakens, and the loving stories she told herself for decades begin to unravel.

Leave No Trace – For years Will and his teenage daughter, Tom, have lived off the grid, blissfully undetected by authorities in a vast nature reserve on the edge of Portland, Oregon. When a chance encounter blows their cover, they’re removed from their camp and put into the charge of social services. Struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a perilous journey back to the wilderness, where they are finally forced to confront conflicting desires—a longing for community versus a fierce need to live apart.

I Think We’re Alone Now – Del (Peter Dinklage) is alone in the world. Literally. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in a small, empty town, methodically going from house to house, collecting batteries and other useful items, and burying the dead. He dines alone, reads, watches movies, and shelves books in the local library he’s made his home. He’s content in his solitude—until he discovers Grace (Elle Fanning), an interloper on his quiet earth. Her history and motives are obscure, and worse yet, she wants to stay.

Inventing Tomorrow – Indonesia, India, Mexico, Hawaii, and many other countries, communities, and islands are rife with the ravages of environmental degradation. But hope comes with a surprising—and touching—group of young people. Meet six brilliant high school students as they prepare for the world’s largest high school science competition: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Inspired by the issues and problems they’ve witnessed in their own communities, these teens propose big ideas and ingenious solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. With unfettered minds and ambition, they descend upon Los Angeles to participate in ISEF and meet thousands of their peers from all over the world. Soon, a sense of global community forms, focused on making the world a better place.

Come Sunday – Every Sunday, Bishop Carlton Pearson—evangelical megastar, brilliant orator, and television host with millions of followers—preaches the fundamentalist gospel to six thousand supplicants at his Higher Dimensions Church. He’s the pride and joy of his spiritual father, Oral Roberts, and the toast of Tulsa. One day, rattled by an uncle’s suicide and distraught by reports of the Rwandan Genocide, Pearson receives an epiphany. Suddenly it’s crystal clear—God loves all humankind; everyone is already saved, whether Christian or not; and there is no hell. But these ideas are heretical, violating sacrosanct doctrines.

Monster – Steve Harmon, a bright, sensitive 17-year-old, stands trial for acting as a lookout during the lethal armed robbery of a Harlem bodega. Before his arrest, he was an honors student and aspiring filmmaker taking street-level snapshots and on-the-fly footage of neighborhood life. Now, Steve is seen as just another young black criminal, assumed guilty and labeled a monster. But Steve and his lawyer declare his innocence and attempt to defy the odds in a bid to win his freedom.

Beirut – Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a top U.S. diplomat, left Lebanon in the 1970s after a tragic incident. Ten years later, the CIA calls him back to a war-torn Beirut with a mission only he can accomplish. Meanwhile, a CIA field agent who is working undercover at the American embassy is tasked with keeping Skiles alive and ensuring that the mission is a success. Without knowing who is on his side and with lives on the line, Skiles must outmaneuver everyone to expose the truth.

Burden – Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a taciturn repo man rising through the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in small-town South Carolina, 1996. Orphaned as a child, he is fiercely loyal to local Klan leader and toxic father figure Tom Griffin (a terrifying Tom Wilkinson). But Burden has a change of heart when he falls for Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who stirs his social conscience. His violent break from the Klan sends him into the open arms of Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), an idealistic African American preacher, who offers him safety and a shot at redemption.

Damsel – It’s a classic tale of the Old West: Samuel Alabaster is a man searching for his true love. Parson Henry is another, much drunker man, searching for a new start. Penelope is a woman who has found her own path. And Rufus Cornell is just a mean bastard with a taste for buckskin. There’s rotgut, rawhide, rootin’, tootin’, and hootin’. Plus, a little tiny horse.

A Kid Like Jake – Loving parents Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons) are faced with the daunting task of applying to private kindergartens in NYC for their 4-year-old, Jake. Competing in this cutthroat environment means focusing on what is most unique about a child, forcing Alex and Greg to consider Jake’s love of dresses, fairy tales, and princesses. These qualities never seemed unusual before, but when Jake begins to act out in preschool, Alex and Greg—suddenly at odds—must find a way to support Jake’s identity without losing each other in the process.

Sorry to Bother You – Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a 30-something black telemarketer with self-esteem issues, discovers a magical selling power living inside of him. Suddenly he’s rising up the ranks to the elite team of his company, which sells heinous products and services. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

Three Identical Strangers – New York, 1980: Three complete strangers—Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman—make the astounding discovery that they are identical triplets. Separated at birth, adopted, and raised by three different families, the 19-year-olds are reunited by chance. Their story sets the tabloids on fire, and the triplets suddenly become famous around the world.

What They Had – During a bout of dementia, Ruth (Blythe Danner) gets out of bed at night and wanders off into a blizzard. Ruth’s brief disappearance triggers the homecoming of her daughter Bridget (Hilary Swank) and teenage granddaughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). The episode also renews lifelong tensions between stubborn patriarch Burt (Robert Forster) and estranged son Nicky (Michael Shannon). As they all debate placing Ruth into a memory-care facility, family ties begin to fray, rekindling a rivalry between the adult siblings.

Generation Wealth – Over the past 25 years, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary photography and film projects have explored youth culture, gender, body image, and affluence. In this fascinating meld of career retrospective and film essay, Greenfield offers a meditation on her extensive body of work, structuring it through the lens of materialism and its increasing sway on culture and society in America and throughout the world. Underscoring the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, her portraits reveal a focus on cultivating image over substance, where subjects unable to attain actual wealth instead settle for its trappings, no matter their ability to pay for it. I know Lauren personally and she is an incredible person and filmmaker. Amongst her many film credits she also did the game changing video, LIKE A GIRL.

NANCY – Nancy is a 35-year-old temp living with her mom and cat in a modest home in a modest town. She is also an aspiring writer whose submissions are consistently rejected by the likes of the Atlantic and the Paris Review. To make up for these failures and the invisibility she feels, Nancy spins elaborate lies and hoaxes under pseudonyms on the internet. When she encounters a couple whose 5-year-old daughter went missing 30 years ago, fact and fiction begin to blur in Nancy’s mind, and she becomes increasingly convinced these strangers are her real parents.

Loveling – Irene is raising four rambunctious sons in a home that is physically crumbling but warm and happy. As Irene simultaneously shelters her sister Sonia (who just left a volatile marriage), supports her own husband through a financial crisis, and plans her own long-awaited high school graduation, Irene’s eldest son, Fernando, suddenly announces he has been recruited by a professional handball team in Germany and will be leaving in just three weeks. Consummate caretaker Irene prickles at the idea of emancipating the 16-year-old so he can travel and live alone, and she becomes increasingly anxious about what her future holds.

Seeing Allred – As described in the film guide, to some, Gloria Allred is a money-grubbing, shrill feminist prone to tawdry theatrics; to others she’s the most effective and fearless women’s rights attorney in America. In this intimate, warts-and-all documentary, one thing is certain: Allred’s 40-year devotion to asserting, protecting, and expanding the rights of women is unwavering and her influence unassailable. She is also scheduled to speak at the the rally.

Lizzie – 1892: Headstrong Lizzie Borden lives with her wealthy father, stepmother, and sister in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie lovingly tends to her pet pigeons and is occasionally allowed out of her dimly lit, foreboding house, but otherwise lives under strict rules set by her domineering father. When her family hires live-in maid Bridget, an uneducated Irish immigrant, the two find kindred spirits in one another. Their friendship begins with covert communication and companionship that blossoms into an intimate relationship. Meanwhile, tension builds in the Borden household, and Lizzie’s claustrophobic existence becomes increasingly more oppressive and abusive, leading to its inevitable breaking point.

Hearts Beat Loud – As single dad Frank (Nick Offerman) prepares to send hardworking daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) off to UCLA pre-med, he also reluctantly realizes he has to accept that his own record-store business is failing. Hoping to stay connected with his daughter through their shared love of music, he urges her to turn their weekly “jam sesh” into an actual band. Channeling Sam’s resistance into a band name, they unexpectedly find We’re Not a Band’s first song turning into a minor Spotify hit, and they use their songwriting efforts to work through their feelings about the life changes each of them faces.

The Long Dumb Road – Not far down the highway from his childhood home in Texas, Nathan’s car breaks down on the drive to his freshman year of art school in Los Angeles. Richard, a local mechanic, agrees to fix the car as long as Nathan helps Richard escape his bastard of a boss. On the way out of town, Richard pounds a road beer or three, sparks a joint, and begins to question why young Nathan is lacking a clear philosophy about the rest of his life. As they venture on, these two strangers will battle through bar fights, heartache, and many more unfortunate detours to make it to their next destinations in life. This is a film that I am personally invested in through the film Fund Gamechanger.

On Her Shoulders – Mobbed by iPhone cameras and pushy reporters, 23-year-old Nadia Murad leads a harrowing but vital crusade: to find the most influential platforms in the world and speak out on behalf of the embattled Yazidi community who face mass extermination by ISIS militants. Having narrowly escaped with her own life, Nadia must now relentlessly recount on radio shows, at rallies, and even on the floor of the United Nation’s general assembly her ordeal as a Yazidi sex slave and witness to her family’s brutal killings. Though excruciating, she forces herself to revisit these realities again and again. For without her testimony, the genocide happening right in front of the world’s eyes might go completely unnoticed.