Land Ho!

DSC00979

Last September, it was announced that a new film fund would be launching with the goal of financing narrative feature films directed or co-directed by women. The fund was called Gamechanger Films, and it is very aptly titled, because if successful, this fund could truly be a game changer in increasing the number of women directors of feature studio films. I am a proud investor in this fund, serve on their advisory board, and I was thrilled when it was announced that the first film to be financed by Gamechanger Films, Land Ho!, would be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.  (I am also a Board Member of The Sundance Institute but we have no involvement with film selections)

Co-directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, Land Ho! is a rowdy road trip film that follows two retirees on a trip through Iceland, during which they reflect on their lives, past loves, and what the future has in store.  The setting for the film was particularly meaningful for me as I had just travelled to Iceland and thus understood how the location could really contribute to the narrative of the film. And it is very unusual! Have you ever seen a film set in Iceland before? Starring Paul Eenhoorn, a working actor whose face you will immediately recognize but you can’t quite place him, and Earl Lynn Nelson, an unknown who stole the show, Land Ho! is the first completed film to emerge from the Gamechanger initiative, so needless to say, we all had high hopes for its Sundance debut.

Thankfully, those hopes were realized with the announcement that Land Ho! had been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. When you see the film you will understand why this was likely an easy decision for them. I attended a screening during the later half of the festival, and not only was the theater totally sold out, but people were laughing hysterically. To me, Land Ho! represents the best of independent film by being very character driven, using relatively unknown actors, emerging directors, and being a perfect film for an audience that gets little attention – old folks!

For the first film out of the Gamechanger gate to find such success at Sundance gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction and getting there quickly, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this ride.  This fund was created to bring capital to talented women filmmakers, and make money for the investors in the process.  To me this in an outstanding example of Gender Lens Investing, and there will be many more examples to come.

Gamechanger Films’ goal is to finance a slate of films over the next three years in a variety of genres . For more information please check out their website.

Photo from Sundance 2014 – part of the Land Ho! team including Director Martha Stephens on my right and Mynette Louie of Gamechanger on my left.

 

Women at Sundance: Where Are They Now?

sundance2013Last January I wrote about how women were the talk of Sundance, with half of the US Dramatic and Documentary films being directed by women. When the line up was announced, Sundance became the poster child for progress in the film industry, with many commentators suggesting that the Sundance Film Festival was leading the charge for gender equality in Hollywood. Despite this success, Hollywood has just concluded one of the most male dominated summer seasons in history; a season that saw record breaking box office receipts, but was soundly criticized for its lack of women in any capacity, on screen or off. During this time several of the women directed films from Sundance premiered, and with the season recently concluding, it’s time to check in on these films to see how they fared.

Lake Bell’s In A World dealt with the misogyny of Hollywood head on, and won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for the US Dramatic category at Sundance. It was also my clear favorite! Picked up by Roadside Attractions, In A World… has grossed just over $2 million since August 9th, with its widest release reaching 144 theaters, and racked up an impressive 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess was released on August 16th, and with its widest release coming in at 274 theatres, Austenland has grossed just over $1.1 million and received a 32% critical rating. Both Afternoon Delight, by Jill Soloway, and The Lifeguard by Liz W. Garcia opened over Labour Day weekend to 58% and 13% critical ratings respectively, with Afternoon Delight grossing over $150,000 on 39 screens, while The Lifeguard has yet to release its box office receipts. Finally, Touchy Feely opened on September 6th, grossing nearly $20,000 on up to 5 screens, and reaching a 34% critical assessment. The remaining female directed films from Sundance have yet to be released (Concussion), or have yet to receive release dates (May in the Summer, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes). For those wishing to follow the progress of these films, as well as many other films written and directed by women, I suggest subscribing to Melissa Silverstein’s excellent blog Women and Hollywood for weekly updates on female fronted films.

While plenty of other Sundance films enjoyed a lot of success over the summer, including The Way, Way Back, Fruitvale Station, and The Spectacular Now, it is sad to see that the films directed by women have failed to secure the wide releases needed to achieve mainstream success. What is sad about this situation is that this appears to be the industry standard. Lower budgeted independent films are rarely given the wide releases or the extensive marketing campaigns needed to create awareness and visibility for those films, regardless of the gender of the director. Unfortunately, given that the majority of female filmmakers are these directors of low budget independent films, this puts them at a distinct disadvantage in turns of trying to break into the Hollywood studio system.

I am incredibly proud to serve as a board member of the Sundance Institute, and I applaud the work of this institution for not only supporting  more gender equality behind the camera, but also for raising the profile of independent films and their viability as mainstream investments. There are so many organizations that are doing this as well, and in fact this very second I am in a meeting in New York City with many of their key representatives talking about these very issues, sharing what each is doing, and finding ways to work TOGETHER. ( That will be another blog!!)

So what can you do right now? Go and support independent films in your local theaters!!!!!

 

Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore

 

Women at Sundance Party – 2013 Wrap-up

Three years ago I hosted a gathering at my house to celebrate the premiere of Miss Representation at the Sundance Film Festival. Last Monday, the third annual Women at Sundance was held, now as an officially sanctioned event of the Sundance Film Festival, and over 150 people, both men and women, packed into my house to celebrate the success of women filmmakers at this year’s festival, to discuss ways to further empower women in filmmaking, and to hear the results of a research study called “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers.” Details on that study to come.

The event was a huge success, and given the size of this year’s wait list, Women at Sundance shows no signs of slowing down for future festivals. For those in attendance, it was clear from the energy in the room that both women and men are committed to bridging the gender inequalities that exist in filmmaking, and the prevalence of female directors in this year’s slate of films in competition shows that progress is being made at the independent level. This is always about opening the doors so that talent can walk through.

To help encourage this progress to continue, and to assist female directors in breaking through to that elusive mainstream Hollywood success, it was my pleasure to announce at Women at Sundance that a new fund has been set up in partnership with Impact Partners and Chicken & Egg to directly fund films by women filmmakers. ( pictured above)  Called Gamechanger, this fund will be run by Producer Mary Jane Skalski, and will fund women directors in a variety of genres with the goal of making commercially successfully films. More to come on this topic as well!

This announcement was one of many exciting announcements at Women at Sundance, and the enthusiasm of those in attendance was infectious. Given that I hosted the event, it should come as no surprise that the theme for the day was Wonder Woman, one that was picked up on by the New York Times in their coverage of the event. However, this theme goes much deeper than the image on the napkins and plates, as one look around the room last Monday revealed that there truly are Wonder Women working in film today. The tides of change may be slowly turning, but with the support of funds like Gamechanger and the dedicated women filmmakers of Sundance, those tides could very well become a tsunami.

See below for other articles on this event.

BLOG Post by the wonderful Jess Weiner on HUFF PO

https://www.thewrap.com/movies/column-post/women-are-rise-sundance-what-gives-studios-73941

https://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/jan/23/women-independent-film-sundance-survey

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/study-women-better-represented-indie-414187

https://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/sundance-institute-and-women-in-film-release-unprecedented-study-on-women-directors

Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore