Female Filmmakers of Midwest at WSC

Illiana Rosabal-Perez, News Writer

Three outstanding young graduates and students of WSC’s film program have a lot to tell us about what it means for them to bring the female point of view to Midwestern cinema.

“I simply want to be a filmmaker, but due to these challenges I receive an added title: female filmmaker. At times it feels more like a title one would receive in war. It’s like a badge of honor for making it through so many battles,” Shelby Hagerdon, a writer, director and producer graduated from Wayne State College said. “When writing, directing or producing, there is a certain level of honesty that you need to have with the work. Let your voice bleed through it and believe in your vision.”

The perspective of the young film school alumni and students at WSC offers a personal insight into the meaning of being a female filmmaker in Midwest cinema.

“For me, being a woman in film is an extremely valuable experience,” Ally Boyd, a filmmaker and alum from the film school at WSC said. “I find that women have unique voices that bring in new perspectives to how a story is told. Offering nuanced female characters and exploring our history through our voices is something we are focused on.”

“It’s such a surreal and rewarding experience. I love being able to get the opportunities to write and direct my work,” Emma Franco, a writer, director and producer in the film school at WSC said.

They speak from their own experience and describe their professional purpose as women filmmakers.

“As a filmmaker, I want to create films that feature topics and themes that aren’t really seen in many films today. I want to push boundaries. I want to show different takes on subjects that are usually portrayed in a similar manner in most films. For instance, different takes on love, adolescence, friendship, etc.,” Franco said.

“We provide our perspectives through the female gaze,” Boyd said. “We present characters that are written with authenticity and vulnerability, something that had been lacking in the portrayal of

women on screen due to the male gaze. Women’s cinema is fearless and complex, and I am proud to be a part of that.”

Hagerdon rejects labels but understands that once people put one on her, she could use it favorably to her advantage.

“For me, being a female filmmaker is no different than being a male filmmaker,” Hagerdon said. “We never distinguish a male filmmaker, but we always do when a filmmaker is a woman simply because we are considered so far removed from the ‘norm’ or ‘standard’. However, I take on the title of being a woman in film simply because we have an added component that the cis-men in film will never experience. The film industry is male-dominated, and it is hard to walk into this as a woman.”

It seems that the profession of a woman filmmaker implies advantages and challenges that women must face with courage and determination, Hagerdon said.

“I would say never let someone compromise your vision simply because they don’t understand it or can’t relate to it,” Hagerdon said. “On my first film I made at WSC, I received comments from male filmmakers outside of school telling me to alter my ending because they didn’t feel it fit with the romantic aspect of the film. However, when I show it to other women filmmakers, they loved it and related to it. So much of filmmaking comes down to knowing your audience and some people simply won’t be.”

“One of the biggest challenges is gaining respect,” Boyd said. “I have come across an unfortunate amount of male filmmakers in the Midwest who have stated that women’s voices do not matter to them. While this is the case there is also a vast community that supports and amplifies women’s voices in film. Finding that community was essential to me as a filmmaker as it inspired me and heightened my confidence in my work.”

“So, getting your voice heard and your ideas pitched can be frustrating. Course, it depends on who you’re working with,” Franco said. “While most of the time it’s a fun and exciting process, as a writer, director and producer, I have had my share of difficult experiences during my productions. I’ve mainly worked with people who have been very professional and fun to be around, but I have also

worked with those who are the complete opposite. But don’t let that bring you down or make you want to give up.”

The training of future female filmmakers in the Midwest gives promising signs for passionate young girls wishing to become a filmmaker at WSC.

“What I find most meaningful about film at WSC is how much the department supports the work you create. They provide an immense amount of resources and guidance to finding who you are as a filmmaker and aiding in your creative endeavors.” Boyd said.

Fortunately, the active role of these productions to female empowerment in the industry and in society is a reality in WSC classrooms.

“For my thesis film at WSC, I made a film called “Sigmund and Dora” that told the story of a young woman who was treated for hysteria by Sigmund Freud. I wanted to tell this particular story because, firstly, it had never been depicted on the screen and, secondly, the story had only ever been told by Freud, not by the woman who truly experienced it,” Hagerdon said. “As a woman, I wanted to help her tell her story, even if it was a hundred years after the story occurred. And as a woman in film, you have the advantage of helping tell the stories of other women. You also have the ability to help other women in film. I started the Facebook group Tri-State Film La Femme to do just that.”

Given that being a female filmmaker is a challenge and an opportunity, the filmakers wished to offer words of advice.

“Be fearless. Be outspoken. Tell the stories you want to tell,” Boyd said. Surround yourself with people whose voices you admire and continue to learn and master your skills. Lastly, find the things that inspire you.”

“Filmmaking is never easy, whether you are a man, a woman or gender queer. They require a lot of work and energy,” Hagerdon said. “At Wayne, they are always preaching about the ‘hustle’, and that is the truth. If you want to be a filmmaker, you will need a lot of hustle. And I know it sounds hard, and it is, but you also get to experience so many new things and it’s always exciting. But as a woman in

film, it’s also important to remain aware and to never take less than you deserve. You are just as worthy as the boys are no matter what anyone tells you.”

“Regardless of where you end up working, you should be passionate about your work,” Franco said. “You should create and/or be a part of projects that truly speak to you. Don’t do it because of the possibility of you becoming famous. Do it because you want to make something that’s meaningful. You should be in this industry because you want to tell a story that audiences can relate to, not because you want to make a quick buck. You should do it because you love it. Make sure your heart and soul are in this.”

As our female filmmakers acknowledge, being a woman in this industry is a privilege entailing a communal commitment by creating spaces for dialogue and cooperation.

“After too many instances of push-back from male filmmakers in the industry, I felt it necessary to create a place where women, non-binary, queer and minority peoples could feel safe to discuss the films they were working on,” Hagerdon said. “Films are not made by one person. They require teamwork and by not helping each other out and searching for more voices, we start to create our works in a vacuum. So as a woman, utilize those tools, platforms and opportunities available to you to meet other people and build communities.”