Emerging Female Filmmakers on Challenges of Making Shorts, Especially During the Pandemic (Video)

Power Women Summit 2020: “I think as filmmakers, we all look to our own original emotional pains,” says “Lexical Gap” director Yoko Okumura

Last Updated: December 16, 2020 @ 1:03 PM

Making a short film is hard enough — but imagine making one on very little budget, or during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the panel titled “Telling our Stories Film Contest” at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit, six finalists of the contest presented by Starz and TheWrap delved into the challenges of making their films. The short films highlighted themes of womanhood, community and representation, and all the submissions were from women and gender-nonconforming filmmakers of color. All six finalists — which were chosen out of 1,100 submissions evaluated by industry professionals — will see their work on Starz, with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize.

One finalist, Jazmin Johnson, wrote and directed “Sounds of War,” which depicts her thoughts as a young Black woman in America. She said she made her movie over the summer, right after George Floyd’s death and in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ShanRica Evans wrote and directed “Clarissa,” which focuses on a woman who forms an incredibly intimate bond with a homeless woman. She shot the film right before the pandemic began in the U.S.

“This story came from just a personal experience of talking to a homeless woman when I first moved to L.A. and actually seeing her as a whole human and not just her circumstances,” Evans said. “As we talked, I realized we had more in common than I was even comfortable with admitting. So this film [kind of shows] we’re connected as women and as humans through this thing that we call life and all of our experiences.”

LaToya Morgan’s film, “Team Marilyn,” was filmed over the course of two days and is about a female politician who has to deal with a sex scandal. Morgan is developing the short into a feature film.

“I love political films. I was really inspired by movies like ‘Ides of March’ and ‘The Candidate’ — those really gritty political films. But we never see those movies from the black woman’s perspective,” she explained. “We never see black characters centered in those films. So that was what I really wanted to do… I think women in power are just so interesting by themselves, you know, and to explore that story and go deeper, especially in our political climate now. I think black women are the backbone of democracy and it’s really time to center those stories and have them shine, and using ‘Marilyn’ as a catalyst for that was really exciting to me.”

Katherine Chou’s film, “A Cure for All Things,” centers on a Taiwanese woman who finds a vial in a fridge that turns her into her ancestors. She actually hired her mother to play the grandmother in the film because she said she needed the “comfort” that Taiwanese grandmothers embody, and she couldn’t find it in the actresses who auditioned.

“I auditioned a few actresses that all felt a little too almost elegant and put together and they weren’t comforting,” she explained. “And also I needed someone to speak Taiwanese, which is sort of a dialect that people don’t really speak in younger generations.”

Yoko Okumura’s “Lexical Gap” analyzes female sexuality, “the purity myth” and how men’s sexuality is seen as normal whereas women’s sexuality is not.

“I think as filmmakers, we all look to our own original emotional pains, right? Like, that’s where we can speak authentically to, and for me, I struggled a lot with my femininity and sexuality and owning my identity. For the longest time I just felt so insecure and, compared to other women, like I wasn’t good enough,” Okumura explained.

“As I grew older, I could look at the larger world that I was growing up in and see that we live in such a sex-negative world,” she continued. “We, as women, aren’t encouraged to embrace our sexuality, and I just started to try to deconstruct that as much as possible in my own life.”

Lastly, Gabriela Garcia Medina explained the logic behind her short “Little Con Lili,” and how she was able to use Air Supply’s music in her short film. It’s about a young girl who goes absolutely wild, eating whatever she can get her hands on, when her parents aren’t home.

“My parents worked full-time and I would come home from school and the television was my babysitter,” she said. “I would, you know, have lots of fun by myself, eat lots of cereal, and I just really wanted to present this fun, uplifting version of a Latinx experience. I love all these movies about immigration and the border, and these movies are very important, but I just wanted to create something that was fun because I want my culture, my community to exist in a universal sort of like… we can make comedies and we can make action movies. We can make political movies. I’m just trying to tell a really beautiful, positive, uplifting story that when anyone watches it, they can relate to it. But it just so happens to be about a Latinx family.”

The winner of the “Telling Our Stories” film competition was announced at the conclusion of the Power Women Summit. Congratulations to LaToya Morgan (executive producer and director) and Sue-Ellen Chitunya (producer), the recipients of the $10,000 prize for “Team Marilyn.”

Watch the full interview above.

The Power Women Summit, presented by the WrapWomen Foundation, is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The Summit aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s all-virtual PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe to promote “Inclusion 360,” this year’s theme.