Female Filmmakers Share War Stories, From Breast Feeding on Set to Male Insubordination

Power Women Lunch Toronto: “It’s extremely important that our children see the work we do,” director Patricia Rozema says

Female filmmakers have faced many challenges over the year, but few experienced the outright hostility of their government, as Wanuri Kahiu did on her film, “Rafiki.” a lesbian love story.

Speaking at TheWrap’s Power Women Lunch at the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday, Kahiu related how Kenya’s censorship board complained that her lesbian love story was too “hopeful” in a country where homosexuality is banned — and that her film could only be released there if she changed her ending.

Homosexuality is banned in Kenya, and so was Kahiu’s film. She said the censorship board complained that her film was too “hopeful,” and that they would allow its release if she changed the ending.

“The [Kenya Film Commission] asked if I had an ending that showed my lead as more remorseful. I said ‘No,’” she told a packed room of top women in the film industry. She also said she had decided to sue the Kenyan government next week to force the release of the film.

Other international filmmakers shared their experiences as women behind the camera, from breast-feeding on set to battling male subordinates who seek to undermine their leadership.

“I had a Netflix rider in my contract that there had to be a cooler with ice for breast milk,” Chai Vasarhelyi (“Free Solo”) told moderator Sharon Waxman, the founder and CEO of TheWrap. “I was obsessed with it.”

“I breast-fed during shots,” said Patricia Rozema, whose film “Mouthpiece” is an abstract study of two different versions of the same woman, one inspired and confident and the other decidedly not.

“It’s extremely important that our children see the work we do,” Rozema said. “It’s absurd that we have these precious creatures and put them all in one building to be raised by someone else.”

The panelists, who also included Nadine Labaki (“Capernaum”), agreed that women also face perception problems on set due to the historical lack of leadership opportunities they have received.

“I’ve had people approach me thinking I was with craft services or a unit publicist,” said Molly McGlynn, who directed the feature “Mary Goes Round” and attended the event as ambassador for Share Her Journey, the TIFF nonprofit group aimed at uplifting women in the film business.

Many of those individuals were men, she said, and McGlynn said she deliberately decided to “hold eye contact longer than I should, not to shame them but address the nature of that very question of why I’m there.”

Panelists also agreed that women needed to stop asking permission to tell their stories. “The onscreen women we have been learning from are male creations. Everything we say and do are reactions to that gender creation … it’s self-sabotage,” Rozema said.

“I’ve learned to fight, and to speak up, and not be silenced,” Kahiu said.

A second panel on women breaking ground in the tech industry included producer Miranda Bailey, who just launched a women-focused media review website called CherryPicks; Jodi Kovitz of gender-parity nonprofit Move the Dial; and Ashleigh Gardner of the Canadian-based user-generated story website Wattpad Studios.

The event directly followed the festival’s Share Her Journey rally outside festival headquarters in downtown Toronto, which featured top leaders promoting the advancement of women in the film business. Share Her Journey was an official partner on the luncheon.

Others in attendance included Sundance executive director Keri Putnam, Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein, producer and Women in Film head Cathy Schulman, USC associate professor Stacy Smith, veteran film marketing executive Marian Koltai-Levine and Canadian officials like L.A. Consul General James Villeneuve.

TheWrap’s Power Women series is connecting and inspiring the leading influential women of entertainment, media, technology and brands in the key cities where those women work, create, gather, network and connect.