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The Future of Female-Driven Films Is Stories That ‘Dig Deeper,’ Women Directors Say (Video)

“We’re fighting for the real stories and real instances of humanity to come out,” director Maliyamungu Muhande explains

Historically, there has been a lack of women behind the camera. In fact, a 2021 study conducted by San Diego State University’s Dr. Martha M. Lauzen reported that overall, women made up just 25% of those working in behind-the-scenes roles, such as directors, editors, writers, and producers, on the top grossing 250 films of the year. However, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, 52% of the films were directed by women. 

In “The Future of Filmmaking Is Female” panel presented by Adobe and WrapWomen, the discussion centered on the importance of having more women storytellers. The panelists included Sundance filmmakers Isabel Castro, Maliyamungu Muhande, Shaandiin Tome and Robbie Brenner, who is also executive vice president and executive producer of Mattel Films. Ann Lewnes, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of corporate strategy and development at Adobe, moderated the discussion.

The panel started with introductions of the filmmakers and their respective films, all of which premiered at this year’s Sundance. 

Brenner produced “Call Jane,” a coming-of-age story about a 1960s housewife who has an unwanted pregnancy and joins the Jane Collective to fight for women’s rights and to find help.

Brenner said she worked on this film because of the lack of connection she’s been noticing between others, especially women, on social media.

“I was drawn to [“Call Jane”] because I have two children, and I see where we’re going in the world,” Brenner said. “It’s important for us as women to come together as a community and hold each other’s hands and tell each other’s stories and make each other feel comfortable and seen and heard.”

Maliyamungu Muhande directed her first short film, “Nine Days a Week,” about a 80-year-old Black street photographer, Louis Mendes, who started his career in 1950s Harlem.

Muhande said that like her, she sees other female filmmakers who have a “hunger” to dig deeper and create more intimate pieces.

“We are living in a world where we don’t have a choice but to dig deeper,” Muhande said. “We constantly are fighting for our spaces and our rights. We’re fighting for the real stories and real instances of humanity to come out.”

Castro made her feature documentary debut with “Mija,” a film that centers on 23-year-old music manager Doris Muñoz, who meets Chicana singer Jacks Haupts and connects with her because they are both the first American-born people in their immigrant families. 

The filmmaker said she wanted to tell a immigration story that wasn’t just focused on depicting the trauma of the experience. 

“Female and femininity refers to depictions, roles and imagery that has previously been less than and female filmmakers and filmmaking looks like a destruction of power,” Castro said. 

Tome co-directed “Long Line of Ladies” alongside Rayka Zehtabchi. The short film follows a girl in a Northern California’s Karuk tribe, as she prepares for her Ihuk, a coming of age ceremony. Tome said that the matriarchal nature of her Diné community inspired her to tell this story. 

“There’s something empowering about that, that isn’t necessarily the word power as we know it,” Tome said. “I think it’s a quiet power, and it’s something respectful and intentional, and I really love that about how I’ve grown up.”

“Coming from a place of detriment as a brown woman, it’s difficult to see yourself in the media that isn’t portraying you or isn’t portraying who you know,” she added. 

However, Tome said that more and more films have been challenging stereotypes.

As far as advice to other up-and-coming filmmakers, Castro said to embrace failure, as it’s a “part of the process.” Tome added that she leans on the people she knows, like her mother and sister, for support. Muhande emphasized the importance to knowing one’s voice as well as the need to deconstruct the patriarchal power that is integrated into the industry.

“Understand your worth and your value because from that place of truth, [comes] the courage to bulldoze through these barriers because it’s nonstop,” Muhande said. “Also asking for help and leaning to other women. I think the solidarity with ourselves is all we got.”

Watch the full interview with Brenner, Castro, Muhande and Tome up top.