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Beloit alum plans all-female feature film

In 1896, Alice Guy-Blache directed one of the world’s first ever narrative films, La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy). For the next 10 years, it’s guessed by historians that she was probably the only female director in the world. Female representation behind the camera is not quite as bad as that in the 21st century, but it’s disturbingly close. Cinema has evolved with a fairly impressive forward-looking mindset with regard to artistic and technological innovation, but in its racial and gender disparities it’s still frighteningly old-fashioned.

In 2016, less than 5 percent of major studio movies had female directors. It wasn’t until 1977 that a female director was even nominated for the best director Oscar (Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties), and it took until 2009 for a female to win the award (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker).

How many females have been nominated since 2009? Zero. This gender disparity isn’t limited to directing, but cuts through entire film crews, from the DP’s to the gaffers and everything in between. According to actress Geena Davis, research from her Institute on Gender and Media has shown that gender parity in filmmaking won’t be achieved for another 700 years if we continue at our current rate.

This is the disappointing creative world that alumni Simone Stadler’13 found herself entering when she came to New York City after graduating from Beloit with a double major in Theater Arts and Health & Society. Four years later, she is the co-producer on a low budget film called When We Grow Up, a film written by Grace Hannoy, about a dramatic suburban family reunion, following a dog’s death.

Marital troubles, racial tensions, and artificial insemination all help to drive the plot. Though the setup is somewhat familiar (think 2013’s August: Osage County), its process is anything but.

Stadler and Hannoy decided to make the film, which is currently in pre-production, with an entirely female crew. Though extremely uncommon, Stadler and Hannoy do have some peers in the industry. At least two movies with an all-female film crew are being released this year: Zoe-Lister Jones’ Band Aid, which premiered to rave reviews at Sundance this year, and April Mullen’s Below Her Mouth, to be released in April.

Stadler first met her Hannoy at the Atlantic Acting School in New York City. As they both started acting, says Stadler, they “spent many evenings commiserating over wine and take-out about the incredible shortage of interesting, non-clichéd female characters out there for us as actors.” Rather than wait for such roles to appear, Stadler and Hannoy decided to take matters into their own hands, and began work on producing Hannoy’s screenplay for When We Grow Up.

It didn’t take long for Hannoy to decide to film the movie with an all-female crew. Both producers had “been on many film sets that were run almost exclusively by men,” an unfortunate reality that many people outside of the business don’t know about.

Indeed, says Stadler “the closest thing [they’ve] gotten to a negative reaction” when they tell people about the film is “just people not understanding why we would want an all-female crew. It’s easy to see the gender disparity with actors on-screen because you literally see them, but when it comes to the work behind the camera, a lot of people are unaware of how male-dominant the field is.”

Stadler dreams of a future where  “having women as leaders of the team won’t be viewed as a political statement, but just be something normal and unremarkable. Wouldn’t it be great if people saw what we were doing and were like… ‘Um… yeah, is something strange about that?’”

Combatting gender disparities in Hollywood is, in large part, dependent on money says Stadler.  “I firmly believe that Hollywood is not going to change until we, as the consumers, show them that films and shows like Moonlight and Transparent can actually make them money. It’s a sad truth that money talks, so we need to put our money where our mouth is a support films written/directed/produced by underrepresented groups.” The immense financial success of recent films like Get Out (which recently became the first debut film by a black director to gross $100 million) and Hidden Figures help to show how hungry America is for diverse stories, but Hollywood has been historically slow in learning from such examples.

Speaking of money, films cost a lot to make, and Stadler and Hannoy have spent the last year fundraising through donations on the website Indiegogo to reach their extremely modest (in the world of film) $35,000 goal. They are about $5,000 dollars short of that, but they hope to make up the difference at a silent auction in June. In the meantime, they’re about to begin interviewing directors and  assembling their crew. In an interview with Beloit College’s Terrarium, Stadler said that “finding talented, hardworking female-identifying filmmakers has been the least of [their] challenges.”

You can go to www.whenwegrowupfilm.com to learn more about the production, about the creators and find information about contributing to Stadler and Hannoy’s $35,000 fundraising goal.

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