In honor of Women's History Month, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation has gathered a panel of distinguished filmmakers to discuss the importance of female representation in the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. We'll hear how these filmmakers go about creating female characters for the screen and the ways in which their work is breaking the traditional Hollywood mold.
After graduating from NYU, where she won a Mobile Prize for a student film called Sleeping Beauties, Kusama worked as an editor on documentary films, in production on independent film and music videos, as a nanny, and painting houses. At age 27, Kusama wrote and directed her debut feature, Girlfight. The film was released in 2000 and won the Director's Prize and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2005, Kusama directed her second film, Æon Flux, a Paramount Pictures studio production that starred Charlize Theron. Kusama went on to direct the film Jennifer's Body, written by Diablo Cody followed by The Invitation, a horror movie written by Kusama's husband Phil Hay and his writing partner, Matt Manfredi and starring Logan Marshall-Green. It premiered at the 2015 SXSW Festival to great acclaim.
Kusama has worked in TV as a director on shows like Man in the High Castle, Casual, and Billions. Kusama recently directed a segment of an all female directed anthology horror film called XX, which recently premiered at Sundance.
Zoe Lister-Jones is an actor, director, writer, and producer who is currently starring in CBS’s Life in Pieces, and she recently co-starred in Confirmation for HBO. As a writer/producer/actor, her previous credits include Breaking Upwards (IFC), Lola Versus (Fox Searchlight), and Consumed (MarVista Entertainment). Band Aid, which she also wrote, produced, and stars in—under the banner of her production company, Mister Lister Films—marks Lister-Jones's directorial debut. The film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
A native of Tupelo, Mississippi, Tina Mabry is an alumna of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts graduate film program where she graduated in 2005. While participating in Film Independent's (FIND) Project: Involve, Tina finished developing and writing her short film, Brooklyn's Bridge to Jordan, which she went on to direct. The film screened at more than fifty film festivals worldwide and won multiple Jury and Audience Awards as well as an award for Best Director. Shortly after graduating from USC, Tina co-wrote the feature screenplay Itty Bitty Titty Committee, which was directed by Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader). The film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival (2007) and won Best Feature Narrative at the South by Southwest Film Festival (2007). In 2008, Tina participated in the FIND's Directors Lab with her feature film, Mississippi Damned; the film was later awarded the Kodak Film Grant. While playing on the festival circuit, Mississippi Damned garnered an impressive thirteen awards from participation in fifteen film festivals including awards for Best Feature Film and Best Screenplay at the Chicago International Film Festival (2009).
Tina was named among the "25 New Faces of Independent Film" in Filmmaker Magazine in July of 2009 and was recognized by Out Magazine as one of the most inspirational and outstanding people of 2009. In February 2013, Tina was a fellow in the Sundance Institute's Screenwriters Intensive. Tina is a producer, writer, and director for OWN's series, Queen Sugar created by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey.
Meera Menon is a writer, director, and editor. In 2013, her feature directorial debut, Farah Goes Bang, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; as the film's co-writer/director, Meera was awarded the inaugural Nora Ephron Prize for a groundbreaking woman filmmaker by Tribeca and Vogue. That year, she was also showcased as one of Glamour Magazine's "35 women under 35 running Hollywood." More recently, she was selected to be a fellow at 20th Century Fox's Global Directors Initiative. Her second feature, a female driven Wall Street drama titled Equity, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.
She received her BA in English and Art History from Columbia University, and her MFA from USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Meera's father, Vijayan Menon, is a film producer and founder of Tara Arts, which has served as a cultural ambassador to members of the Indian diaspora for over thirty years, showcasing various musical and cinema artists from South India. As a result, Meera grew up in the South Asian film industry and won a national television award in India for her performance on the hit TV show "American Dreams" when she was 18. In addition to her filmmaking career, Meera has worked as a curator for contemporary film and video art festivals in Paris, Miami, and New York; in 2008, she curated an exhibition of over 100 independent artists at New York's legendary Chelsea Hotel.
Moderator - Roya Rastegar
Roya is the Director of Programming of the Los Angeles Film Festival, produced by Film Independent. She has also worked at the Sundance Film Festival since 2006, currently a Programming Associate for US fiction films and virtual reality content for New Frontier. After several years in corporate finance as an investment banking analyst for Merrill Lynch and UBS Warburg, she pursued her doctorate at the History of Consciousness from the University of California, Santa Cruz under the guidance of Angela Y. Davis. Roya is currently working on a book about the racial and gendered stakes in independent film, festivals and live experiences, and curatorial practice. Roya has published critical articles on American film culture, race, gender, and aesthetics for popular press (The Nation, Feminist Wire, and The Huffington Post) as well as for peer-reviewed academic journals (Screen, American Quarterly, Camera Obscura). Prior to joining Film Independent, Rastegar was a professor in the History of Art Department, at Bryn Mawr College. In 2013, Roya was awarded a Creative Capital grant in the Emerging Art Fields. She collaborative wrote "Wildness" (2012), a magical realist documentary that premiered at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight Festival, won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Outfest, and has gained critical acclaim at festivals across the Americas, including South by Southwest Film Festival. Rastegar has curated within both film and art contexts, as a Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program (2008-09) and part of the programming teams of the Tribeca and Sundance film festivals.
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