SFF IMPACT AWARD SPOTLIGHT: DEBRA ZIMMERMAN Executive Director of Women Make Movies!
Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director of Women Make Movies is the recipient of the SFF 2012 IMPACT AWARD, which will be presented by UN Women US National Committee Board Member Carol Poteat Buchanan at the Filmmaker Tribute, Saturday, April 21st at 6:00 PM at the Sarasota Opera House. And as part of our SFF&SCF program, Debra will appear as a panelist in our free In Conversation with Women in Film. This panel discussion will be held Friday, April 20 at 5:30 PM at the Neel Performing Arts Center on the campus of The State College of Florida.
Zimmerman tells us, "Women Make Movies is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year and we are excited to be partnering again with the Sarasota Film Festival and Through Women's Eyes on such great programming and with the Side by Side mentorship program. This program is one of 40 worldwide events spanning the globe that will celebrate the organization's work in transforming the landscape for independent women's films and filmmakers."
Would you like an A-Z for Women Make Movies and recommendations of five great films SFF 2012 is showing in honor of WMM and Debra's achievements? Well, then, you've come to the right place!
THE INSIDER: When was Women Make Movies founded?
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: 1972.
THE INSIDER: Why was it established?
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: WMM was founded by Ariel Dougherty and Sheila Page in 1972 with a very specific mission: to put cameras into the hands of women who wanted to learn how to make films. Back then, very few women had the skills to make films and access to 16mm film equipment was very expensive. Remember, this was before the time of video and inexpensive portable cameras! The organization was based in Chelsea, which was a Hispanic working class neighborhood and they held weekly workshops in a church basement. They put up signs in laundromats and groceries stores advertising free workshops for women to learn how to make films. Eventually more than 40 short films were made.
THE INSIDER: How long have you been with Women Make Movies?
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: I've been with the organization in one capacity or another since 1978. I came to WMM as an intern — it actually took me three months of riding my bicycle down 19th St (where the office was located) before I had the nerve to knock on the door and say, "I want to be an intern". After six months or so I was hired as an Associate Producer on a documentary about battered women. After a year I left because I wanted to continue pursuing production work but I came back to the organization in 1983 when, due to government funding cuts, the organization was about to close. Lydia Dean Pilcher, who was an NYU grad student (and now the very successful producer of Mira Nair's films, among others) and I volunteered to come in during the evenings to keep the organization going. Soon afterwards I was hired as the Director.
THE INSIDER: Please describe your role with the organization and WMM's ongoing objectives.
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: When I came to the organization we made a very difficult decision: to switch the focus of WMM from production to distribution. By that time there were many women who had the skills to make films but their films weren't getting out into the world. In the 1970's the women at WMM had made a very successful film called HEALTHCARING: FROM OUR END OF THE SPECULUM — it was sort of a film version of OUR BODIES, OURSELVES. Even though it had won a Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival (the most important educational film festival of its time) no distributor would acquire the film. So we did it ourselves. Other women came to us saying they also had films they wanted us to distribute. That's how the distribution program started. So in 1983, even though we had no staff and no funding, there were still people requesting the films we distributed. We refocused the organization around distribution and that still remains our focus.
We currently distribute more than 550 films by women directors from all around the world. However, we always wanted to continue helping women to get their films made and in the 80's we launched a new Production Assistance Program which continues to this day. We have helped almost 1,000 films by women directors get made — from concept to completion!
THE INSIDER: What are some of WMM's achievements that you would most like our audience to know about?
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: WMM is very committed to both the filmmakers whose films we distribute and help to get produced as well as the audiences who want and need to see the completed films. Each year we return between $200,000 and $300,000 in royalties to filmmakers whose films we distribute and in the last year we helped women filmmakers raise more than $3,000,000 in financing for their films — from government and foundations as well as individual donors and crowd sourcing. We are really proud of this! We've been around for 40 years so there's lots to be proud of.
In the 1980s we organized PUNTO DE VISTA: LATINA (POINT OF VIEW:LATINA) the first touring exhibition of films by and about Latinas and VIEWPOINTS a conference which brought together more then 700 women filmmakers, photographers, scholars and programmers. In the 1990's we had a six week retrospective of our films at NY's MoMA in honor of our 25th Anniversary and co-sponsored of the first conference on Women and Multimedia with the Museum of Women in the Arts in NY.
In 2001 in response to 9/11, we launched a Response to Hate campaign which made our extensive collection of films by and about Muslim women available to any community, cultural or educational organization free of charge to use for discussion and education. We also launched a successful broadcast initiative to insure that films by and about women were widely available on American television — since then we've had more than 100 films broadcast on such channels as HBO, Sundance, Discovery, the History Channel, CNBC and of course public television. We also worked with women's groups in Turkey, Taiwan, Chile, Bosnia and many other countries to help them start women's film festivals.
Finally, in the last 6 years we have had at least one film win a prize at the Sundance Film Festival or be nominated or win an Academy Award!
THE INSIDER: Please talk about the following five films. Tell us why you feel each film is essential viewing for SFF audiences.
JUSTICE FOR SALE
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: This is the third film in a trilogy about the crisis of rape being used as a weapon of war in the Congo by Ilse and Femke van Velzen, amazing Dutch filmmakers who have devoted the last 6-8 years of their lives to this issue. JUSTICE FOR SALE follows Claudine, a young and courageous human rights lawyer, in her struggle against injustice and widespread impunity in Congo. She investigates the case of Masamba, a soldier who was convicted of rape, and discovers that his trial was corrupt and unfair. In Claudine’s journey to obtain justice, she uncovers a system where the basic principles of law are virtually ignored.
ORCHIDS: MY INTERSEX ADVENTURE
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: A courageous and charming personal film made by a young Gen X Australian filmmaker who always knew she was different growing up – but she didn’t know why. Phoebe Hart’s voyage of self-discovery as an intersex person, what we used to call “hermaphroditism,” is funny and heartwarming and it’s really one of the first films to look at intersex from a positive perspective.
POETRY OF RESILIENCE
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: Katja Esson, the filmmaker, was nominated for an Academy® Award for her earlier film, FERRY TALES. POETRY OF RESILIENCE is a moving and uplifting look at the power of poetry to heal and to remember in the face of genocide. Poets who have witnessed firsthand the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, Hiroshima, the Cultural Revolution in China and more, come together to share their pain and their hope through the power of words.
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: SCARLET ROAD had a great reception when it premiered at SXSW. The film profiles an amazing sex worker from New South Wales in Australia, where prostitution is legal and her clients are primarily disabled. Through her graduate studies and her non-profit group Touching Base, Rachel both fights for the rights of sex workers and promotes awareness and access to sexual expression for the disabled through sex work — and brings together these two often marginalized groups. One client even gained back lost movement and sensation from his time spent with her!
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: WATER CHILDREN is a beautiful, dreamlike film by critically acclaimed Dutch filmmaker Aliona van der Horst about the Japanese artist Tomoko Mukiyama, who creates an amazing installation out of 12,000 white dresses, signifying the cycle of life. She does so in rural Japan and invites in members of the community, many of whom have never seen art before, to explore the work and discuss their own experiences.
THE INSIDER: What else would you like to tell our readers?
DEBRA ZIMMERMAN: We are really excited to be at the Sarasota Film Festival again — and I am thrilled to be accepting the Impact Award on behalf of the organization! This celebration at Sarasota is part of 40 events we are holding around the world in 40 cities from March 2012-March 2013 to celebrate the 40th Anniversary. WMM @ 40 began March in a month of programming on the Documentary Channel and we are working with all kinds of film festivals, cultural centers and museums around the world to celebrate — including two retrospectives of our filmmakers' films at NY's MoMA. We have had or will have screenings of our fims in Sweden, Sierra Leone, Spain — and many other places that dont begin with the letter "s" like the Czech Republic, Bolivia, Iceland, Turkey, England and Taiwan, to name a few!
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