Nine fascinating creators make up this year’s SBIFF Women’s Panel
From short docs made by 26-year-olds to experienced producers of big budget hits, the Women’s Panel on Sunday morning at the Lobero Theatre presented a dynamic spectrum of filmmakers at this always popular event at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The panel was helmed as usual by Madelyn Hammond, who brought a stack of question cards and a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure. She welcomed nine women to talk about how they got into the business and explored their varying crafts.
The panelists were Nina Hartstone, sound editor for “Bohemian Rhapsody”; Hannah Beachler, production designer for “Black Panther”; Louise Bagnall, writer and director of the short animated film “Late Afternoon”; Lynette Howell, producer of “A Star Is Born”; Rayka Zahtabchi, director of the short documentary “Period. End of Sentence”; Betsy West, director of “RBG”; Ai-Ling Lee, sound editor of “First Man”; Domee Shi, director of the Pixar short “Bao”; and Marina de Tayira, the co-star of “Roma”.
Years of the producer’s panel the day before has introduced many to the idea that among producers in Hollywood at least, women are strong. That’s may be why more of the below-the-line jobs got representation this year, and it was true that in departments like sound, women are under-represented.
Nina Hartstone spoke of making her way up through the ranks in London’s Pinewood Studios, where at first all she was expected to do was fetch tea for the men, many of whom were nervous to even have a women working near them.
But her youth turned out to be her advantage when digital workstations came in, and she took to it fast (though still doing a lot of her learning in after hours). She spent some time explaining how she pieced together the Live Aid sequence in “Bohemian Rhapsody” from archival audio, Queen’s music, recordings with hundreds of extras called on to sing along to old footage, and even cutting in star Rami Malek’s breaths and lip sounds around Freddie Mercury’s singing voice.
Ai-Ling Lee nodded enthusiastically. As both sound designer and sound editor for “First Man,” she knows the exacting level of detail that happens in the studio.
“Sound editing is like being a set designer,” she explained. “You are creating the world of the movie. And sound mixing is like being the cinematographer, figuring out where to focus.”
But for all the loud sounds in the Neil Armstrong biopic, it was the moon landing’s use of silence that she talked about the most. Originally fromSingapore, she is the first Asian woman to be nominated in the sound categories.
At 26, Rayka Zahtabchi was the youngest on the panel. Her documentary shows how a village in India starts up a business making sanitary napkins for the women there, a luxury both economically and socially the West takes for granted. But if she was young, her original producers were younger: members of a high school group that started the charity to help buy such a machine.
Hannah Beachler spoke about the breadth of the world-building she did to create the fictional African utopia of Wakanda for “Black Panther.”
Before she landed the job she had created a 400-page “bible” of sketches and drawings; afterwards she drew 500 more, made from trekking South Africa from Capetown to Ladysmith and back four times.
She also left a lot of herself in the architecture, she said, pointing out that the large domes of Wakanda’s city are “record halls” so residents would never forget their history.
Betsy West, with more than 20 news Emmy awards to her credit and years working on “60 Minutes” and similar programs, talked about the way she and her producing partner coerced Justice Ginsburg into an interview.
Justice Ginsberg told them they would have to wait two years to get the interview, but she helped give them a list of people to talk to in the meantime. What they realized was that Justice Ginsburg was helping them.
“She’s a great producer,” Ms. West said. By the time they sat down with her, “we knew exactly what to ask her.”
With the “Four Percent Challenge”— which called on studios to commit to hiring more female directors — two years on, a few of the panelists surveyed the landscape. Ms. West hired women for a majority of the key roles. And Lynett Howell also has hired diverse and inclusive cast and crew since one of her earliest films, “Half Nelson.”
“As producers we have such an incredible responsibility to do everything we can to make sure there’s diversity in stories, because that’s what audiences want,” she said. “I’m going to make my own pledge to work with female creators and make sure there is gender parity in everything that I do. … It’s about making sure that when you are in the position and have the ability to hire you have a responsibility to hire equally.”