Directed by Women: A global viewing party 

click to enlarge Barbara Ann O'Leary
  • Barbara Ann O'Leary
Barbara Ann O'Leary isn't starting small. She's the Bloomington-based "catalyst" behind a project called Directed by Women, which aims to coordinate a "worldwide film viewing party" and celebration of women filmmakers, to take place Sept. 1-15, 2015, on the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Women. As O'Leary explains below, the project is still in the funding phase (on Seed and Spark), with more than 25 percent of its initial $20k already raised. And now we'll make way for the Q&A, with thanks to O'Leary for her substantial and substantive replies. 

NUVO: How'd this idea come about?

I love film and have a voracious appetite for movies, but there are more films than I can personally watch no matter how hard I try. Last year I was thinking about ways to make more conscious choices about which films get my attention, so I came up with the idea of balancing out my film viewing by watching an even number of films directed by women and by men.

Every day I watched at least one short film and one feature film from the past decade: 2003 onward. To help me keep an eye out for interesting films by women directors, since they are not as easy to come across at the local multiplex and on streaming sites as films directed by men, I started a list for myself on IMDb called Women Film Directors: Active in the past decade. Whenever I happened to notice the name of a woman director not yet on the list I added her.

The list just kept growing. At the moment there are 5,362 women directors on the list with new additions almost every day. By the time the list had a few thousand directors on it I'd started to become really curious about all these films and why many of the films and filmmakers were unknown to me even though I was familiar with quite a large number of women filmmakers.

I also was really curious about why so much press about women filmmakers gives the impression that there are hardly any women making movies, when in fact there are thousands. I'm sure my list barely scratches the surface. I thought... we need something to bring the world's attention to films #DirectedbyWomen!

NUVO: Why do this on a worldwide scale instead of, say, a Bloomington Women's Film Fest?

I enjoy film festivals and appreciate that there are so many of them, but they're a completely different experience than the one I'm inviting people to with #DirectedbyWomen. I'm looking for something that as many people can engage in together as possible from wherever they are. And I'm looking to invite people to expand their awareness of films but make their own choices about what to screen/stream for themselves or in their communities.

A few things came together for me to formulate this idea. One was my awareness that no matter how rapidly I watched I wouldn't have time myself to see all these films and, of course, I'm hoping that opportunities for women to make more films continues to expand and that would make it even more unlikely that I could personally enjoy and celebrate the work of these filmmakers. I couldn't do it myself, but together we can... together film lovers from around the world can see just how many films #DirectedbyWomen we could watch in a concentrated period of time.

Another was my desire to help raise global awareness about the existence of these films and their makers in a fun, lowkey, Do-It-Yourself way. I started to see individuals and groups having house parties and family movie nights focused on films #DirectedbyWomen. Or just watching films on their own. I think of those as Solo Celebrations. And I could imagine people approaching their local cinemas and community centers to organize what I started to think of as Film Viewing Parties.

Of course, each film viewing party would only include one or a small number of movies, but if we had film lovers all over the world creating their own parties and sharing about their film choices, we could all enjoy and learn about a lot of films vicariously in a jubilant way. And awaken the world's curiosity about these films and filmmakers that have been flying under the radar or working on the margins of popular awareness.

I was also aware of how often people who do not live in major cultural centers feel left out of film celebrations. #DirectedbyWomen's decentralized structure makes the epicenter of the global party wherever YOU are.

When I was thinking about timing, it occurred to me that this would be something that would fit in nicely as a way to honor the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Women that took place in Beijing in 1995, a conference where I was actively involved in work to support women's expression through media. So I chose the first 15 days in September 2015. Half a month seemed a good amount of time to allow people to find opportunities in their schedules to do something large or small to participate. And I thought we'd better get started organizing well in advance so people would have time to find out about films #DirectedbyWomen that they might want to screen in their film viewing parties and to arrange with cinemas and other screening venues before their schedules filled up.

The key to this event is to create one highly distributed experience that is locally organized but interacts with the wider community. The potential is enormous to mobilize thousands - tens of thousands - of film viewing parties and shift people's understanding about women filmmakers and their work in a really fun, relaxed way. That's the vision and people are responding to it.

We're crowdfunding right now to make it possible to extend the invitation to as many people as possible, to share information about films #DirectedbyWomen, and provide resilient, easy to engage processes online for people to find out about events others are organizing and tell about their own. And to help women filmmakers get involved so film lovers can appreciate and thank them for the work they do. Under two weeks left in the campaign, which is happening on Seed&Spark, an innovative hybrid crowdfunding and film streaming platform dedicated to supporting independent filmmaking.

I'm really thrilled that the staff at Seed&Spark invited me to crowdfund this project there. It's a curated space, so they're choosing to include this film supportive celebration was a real honor. Emily Best, founder of Seed&Spark, was named by Indiewire as one of the top 40 Industry Influences a while back. She's a dynamo. It's a real thrill to be working with her and her team. I'm even more excited that this week they named #DirectedbyWomen as one of their Staff Picks! Readers, who think this project sounds fun, can come to the campaign to follow or back it. And they can even use Seed&Spark's cool feature that let's people LOAN their time, talent, or things instead of money. And that will help us get to our goal as well.

We need to get the project greenlit or we don't get any of the money people have been contributing already. We've gotten a good start, but we won't make it if people don't help out. Hope this idea seems fun and lots of women and men will say YES to the global celebration. We'd love to have as many people feeling like this is their party as possible.

NUVO: Sorry if this one sounds like a job interview question, but what's your background in film and how has it prepared you for this project?

I've been a lover of film all my life. My background is in theatre and drama. I stage managed professionally for many years. Later I worked with Former Congresswoman Bella Abzug organizing women globally to impact UN processes to ensure that women's voices were included in critical UN Conferences like the Earth Summit and the UN Conference on Women. In the mid-1990s I founded Virtual Sisterhood, a global women's network engaged in strategy building around use of the world wide web, sound, and other online technologies, which were newly emerging at that time.

Currently I work for Indiana University Cinema in Bloomington supporting their film screening and guest filmmaker programs by sharing about them through social media. The opportunity I've had through IU Cinema to meet filmmakers - women and men - from all around the world has inspired me to do more to help creative filmmakers thrive and have their work seen by as many people as possible. The emphasis on women film directors in this project is designed to foster greater balance. I'm a big fan of women and men filmmakers!

I'm an active member of Indiana Filmmakers Network. I've facilitated programming of a local filmmaker series that took place at IU Cinema. I served on the Indianapolis International Film Festival's World Cinema Jury this year and was on their Documentary Screening Committee last year. I also facilitated a Bloomington Screenwriting Community Group for a number of years.

NUVO: Any surprises along the way since you launched the campaign? Have you heard any ideas from funders that you'll try to incorporate into the concept?

Good question. It's probably still too early for me to have fully processed the experience, which I just in late May and launched a crowdfunding campaign 2 weeks ago, so the word is just getting out. This isn't really a surprise but it is a delight that film lovers from around the planet are already hearing about it and expressing interest. Wellywood Woman, a blog about women filmmakers that's based in New Zealand, interviewed me about the project. A friend's mom who lives in The Bahamas is already at work on plans to engage the local cinema owner to be part of the project. That's what's been great. Men and women hearing about the idea and thinking about how they want to make it their own.

The great thing about #DirectedbyWomen is that it is structured to make room for people who want to participate to create events that match their own interests and needs. The only guidelines I see as non-negotiable are the intention to celebrate and honor films (or TV shows/web series/etc) #DirectedbyWomen (or girls) and to respect their intellectual property rights.

I'm particularly excited by the number of women filmmakers I've heard from who are really excited about this idea. It's an honor to play a role in helping their work reach wider audiences and give them greater opportunities to flourish creatively.

NUVO: Why do we need a program like this?

I think we need #DirectedbyWomen for a few reasons. I think my favorite reason is just so film lovers get a chance to find out about and experience films they might not know about otherwise, truly amazing films. I think it will also be great for women filmmakers - particularly the many whose films are not well known outside the film festival circuit - to have their work more widely recognized. I think that would enhance their opportunities to take on new film projects, which would be great. And then there's my other favorite reason: it will be FUN for film lovers to dive in to planning their own events knowing that they're part of a global movement to acknowledge and appreciate the films of talented creative women filmmakers.

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