Film Fatales

From L to R: Melody Gilbert, Kelly Nathe, Jan Selby, Maribeth Romslo, Jennifer Kramer, Dawn Mikkelson, Norah Shapiro, Melissa Butts, Larkin McPhee, Keri Pickett. Not pictured: Barbara Allen, Lisa Blackstone, Pam Colby, Liza Davitch, Joanna Kohler, Maya Washington (photo Keri Pickett)

Cinema has always called me, but it took many years for me to listen. My grandpa had a Polaroid and he made a lot of pictures, detailing the who, what, and where in tidy penmanship on the back. In college, I took a Film 101 class and used a wind-up 8mm camera to make short films. After graduation, I began my career as a photojournalist. 

In 2006, I embarked on the creation of my first documentary feature. “The Fabulous Ice Age” took me eight years to produce. Becoming a filmmaker later in my career meant that I was learning all my firsts in a crash course. A 100-year history was hard to tell in 72 minutes. After working with two editors, and over many years, I learned a lot. 

I met filmmaker Melody Gilbert at an event early in my transition from photographer to filmmaker. She cheered me onward in this first film process. When she later told me she was gathering 15 women filmmakers together, I wanted to join. If I had the opportunity to be with supportive women during that first film, I would have felt more free to confess my lack of experience and would have found my way sooner. 

The night of our first meeting was magical. We sat on a roof overlooking the Minneapolis skyline with food and drinks to discuss our filmmaking obstacles and successes. We set our intention to support one another personally and professionally. We surrounded ourselves in a cloak of support — a union of sorts. It was a place of safety to share information, ideas, and dreams, and to plan ways of mentoring. 

The Minnesota chapter of the Film Fatales was founded in 2017 by Gilbert and Kelly Nathe. Film Fatales is an international network founded by Leah Meyerhoff. Much like our own chapter, the organization started around a dinner table in New York, where Meyerhoff and her friends would gather to talk about their industry and to listen and support one another. It has expanded to become a powerful network of women nationally and internationally. 

Each Film Fatales meeting is different based on the needs of the members. We always start with a check-in focusing on our most important task, challenge, struggle, or success. Then we help one another brainstorm by sharing opinions or contacts. Sometimes we show clips of our works in progress and help problem-solve. 

Our perspective as women means that we are able to be open and vulnerable with one another. We all share a desire to create meaningful work that brings awareness, information, entertainment, or inspiration. 

We all want to bring our films to a larger audience, have our voices heard, and to have the same economic support as men. We want fairness and parity in our industry. We want to empower young women in filmmaking. 

Women comprise such a small number of the directors in America. Having the support of the Film Fatales gives us an umbrella to stand under. It provides support with practical things like project development, discounts on film festival submissions, and a national organization that helps to spread the word about our films. 

This practical help is important, but the emotional support of being in a group makes me feel empowered. Many women have expressed frustration at facing #MeToo moments in their careers. Although that is not a huge focus in our group, we can help one another to stay strong in the face of a system that was built by men and still favors men. 

Our Minnesota group has strengthened us, and partnerships have formed. Soon after our first meeting in 2016, I hosted director Dawn Mikkelson so she could catch an early flight. Two years later, she started planning a documentary about women in taiko arts called HERbeat. Her desire to have an all-women crew prompted her to ask me to be co-director and director of photography. I never imagined at that first meeting that we would one day make a feature film together. 

The second documentary film of Keri Pickett (she/her) was “First Daughter and the Black Snake,” which follows Winona LaDuke and community efforts to keep big oil out of tribal wild rice territory. 

Newer Member Maya Washington 

Fellow Film Fatales member Maribeth Romslo cast me as an actor in her conceptual project, “Kitchen Dance.” The experience has motivated me to take on more conceptual and lyrical projects as a filmmaker. 

The women in our local Film Fatales chapter are all doing important work and bringing different perspectives to the table. I am able to create from my own unique voice as a woman of color. 

I am grateful that I have a sisterhood of supportive filmmakers who have been through the ups and downs that women and nonbinary directors face in the industry.