In honor of Women’s History Month, NYWIFT looks back at some of the remarkable women who have shaped the film, television and digital media industries through the decades.
By Mellini Kantayya
Sandra Osawa is a director, producer, and writer. She is a member of the Makah Nation of Washington State.
One could argue that news coverage of Native American issues is still vastly lacking today. Thus, Sandra Osawa was a true ground-breaker in 1974 by directing, producing, and writing NBC’s first news program on Native American issues. She later also became the first Native American filmmaker to produce a POV program for PBS, Lighting the 7th Fire.
Lighting the 7th Fire (1995, PBS)
“I jumped into the film world early,” Osawa said. “At a time when no other Indians were producing. I did so mainly because the images I saw of Indian people in everyday life and the images I saw on the screen were so vastly different. I also thought it was difficult for us to achieve the political victories we sought in the 60’s and 70’s because our image in the media was so poor. I thought American Indians should be portrayed as contemporary figures with a vibrant culture, full of humor and strength, and with our own inspiring role models.”
Cynthia Lowen’s latest documentary "Battleground" offers an eye-opening window into the anti-choice movement, featuring three women from varying walks of life who have dedicated themselves to rendering abortion illegal. Per the Tribeca website: “Told with restraint and balance, director Cynthia Lowen seeks to clarify rather than condemn, and presents a new point of entry for this challenging topic.” While the film itself clearly aligns with progressive pro-choice advocates (who also appear throughout) it offers a fascinating perspective on the sheer systemic power of the anti-abortion movement and the perilous future, felt painfully today, of Roe v. Wade. "Battleground" was Executive Produced by NYWIFT member Ruth Ann Harnisch and co-produced by member Steffie van Rhee, who sat down with us to discuss the premiere and how this film – from this particular perspective – came to fruition.READ MORE
Violet Du Feng’s "Hidden Letters" tells the story of Chinese women trying to balance their lives as independent women in modern China while confronting the traditional identity that defines but also oppresses them. Connected through their love for Nushu—a centuries-old secret text shared amongst women—each of them transforms through a pivotal period of their lives and takes a step closer to becoming the individuals they know they can be. Hot off her 2022 Tribeca Festival premiere, Director Violet Du Feng, an Emmy-award winning documentarian, spoke to us about Nushu, modern-day China, women’s equality, and her filmmaking process.READ MORE
We kick off our Tribeca coverage with a conversation with Cara Cusumano, Festival Director and VP of Programming! Cara previews exciting changes to this year's festival - including a new name! - as well as some special appearances and events.READ MORE
An alarmingly disproportionate number of Black women are failed every year by the U.S. maternal health system – and it is a crisis that has been largely ignored thus far. In the Sundance 2022 documentary Aftershock, Directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee follow the bereaved partners of two of these women as they fight for justice and build communities of support, bonding especially with other surviving Black fathers. The story is presented within the historical context of racism throughout the U.S. healthcare system, and the deadly tendency to ignore or minimize Black women’s pain and concerns.
NYWIFT Member Paula Eiselt spoke to us about how she and Lewis Lee approached this harrowing topic, and why community activists are the natural heroes of her creative work.