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 Kathryn O’Kane
Jessie Maple is a filmmaker. She’s also a director, editor, producer, writer, cinematographer, and pioneer.
Maple is the first black woman to join the union of International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television (IATSE) in New York. Her book, How to Become a Union Camerawoman, is an instructional guide illustrating the obstacles that she endured to get into the union. It details the court case she initiated to fight discrimination after she became a member.
It’s also insight into Maple’s MO. When she wanted to make films to counter negative representation of African Americans in movies, she left her job as a lab bacteriologist and took filmmaking classes at WNET and Third World Cinema. She and her husband started a production company. Her film Will (1981) about a basketball coach trying to kick a drug habit was one of the first feature-length films by a black woman in the post-civil rights era. Needing a venue to premiere the film, she founded 20 West, Home of Black Cinema in Harlem as a venue to show films by independent and black filmmakers to the public.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Maple said, “You can’t stop progress. You can hold it up for a minute, but you can’t stop it. Some people have asked, aren’t you angry that you had to go through all that? And I said no, I made money, and I had fun. So why would I be angry? You don’t get anything unless you pay a price for it.”
Will was restored and preserved by NYWIFT’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund.
NYWIFT Member Panayiota Pagoulatos shares memories from her trip to Cannes 2022 - her first time back on a plane since 2019! She met with WIFTI leaders from all over the world and shared this sage advice: "If you find yourself at an international market or film festival—whether it’s the first or the fiftieth time—look for your people. Whether a business partnership comes out of it or not, staying connected, sharing your experiences, and hopefully learning a thing or two, that’s the pulse that will help keep you going in this tough-as-nails industry."READ MORE
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
Signe Baumane’s "My Love Affair With Marriage" is a brilliant animated film for a decidedly adult audience. It’s a semi-autobiographical musical exploration of love, sex, romance, and gender as viewed through the lens of neurochemistry – not your average animated love story! New York Women in Film & Television was proud to present Baumane with a NYWIFT Ravenal Foundation Feature Film Grant for the film, and even prouder to then see it premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Festival! We sat down with Signe to discuss her wildly inventive, intelligent, and very fun film.READ MORE