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 Sascha Just directed and produced Ellis, the first feature-length documentary about the late legendary New Orleans pianist and educator, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Marsalis composed and performed major works of modern jazz infused with a uniquely New Orleans touch. Just spoke to us about all the ways in which jazz has influenced her work, getting to know a creative legend, and her DOC NYC premiere.READ MORE
In the documentary short The House of LaBeija, directed and produced by NYWIFT member Fredgy Noël, we meet the eponymous prominent ballroom family and safe haven for transgender women, queer people, and those in need of community. Over the course of 10 minutes, several members of the house dance, vogue, and celebrate their identities across a strikingly glamorous mansion that seems to be an embodiment of their safe harbor. Fredgy Noël spoke to us about ballroom culture, creative inspirations, and what’s next on her horizon.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Jill Woodward edited the documentary 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture, which won the Audience Award at DOC NYC 2022. In this deeply personal tale, a gay seminary scholar and a straight activist, seeking to uncover the origins of the rabid homophobia of the conservative church, make a shocking discovery: an erroneous translation of the term “homosexual” in the Bible in 1946 that has been weaponized against the LGBTQIA+ community ever since. Woodward spoke to us about the editing process, what she learned along the way, and which types of projects excite her the most.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Panayiota Pagoulatos returned to Cannes a second time this year to attend MIPCOM, where she was pleased to find celebrations of women and diversity in entertainment, and to preview several exciting new TV series.READ MORE