By Heidi Philipsen
I’ve been a producer of creative content for about twenty years. And as a Women in Film & Television activist and member of several chapters, both Stateside in New York (NYWIFT and UPWIFT, the chapter I founded in upstate New York) and abroad in Germany I’ve also mentored many other women looking to break into film.
Each and every individual whom I’ve mentored has been special—and I’m proud of them all in what they have achieved; however, one mentee and her achievement in particular stands out for me. Her name is Sophie Meissner and her achievement is a short film called, Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea!
On June 26th at 4 p.m. Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! – a film about a 14-year-old teen who learns to trust in her own inner joy and be fierce after facing challenges as the outsider at her new school in Germany – is set to screen live at the Queens Theater as a part of the official Queens World Film Festival program entitled, “What’s So Hard About Growing Up?”
There are many coming-of-age films about female teens’ experiences in the independent film world these days. Many of them, though intent on telling a narrative about the female experience and perspective, are directed by adults. What makes Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! unique is that it was written, directed, acted and its music composed by a teen and based upon her own, personal experience, providing the opportunity for us all to see the world directly, unabashedly through her eyes.
In other words, Sophie is an emerging woman in film, learning to own her creative space, identity and story, early on.
Sophie Meissner wrote Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! at the age of 14 after moving from Michigan to Germany. The “new kid” in a foreign school, where even the language felt raw, Sophie took to writing in her native tongue, English, to express herself in a safe space.
“I needed an outlet to convey how I was feeling about everything: Being the new kid at school, not fitting in a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language (even my American accent brought on teasing), and dealing with a lot of painful stuff,” Sophie, now 16, recalls.
This is where I came in and decided to mentor Sophie in making a short film.
Sophie brought a short scene to me one day and said she had scribbled it out during her German high school chemistry class. I read it and was immediately drawn to the clarity of the piece’s voice and narrative: A teenager, not yet a woman, but also no longer a girl, was trying to sort out her place in life for herself and not be placed in a corner by the rest of the world around her.
A representative for the Hamburg Chapter of Women in Film & Television, Germany, I reached out to some of my fellow board members and asked them if they would be willing to mentor Sophie in her time of need. But I had one caveat: Sophie could go to them for guidance, but she had to do the work herself. Junafilm Producer Verena Graft-Hofe, Actress Sandra Quadflieg and Film Composer Gudrun Lehmann agreed and set about showing Sophie the nuts and bolts of their specific areas of profession.
Meanwhile, fellow NYWIFT member and colleague, Isabella Olaguera, a respected filmmaker and 1st A.D. in the N.Y.C. indie and commercial film industry, stopped over in Hamburg on her way back from Sweden to the States. She and Sophie walked through all the locations and prepared for production.
All of these amazing film professionals came together to lift Sophie up and empower her to create a short film narrative.
D.P. Jonathan D’Ambrosio, Editor Robert Falkenberg, Color Correctionist Frank Schumacher and Brett Portzer of White Lake Music and Sound Post of Albany, New York, mentored Sophie in post. And each and every time, Sophie was empowered to make the decisions.
Sophie called the shots in her own narrative, and this made all the difference in her personal development as well. Little by little, Sophie grew in confidence, strength and courage.
Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! has had an impressive run at film festivals around the world and won many awards. Unfortunately, Covid-19 and the pandemic forced us to stay indoors, preventing Sophie from experiencing the thrill of a live screening with fellow filmmakers and audience members.
Sophie applied to the Queens World Film Festival because she was impressed by their mission and theme for this year, which focuses on Hope, Healing, Opportunities, Promote and Equity—all themes which inspired Sophie to write her film. Founded in 2010 and nurtured into existence by Queens residents/filmmakers Don and Katha Cato, the Queens World Film Festival marks the first live theatrical exhibition of Sophie’s first short film; I couldn’t be more excited for her—and proud.
I, too, grew from the experience of mentoring Sophie as a filmmaker. Giving her the tools and confidence to speak her voice showed me that empowering women to make movies is about so much more than storytelling; it’s about validation and handing women the tools to carve out their own niche. If we care about what women have to say and support their narratives, we demonstrate that they truly have a respected place in our communities.
I’ve fought, like the thousands of women before me, for equal rights and am now convinced, more than ever, that empowering women in filmmaking early on is one of the many roads to getting there. And lifting others up doesn’t mean that you give away your own opportunities. If anything, it stabilizes the foundation for a united front.
Sophie and I are looking forward to attending the screening of Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! together and we can’t wait to feel the energy of the audience around us. Above all, I hope for Sophie that she sees what a beacon of hope she has provided for teens who, like herself, have faced challenging times.
Women, like me, also need to see that our activism is making a difference. I know that I meant the world to me to experience Sophie’s first film being embraced, first, by fellow professionals in the industry and, second, by audiences around the world. I can see that we are all, collectively, changing the landscape for our future daughters.
And Sophie? Well, she actually IS my daughter. And I couldn’t be happier that she is on her way to finding her voice and having it be heard.
Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! was produced by Heidi Philipsen and is a Personae Entertainment Pictures production. www.personaeentertainmentpictures.com
Info about Queens World Film Festival can be found at:
Tickets to the LIVE screening of Sophie Meissner’s short, Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea! can be purchased online here:
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