NYWIFT at Sundance: In Conversation with Caitlin Gold

By Katie Chambers

NYWIFT member Caitlin Gold is the Co-Founder and Co-Head of Film at The 51 Fund, a private equity fund dedicated to financing narrative and documentary films directed by women. The fund’s tagline is “Films by women make more money, but Hollywood isn’t making them….” Thanks to Gold and her colleagues, that very well may change! Their most recent feature is the Australian film Shayda, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the World Dramatic Competition and won that category’s Audience Award.

Written and directed by Noora Niasari, the powerful film follows Shayda, a brave Iranian mother who fund refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her six-year-old daughter. Over Persian New Year, they take solace in Nowruz rituals and new beginnings, but when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardized. The story is based on the real experiences of Niasari and her mother in the 1990s.  

Gold is a New York based producer whose films have screened at Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca and more. She began producing in 2012 with her first feature film, Naomi McDougall Jones’ debut Imagine I’m Beautiful, released by Screen Media. With a fondness for working with emerging filmmakers, she went on to produce Julia Kots’ debut Inez & Doug & Kira and Catherine Eaton’s debut The Sounding. In 2018, she founded Tanbark Pictures, a development and production company creating artistically ambitious character-driven films while working alongside some of the industry’s most exciting new and underrepresented voices.

On behalf of The 51 Fund, she serves as an Executive Producer on Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt’s documentary feature Cusp, which premiered in competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Showtime. Next up, she is executive producing Lisa D’Apolito’s Shari Lewis documentary, Shari & Lamb Chop.

Gold spoke to us about Shayda’s path to the screen, funding work by women, and what’s next on her horizon.

NYWIFT Member Caitlin Gold



Congratulations on your Sundance 2023 premiere! What does inclusion in Sundance mean to you? 

It’s obviously an incredible honor. The first time The 51 Fund had a film at Sundance was in 2021 and due to the pandemic, we were cheated of that opportunity to enjoy it on the ground and celebrate with our team. So it feels exceedingly special to finally be there in person, and with this particular film, Shayda, at this particular moment in history when a women-led revolution is taking place in Iran. 


What inspired you to come on board to executive produce this project? 

Very simply, it was the director, Noora Niasari, and her deeply personal and profoundly moving screenplay. I’ll be honest, when the project was first shared with us, we were feverishly searching for our first narrative (we’d only done docs at that point) and I didn’t think a foreign film tackling a very difficult subject matter would be it.

But the moment I read the screenplay, I knew my surface reaction was totally wrong and that this was something uniquely special. I immediately shared the project with my colleagues who similarly wept while reading. We watched Noora’s shorts, zoomed with her and the producing team and that was it, we were sold! It was one of the quickest deals we’d done to date.


Noora Niasari, director of Shayda, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Keiran Watson-Bonnice.)


What has been your favorite moment during your work with Shayda? And the biggest challenge?  

I’m sure Noora and lead producer Vincent Sheehan could speak to more specific creative challenges, but from an executive producing and financing standpoint, it’s been our least challenging film and I totally attribute that to the team Noora built around her, including our fellow EPs at Dirty Films and our sales teams at UTA and Hanway. Everyone involved is so good at what they do and believe in Noora and this film so much that it makes our job incredibly easy.  

My favorite part by far has been finally getting to meet in person all the beautiful humans who brought Shayda to life. Sundance was the first time we were all together and it felt very special. Also seeing Noora on stage, side by side with her mom who inspired the film, was a very powerful and profound moment and one I’ll never forget. 


How did Cate Blanchett and Dirty Films get involved? (Side note – we are proud that they are also supporters of the UK edition of our own The Writers Lab for women over 40!)

Dirty Films was already on board before we came on. They became involved toward the end of development as one of the producers had worked with Cate before and sent the script their way. They read it and loved it and have been huge champions of Noora’s. Coco Francini in particular is a brilliant producer and was instrumental in getting the film across the finish line. We’re excited to do more with them in the future! 


A still from Shayda by Noora Niasari, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)


What do you hope audiences take away from the film? Especially with everything going on right now with women’s rights in Iran? 

 I think Noora said it best at the festival when she said she wants the film to be a “drop in an ocean of change.” If the movie has any part in amplifying and supporting what’s taking place in Iran, that means the world to us.


You’ve noted a fondness for working with first-time filmmakers, and it’s become a signature of your work. Shayda is no exception, as it is the stunning feature directorial debut of Noora Niasari. Why do you think you’re drawn to working with artists at the earlier stages of their creative journey? 

 I think there’s just a level of unbridled enthusiasm from first time filmmakers that really excites me and draws me in. They don’t know what they don’t know yet, and so finding filmmakers who exude both a confidence and clarity of vision but also a willingness to learn is something that brings me a lot of joy.

The thing I heard over and over from people on the ground at Sundance was “I can’t believe this is Noora’s first film!” Finding new talent that can put out that caliber of work from the get-go is really rewarding.



What is the philosophy behind The 51 Fund – and what sets you apart from other investors? 

We are very much a for-profit entity, and we’re not shy about that. We really fight for the best terms and the best returns to our investors that we can because ultimately, we want to demonstrate, with dollars, that investing in female-helmed films is not only good for humanity, it’s just smart business.

Additionally, even though for the most part we’re not producing the films we invest in, our background is as producers. This allows us to bring a lot of added value in the form of additional support/experience to our film teams whenever and wherever needed. We can be as hands off or as hands on as the situation requires.


What industry changes have you seen since The 51 Fund was founded, and what do you see for the future of women in media? 

There’s a crop of newer financing companies that have emerged in the last couple years, led by women and by people of color and that is extremely exciting. Since we’re not at the point yet of fully financing projects on our own, having more companies with like-minded priorities to partner with is good for everyone all around.

Of course, I certainly wish there were even more places like us for filmmakers to turn to to independently finance their projects. Even though it’s becoming less and less common, I certainly don’t want independent equity financing to go away.   

Sydney Sweeney in Reality, directed by Tina Satter (Photo from tanbarkpictures.com)


What is next for you?

Shayda was really beautifully received at Sundance and we’re eager to see where it lands.

51 has two more docs in post-production now that we’re excited to share in 2023.

And next month, a project I’m executive producing through my production company, Tanbark Pictures, is premiering at Berlin and it’s another powerful debut: Tina Satter’s Reality, starring Sydney Sweeney as American whistle-blower Reality Winner who was sentenced to five years in federal prison for leaking intelligence about Russian interference in the 2016 election. I came on late to this one but it’s exactly the type of story and filmmaking we’re looking to champion! Stay tuned! 


Learn more about The 51 Fund at www.the51fund.com, Tanbark Pictures at www.tanbarkpictures.com, and follow them across social media at @The51Fund.


Katie Chambers

Katie Chambers Katie Chambers is the Senior Director of Community & Public Relations at New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT). She also serves as the Communications Chair of the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs and is a freelance writer and digital marketing strategist. Follow her on Twitter @KatieGChambers.

View all posts by Katie Chambers

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