"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser


Cady McClain directs. Credit Alex Di Suvero

Cady McClain has spent the past year traveling the globe, speaking to female directors of film and television and documenting their stories for her serialized documentary, Seeing is Believing: Women Direct. Interviewees include Sarah Gavron, Lee Grant, Meera Menon, Betty Thomas and other accomplished and award-winning directors, as well as the next generation of women filmmakers who are just out of filmschool and finding their career paths. Not yet ready for release, Seeing is Believing: Women Direct is intended to elucidate the skills and tools needed to succeed as a woman in the directing field, and features women mentoring women by sharing their experiences via filmed interviews. Here, McClain writes about her own filmmaking process, why she’s making this documentary series and what she’s learning from doing so. Read on…

Cady McClain on Making Seeing is Believing: Women Direct, Her Own and Other Women’s Visions, Gender Diversity in Film, and Sharing Skills:

“Today I was watching clips from an interview I did with the filmmaker Nicole Conn and I found myself smiling. One of the great pleasures of this documentary has been getting to know women like Nicole—women who are smart, talented and beautifully unique. Nicole is not categorized as a “mainstream” filmmaker yet, but she is an important one, and in a way she personifies why I am making this documentary series and what I value—she is true to herself. She is true to her vision. She loves old black and white movies, believes in romance, and is a gay woman. Her calling and talent is filmmaking, so she has made three seminal films about passionate relationships between lovers that happen to be female.

“Somehow her films, as wildly successful as they are (and they are WILDLY successful) are still not considered mainstream. So I have to ask myself, what is mainstream? What is it about one narrative (a narrative that is not inclusive of the reality of a very large percentage of the world’s population) that continues to have a hold over what we as a society deem “normal”?

“(Without finger pointing or getting political, I think it is fair to say that it is a mode of storytelling that is on the verge of becoming irrelevant.)

“Why should lesbian cinema be marginalized? Or faith-based films, Black or Latin cinema, Asian cinema, Indian cinema or women’s cinema for that matter? What IS normal in a world full of variation? Why must we categorize everything? How can we even use the expression “mainstream” when the Internet exposes us all to the cultures of the world?

“The process of making this series has exposed me to more kinds of storytelling and people than I thought possible. It has been so fulfilling to watch the art films of German filmmaker Diana Cignoni; the transgender series, HerStory, directed by Sydney Freeland; and the powerful short film And Nothing Happened by Naima Ramos-Chapman that explores the surreal after-life of a rape survivor. I think I’ve become a better person by watching Meera Menon’s first film, Farah Goes Bang, and the films of Lizzie Borden—Working Girls and the incredible Born in Flames. And the documentaries exploring American Indian life by Anne Makepeace are nothing short of breathtaking. These women are visionaries.

I’ve learned that categorizing films into “women’s stories” is actually a neat and tidy way to shame women. I also learned that being a visionary means holding your ground—not letting the words of others push you away from what you “see” in your mind as worthy.

I made this series because I want to give women and girls HOPE, ENCOURAGEMENT and TOOLS. Something they can watch quietly in the middle of the night to hear other women talk about how they work without being judged, talked down to, or lectured at. I want all women who desire to tell a story to feel heard and seen, validated and understood.

In Seeing is Believing: Women Direct, audiences will hear from women who are on the front lines of the field—from major award winners and those in the vanguard of television and feature films, to graduated students and frustrated auteurs. Considering all aspects of the directing experience for women, we will learn how they drive through obstacles creative, cultural and professional. The film is also intended to serve as “peer to peer mentorship” for anyone (of any gender) looking for guidance and real world experience as they pursue their dreams of becoming a visual storyteller. — Cady McClain

Read more at the The Female Gaze

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