#FemaleFilmmakerFriday: Athena Film Festival Spotlight on Director Julia Hart

“When I became a mother, it was the most powerful I ever felt. I had never seen a film about mothers who were literal superheroes.”

Julia Hart, director of Fast Color.

It’s been a solid three weeks since the Athena Film Festival took place at Barnard College in Manhattan, and I finally got my act together long enough to write about it.

Athena is one of my absolute favorite film festivals because it champions female filmmakers and stories about complex women whose lives do not revolve around men. So, stories true to the female experience, I’d say.

Over these next few #FemaleFilmmakerFridays, aka #FilmmakerFridays, I’m going to share some takeaways from the screenings I attended and advice, insight and pure inspiration from the filmmakers who created these wonderful films.

First up: Julia Hart, director of Fast Color.

Director Julia Hart and myself, Casey Hartnett. Solid last names.
Note to self: do not wear scarves in photos.

Fast Color is a film about three generations of women with special abilities. Not necessarily a superhero movie per se, Hart explained, but these women definitely have powers they can use to make the world a better place.

Hart spoke candidly about this idea of creation vs. destruction. “Most superhero movies are about white men destroying things to save the world. That was before Black Panther. That’s about something entirely different, thank goodness. If we’re telling a story about female superheroes, their power should be creative and not destructive. Their power should be creating something to save the world.”

I thought this was a beautiful theme for a movie starring strong, complex, thoughtful and realistic female characters in the form of superheroes. While going through the process of co-writing the script with her husband, producer Jordan Horowitz, she said that the idea of creation was very much the first idea behind the concept for the film.

“It’s this idea of women, when we come together to solve things and fix things, it’s about breaking things and then putting them back together.”

The birth of her first son gave Hart the confidence to make the transition from writing to also directing her own movies. She felt so powerful within her motherhood that she felt like a superhero herself, and that feeling helped her make the leap.

Hart also said that her biggest discovery on this movie was uncentering herself and acknowledging the humility of being a white women in the center of a movie ultimately about three black women. The movie stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint and Saniyya Sidney. Race was not written into the script, and of course, when we write, we imagine ourselves and people who look like us in the world of the story. It was likely that Hart might hire a cast of white female actors to play the three generations of women, but when she saw Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights she knew right away that she needed to cast her.

“We need more people who look very different and who have the power to do that,” urged Hart. “Women very rarely get a character arch, period. Let alone one that is so huge. It made a story that started out being about female power into something that is so much bigger than me. And there is something so important in the diversity in our storytelling and white people waking up and telling more diverse stories if you are listening and you are open and willing to step aside…”

“There is a lot of lip service right now about female characters and characters of color but there are not a lot of people stepping up to make those movies. We need more people who have the money and the power to make those decisions when they don’t necessarily make sense because the movies that make sense are movies with movie stars. Nearly every distribution company is run by a man. There are a couple that are run by a woman. I believe CodeBlack (the company behind Fast Color) is the only one that is run by a black man.”

On being a working mom, Hart had these words of inspiration to share with the room:

“It’s really hard but I’m very lucky. I have a lot of support. I couldn’t do it without that. The movie I just made, Disney hired me at six months pregnant and moved production… So they moved production to the fall after I’d had the baby. And it was really hard directing a studio film with a ten-week-old baby.” She negotiated with Disney into giving her overtime child care support for every 6th day out of the week that she had to be on set.

“There are women making movies while nine months pregnant. There are women literally pumping with a camera on their shoulder. Let them make that decision for themselves.”

Hart went on to explain her approach to directing as being very collaborative and listening to the ideas and suggestions that each department head has about the film. She finds it more rewarding when it’s not “her way or the highway.”

Her advice to young filmmakers:

See films made by female filmmakers. Find out if you can shadow someone on a set. Read everything you can and write every day, even if it’s not very good. Be inspired by others to create stories that are your own.

Hart advised that you have to expose yourself, which can be scary. You have to protect yourself. Share your script with everyone but make sure to watermark it with your name on every page. The more people you can get to read your work the better. When you’re doing rough cuts, share them with as many people as possible.

Hart suggested Women in Film and Women and Hollywood as being really great resources to start out with. She also has a group of women writers in LA to meet up with and chat about what they’re each doing and what they hope to be doing so they can all support one another and lift each other up when they need it.

“The best thing we can do in this industry is be unapologetically female. The best way to get men on board is to just do that. And I’ve been fortunate to work with men who do support that. Again, we talk about diversity in terms of gender, race and sexual orientation and disability and that means having male perspectives in the room. If we want to talk true diversity, we need to have everybody’s voice in the room.”

Hart suggested the best way of reaching out to agents and being sent diverse options of crew members is to make it very clear in a note to say, “I’m hiring with diversity in mind.” Otherwise, you’ll get a very different list than what you may have been hoping for.

“What we’re saying and what we’re doing are not quite lined up yet, but it’s important to be unapologetically who we are.”

Fast Color will have a limited theatrical release this spring in 10 cities, on 25 screens. Be on the lookout for the film in a city near you. I can’t recommend it enough with its refreshing take on a genre typically reserved for white male protagonists.

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