What It’s Like to Be a Woman Filmmaker

Indie filmmakers and longtime friends Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson talk about their buzz-worthy new project, Small, Beautifully Moving Parts: why women of all ages should see it and what it’s like being a mother in the film industry

by Samantha Lear
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Long Shot Factory

More: How did you get the idea for the movie?
Annie Howell: Lisa and I became friends at NYU film school when we realized that we had a very similar aesthetic. Over time, we came up with an idea for a web series about a woman who was a technologist. We were both fascinated with technology and felt that we hadn’t seen a female tech-obsessed person in the way that we wanted to craft her.

Lisa Robinson: When we first started thinking about this idea, the iPhone had just come out and people were starting to feel close to their devices. We saw that there was some fun to be had, and we wanted to explore the relationships we have with our devices, as well as our relationships with others. We made the web series “Sparks,” which was syndicated by the Sundance Channel, and people seemed to respond. We then decided to put the character into a more complex scenario with a longer dramatic arc.

More: What aspects of the film could the MORE reader relate to?
LR: A lot of women have interesting relationships with technology—it differs by generation. Some women have come to it later in their lives, while others have had it as part of their landscape all along.

At one screening there was a woman who’d had six children. After the film she said to me, “You know, every time I had a child—even my sixth one—I’ve still faced these feelings of uncertainty.” I thought it was interesting that she related to the story even though it depicts a first-time mom. These are complex feelings that are part of the time where your body is going through biological processes and yet we live in this very sophisticated, tech-y world. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting to see.

AH: It has also appealed to women who don’t have children. Just the notion of facing the unknown is so universal.

LR: The film is about searching. We wanted to make sure that the protagonist was looking for answers to her life struggles, even though she doesn’t necessarily get the answers that she wants. She still went on a journey to get them.

AH: It was so fun to put a pregnant woman alone on the road. It was fun for us to portray pregnancy as something that’s not just about swollen ankles and eating pickles. So many women have pregnancies where they are living life in a very normal way. I’ve never seen that before, where a pregnant woman is on solo journey for much of the story.

More: What’s it like being a midlife woman working as a filmmaker?
AH: Like everything, it has its ups and downs. We both have MFAs in film. We each have made a number of short films that have been on the festival circuit worldwide. One really empowering thing about making this film was being able to do it on our own terms.

LR: It’s nice to take control of the progress and to be our own mentors in a sense.

More: What can you do now as a filmmaker that you couldn’t do in your 20s?
LR: The technology certainly has made things easier. It’s very flexible, adept and inexpensive. We are in a very exciting time for filmmaking.

AH: Also, having had so many other life experiences—having children, establishing another career as a professor—I definitely feel more at ease and understand the context better.

LR: Perspective has shifted over time. I think this project has come out of our own life experiences. I’m not sure either of us would have written this story 15 to 20 years ago.

More: What would you say to other midlife women about following their creative passion?
LR: There used to be a lot of talk celebrating the youth of directors in film. More recently on the festival circuit, we’ve seen women making films that are quite successful—some who started their careers later in life. It’s exciting and empowering to see women coming to directing in their late 30s or early 40s, or even after that. Some of the stories are really interesting because they may have a certain life experience behind them that we haven’t seen on screen before. Women should feel encouraged that, if filmmaking is something that they want to pursue, there’s opportunity out there.

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