November 17, 2008

Adrienne Shelly Foundation: Supporting Women Filmmakers

Adrienne Shelly was brutally murdered several years ago when she was on the cusp of her breakout with the film Waitress. Her husband, Andy Ostroy started the foundation in her memory to support female filmmakers. They are having their second fundraiser in NYC tonight. Tickets here. Ostroy answered some questions about the Foundation and its work.

W&H: Why did you feel it was important for the Foundation to support female filmmakers?

Andy Ostroy: Adrienne faced various hurdles and challenges in her career that women face in many industries not just entertainment. After she died people were asking how they could make a donation in her name and I wanted to be something meaningful, something she was passionate about. It took me a couple of weeks and realized that helping women produce their films and become filmmakers was the most organic way to go.
W&H: You gave out your first grants this year?
AO: We gave out our first grants in the spring of 07 which we called round one. Round two came this past spring.
W&H: Talk about the grantees.
AO: They don't have to fit any particular model. We're not looking to duplicate Adrienne per say, but we look for a certain sensibility, a certain talent and creativity. We have funded films like The Devil Came on Horseback, a seering documentary about the genocide in Darfur to Freeheld a doc about a lesbian couple in NJ, one of whom is dying and wants to leave her benefits from the police department to her partner. The film went on to win an Oscar.
I don't think that anyone who knew Adrienne would say that either of those films or their filmmakers are clones of Adrienne, but Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg who made Devil and Cynthia Wade who made Freeheld share with adrienne an overall intelligence, sensibility and creativity. They are all strong women and driven. It runs from college students like Marissa O'Guinn at NYU who was a sophmore when we gave her grant last year, to Columbia graduate student Enrica Perez who made a film Taxista.

W&H: Do people apply for grants?
AO: We partner with several organizations so they funnel the creme of the crop to us. IFP will send us their five finalists and we will put together a little jury and pick a winner and it is very efficient. We have a lot of great people on the board of directors and on our advisory board but they are all very busy. I tried to create a model that would allow us to tap these people for their creativity and resources in a minimal time way but in a maximum output way.
W&H: What have you learned about the business and the lack of female directors since you started your work?
AO: This may come as a shock to you but men who control things out there in the world don't like women telling them what to do. In Hollywood, on Madison Avenue and on Wall Street. It's probably easier for women in the entertainment field because the nature of show business is that it is more accepting of women and gays and different peoples and cultures, but it is still shockingly low in terms of the percentages of feature films made by women.

Being a director in particular, the connotation is that it's a macho job and you see some guys on the set and it sometimes gets to their heads thinking they are general Patton. The machismo of directing especially in today's world where some of the wonderfully story driven movies have gone by the way side in exchange for the big action, comic book hero films which are much harder for a woman to direct.

It's one thing for a woman to direct Juno or something like that, it's another thing for a woman to direct Spiderman or some action film, and unfortunately the movie business is moving in that direction. I think its going to get harder for women's voices to be heard because of the type of films that are made. It's so concentrated on these billion dollar franchises. It's truly a male dominated area.

I think that organizations like ours and IFP and NY Women in Film and TV and others are extremely important because it gives women some kind of access entry point for funds. Cynthia Wade who won an Oscar basically could not finish her film without the money we gave her. That's very gratifying for an organization like ours which was one year out of the gate to have funded an Oscar winning film and filmmaker. Adrienne would have loved that. We know we have impact. Our job is to keep finding the Cynthia Wades and the people like her who are very talented and creative and need help. I wish we could do ten times more than we do. Hopefully, someday we will grow to that level where we could expand and have a greater impact.
W&H: How does a filmmaker get herself noticed by your organization?
AO: Go to our website, read how we give out grants and who our partners are. Right now you need to be inside one of those organizations to be recommended to us.