The old cliché about the day of your kids’ birth is true: it’s a doozy.
My kid happened to be a girl, which made it a gender-specific doozy. It’s just a little bit different than the blessing of a boy, and in my case it suited me to a tee.
So in those moments when I drop the ball when it comes to gender issues, I feel like a pretty lousy dad. Especially in a world where a douche bag like… you know who, gets away with “locker room talk” and the assumption that being a powerful man gives him rights over anyone’s privacy. There are plenty of dark stories that start from the same kind of innocuous jackass.
I’ve got this thing for documentary films, and in particular, I’ve worked on a whole packet of films about women, usually fighters, struggling to make the world a better place, at least for women. My mom is one of my heroes, so I guess I just never understood why one gender would have power over another. It made no sense to me. Lower salaries, shorter professional shelf life, less access to higher positions: I always felt like it made no sense. So now, with a girl to nurture and raise, I see it as not only as an interest of mine, but a responsibility.
Last year alone I got to work on 3 powerful films that tackled women’s stories head on;
Biljana Turturov’s When Pigs Come
Nima Sarvetsani’s Prison Sisters
And my personal favorite, Koen Suidgeest’s Girl Connected
Koen locked me in an apartment in Leiden, without food or water, for a month last spring. We’d met tutoring at Lisbon Docs a couple of years earlier and have stayed in touch ever since. When he pitched me the project and asked me to come to Holland to edit the film I was thrilled.
For now you can watch it the whole film here!
Like me, Koen is surrounded by estrogen, with his partner, 2 daughters and a dog. He’s as empathetic a soul as I’ve met in the doc world, and he (and I) liked that I wanted to be left mostly alone with the material, so I could get as close to the girls in the film as I could. He’d come to the prison cell every day or every two days, and we’d look at where it was going and make decisions from there. It was a race to the finish line, but a fantastic process, and I’m super proud of the final product.
I had a chance to catch up with Koen and ask a couple of questions about his thinking around the project. (and he didn’t really keep me without food and water in Leiden.)
Me: What drew you to Girl Connected?
Koen S: My entire body of work is about people who are underserved, or in a disadvantaged position, and despite that are standing on their feet, progressing and making the very most of their lives. Since my work often involves children’s rights, women’s rights and themes of motherhood, generally in areas of poverty, Girl Connected is a natural issue/topic.
I wanted to make a film, along with ITVS producer Christi Collier, about girls who are fighting against the tide, upstream to what their culture expects from them.
Me: And how did you come to choose those particular girls?
K.S.: I worked with the country coordinators of this educational program, Women and Girls Lead Global. They often suggested stories and characters to me. Often, these stories had already happened and I wanted to film something that was happening currently.
Me: Always a better bet for a “motion” picture.
K.S.: So a lot of stories were put aside. Some of the interesting ones I ended up skyping with. Or if that wasn’t possible, I was sent some video footage through a local journalist. And we chose based on that. There were sports related stories from several countries, but I only wanted one sports story. So we settled on Ayesha. What was important was that there was variety.
Me: Must have been a hell of a process choosing someone based on their skype presence.
K.S.: Oh yes, it was a little risky. But it worked out very well.
Me: I think there’s a remarkable variety of girls, given that they mostly come from similar socionomic backgrounds.
K.S.: Indeed. And I love that we were able to tackle five such important but also different themes. Child marriage, teen pregnancy, leadership, sports & self esteem, creativity
Me: Does it ever enter your head that you’re a guy covering women’s stories? I know my own answer, but I’d love to hear yours. There is often controversy around men telling women’s stories “why can’t a woman make that film? It’s part of the problem” type of thing.
K.S.: Well, there are many women covering amazing women’s stories as well. Of course I am aware of being a man, but I can’t really change that, can I? And I don’t know if I need to be ‘like’ the subject of the film to be able to represent it better. Sometimes it’s actually better to be more of an outsider. And that counts for many differences between maker and subject: films about poverty, about armed conflict, about drugs… whatever.
Me: Yeah, I agree. It gives you that “fish out of water” in the sense that your own journey of discovery is part of the revelation. I think it takes men to stand up and say important women-positive stuff as well. Make it less us vs them.
K.S.: Totally true. Sometimes it takes a man to change a man’s mind.
My skype starts in 4 mins 😉
Me: Alright dude. Thanks a million!
K.S.: My pleasure, of course! And talk soon I hope.
Me: CPH:DOX maybe?
A cryptic sign off, but we managed to cover the guts of the question, so…
I guess what I’m trying to say is happy international women’s day.
But I guess I’m also wondering why, in 2017, it would still be necessary. I would have hoped we’d be past this crap already, and diversity would simply be a fact of life instead of an exception, and guys like the one with the orange hair and skin wouldn’t be where they are.
But they are.
So let’s do what we have to to shut them down, so that eventually this can be known as international human’s day instead.
For my part I’ll keep cultivating projects that tackle women’s rights.
Maybe I’ll even start wearing a pussy hat.