Candles light the room. The seating arrangement has chairs paired in twos spanning a few rows, and even booths in the back of the room if one arrives early enough to claim these. A heavy-looking drape is the only thing connecting the theater to the bar. The room is packed, not an empty seat in the house as students, Brooklyn locals, and newcomers all gather and await for the opening night of The Independent Women Series. The room quiets and New School graduate Shayana Filmore takes the floor.
Shayana—who goes by Shay—is a writer and film director, as well as the curator of The Independent Women Series at Videology Bar and Cinema in Brooklyn. Launched in February, The Independent Women Series is a curated movie showing hosted by Filmore to create a wider viewing of women and women of color in the involvement and production of media and the industry. For Filmore, the Women Series is the push for representation.
“Men are most of the critics, they are the tastemakers. Which is why you’ll see some things like Manchester by the Sea, which is so ‘I’m a repressed white man.’” Filmore said. “And everybody is just really loving it. But when you take a step back and look, it’s all dudes who are like ‘Yes, this is great,’ because it represents them. We need more perspectives.”
Filmore was first struck with this idea when she started working at Videology, the Williamsburg movie store turned bar and cinema. She noticed that though her job was very exciting and entertaining, it lacked screenings of films directed by women, or more specifically, women of color.
“In the couple of months I had worked there we had showed maybe like nine films,” Filmore said. “And one of those films was Lost in Translation. That we showed like four times, which is cool, no shade towards Sofia Coppola [the director], but there’s so much more work out there.” Being in good standing at her job, Filmore was able to make the case to her bosses as to why the need for a women series was important.
But her real drive to see more diversity in the film industry started with her days as a New School student. Originally a student at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), an acting conservatory, Filmore naturally gravitated towards film. After two years, she graduated from the academy and transferred to The New School of Public Engagement, a school Filmore said she found “dope” for its open curriculum.
However, it was in her film classes at Public Engagement that Filmore began to see how one-sided film was being presented. “One thing I noticed was how white and male focus everything is,” Filmore began. “But it’s like, there is so much more.”
After searching to find a broader range of perspectives, challenging herself to watch a film produced by women once a week, Filmore found how structurally different these films are. “Once you watch a bunch of movies directed by men and then watch a bunch of movies directed by women, and take the time to watch one of these once a week, you just kind of notice how things are presented differently,” Filmore said, citing things like nudity, the arc of female characters, and the subject matter of the films as stark differences.
Realizing she had a platform to make a difference with her job at Videology, Filmore decided to not wait around for women to get more acknowledgement in the film industry, but instead help create that acknowledgement by showcasing these women with the series.
But the idea for what the series can be does not just stop with the once a month screening. Filmore hopes the series will build into a community space where “people who identify as women [can] talk about film and not have to worry.” As Filmore has learned in the past when going up against “film bros,” it can be disheartening and intimidating to speak and voice any opinions since these men tend to be intense and dominate the voice of film criticism.
On the premiere night, the series kicked off with the Persian-language film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which recently gained popularity when it became available on Netflix. It was chosen by Filmore to be the opener to the series for its dark comedy vampire theme, and the depiction of women (written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour) in the Iranian ghost-town of Bad City. However, with this film, Filmore, did express concern because of her uncertainty of its audience draw and popularity. “There’s kind of like that worry. Are people going to see something they haven’t heard of?”
So far the series has continued with sold out shows each month from blockbuster movies like Jennifer’s Body, to the artistic and critically acclaimed Eve’s Bayou. With ticket purchases being advertised at large by Videology website, and The Independent Women’s series event pages on Facebook.
The series continues on May 18 with Persepolis, an Academy Award nominated film that traces director Satrapi growth from childhood to rebellious teen in Iran.
Photo by Julia Himmel