Filmmakers share their work and advice

By Alison Berstein
Staff Writer

Last Saturday, Simmons College hosted the International Women’s Film Forum, which screened six movies made by independent female filmmakers from around the world.

I caught up with the four filmmakers in attendance: Susan Finley of “Changing Minds at Concord High”; Dr. Roxana Walker-Canton of “Living Thinkers”; Xoliswa Sithole of “Child of the Revolution”; and Iram Parveen Bilal of “Josh: Independence Through Unity,” which is coming out on May 6 on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, On Demand, and DVD.

The filmmakers offered their advice on film, life, and everything in between.

Question: What distinguishes film from other art forms?

Xoliswa Sithole: Image is very powerful. Images give a voice to people who are voiceless. The beautiful part about documentaries is that you don’t know where they’re going to take you.

Susan Finley: Working the video gives everybody a chance. We have the vast, untapped potential to look with our minds, to flourish, to be altruistic human beings. Actual film film is beautiful. It’s kind of like life. It appears to be real and solid but it’s moving.

Dr. Roxana Walker-Canton: The use of the camera allows us as filmmakers to go beyond the stage. We film images that make us feel we’re thousands of miles away. It allows us to tell visual stories that can take our imagination further and farther.

Iram Parveen Bilal: Film allows us to be transported emotionally and geographically.
Roxana Walker-Canton: I wouldn’t necessarily say [film] is better. Historically, we take from theater. We take from literature. The story is what’s key. That scripting and getting sense of that story. Every second, your audience is seeing something. It’s important to know what they’re seeing.

Question: Where do you see the future of the film industry?

Finley: Everything is shifting. People are working on video, not film. [They] want things for free. It costs so much to promote a film now. The smaller films are fewer and harder to get out there. You have to really want to do it, whatever it takes. Do your research. It’s a business. Know what your options are and where they are.

Walker-Canton: The industry is opening up. There are many ways we can make films now: Hollywood, independent films, home movies. It’s still storytelling.

Finley: There’s so many niches now.

Question: What is the role of women in film?

Sithole: As women, we are always shining our light under the table. If you’re good at what you do, own it and claim it. Women are beautiful, smart, special. I’ve always had this strong sense of I’m here for a purpose, to achieve what I set my mind to. The satisfaction I get from that is priceless. The universe is in collision with my desire. It’s amazing.

Finley: Women are benevolent forces. They want control over their work. We have the same qualities as men, just in different degrees. My interest is in the people; who are we?

Walker-Canton: I don’t know that we’re allowed to tell the same kinds of stories as men. The stories that women filmmakers tell come from our experiences. Our physical and emotional lives are different, how we’re conditioned to be. We move differently.

Bilal: Because no one is telling women’s stories, women want to tell stories. Females are really heavily influencing film. We’re doing well. We own it. Women need to support women.

Sithole: Women’s voices are not loud enough in terms of funding. It’s hard for women to get recognition collectively. It’s not going to determine ultimately what I want to achieve. I have always claimed my space in the sun. If there is no space, I’ll create a second sun for me.

Question: Advice for all those who want to tell stories.

Finley: A part of it is being at the right place at the right time. A part of it is passion. And a part of it is how badly you need it. If you want to tell someone you can do something, be your best. Show up ready to help them. People love that. And be consistent. Make yourself available to the point where they don’t know what they would do without you.

Sithole: Choose what works for you. You need to be with people who build you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When you fall, you get up. It’s human to err.

Walker-Canton: Find what you want and then pursue it. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood. It can be that, but there are other ways to enter the field. Keep making it better and polish it up, even if it’s ‘just on YouTube.’ Go ahead and just do it, but the next time you just do it, do it better.

Sithole: Don’t rush into anything. Let the best one win. Life is fantastic. I am living my life as I see it, as I write it, and it’s better than I expected.