Founded in 2018 by Caryn Coleman, formerly the director of programming at Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema, The Future of Film Is Female (FOIF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to amplify the voices of female and non-binary filmmakers, with a particular emphasis on short film (the Nitehawk’s short film festival is a key part of its annual programming) and finding space for both features and shorts on the big screen. In this week’s episode of the Boxoffice Podcast, Coleman talks to Boxoffice Pro about the need for programmers to think outside the box in order to achieve greater diversity.
One of the things that I really admire about The Future of Film of Female is that there are a lot of foundations out there aimed at helping women get films made—but FOIF has getting them screened as a key part of its mission.
I think it’s just inherently [part of] being a film programmer; my wants and desire is to get these things in a theater. But it also stems from the [Nitehawk Shorts Festival], which we opened the day after Trump was elected president [in 2016]. It kicked off a lot of thinking about what my role was as a film programmer and ultimately realizing that it was a privileged position [to get] works by marginalized voices onto the screen. One of my board members says [The Future of Film is Female] is the ‘…and now what?’ A lot of foundations—and it’s wonderful to have— focus on production and getting films made and getting people hired. And film festivals have done a great job of committing to gender parity in the festivals that they produce.
But it’s really then like, you’re like out in the world, and where do you go? So our work is really focusing on promoting those films in exhibition settings and working with distributors and encouraging [them] to devote the resources and time and theatrical schedules to new films directed by women. We do short film programs and feature film programs. The past like year and a half, we’ve been doing a lot of screenings at Nitehawk, my former home, and then also at at MoMA.
For short filmmakers, they love seeing their work screened in a theater, because there’s not a lot of opportunities for that to happen outside of the festival circuit. And that’s really exciting. It’s so exciting to introduce people to new films. There’s nothing more exciting than being like, “Here’s this amazing new film. You are going to freak out.”
The Future of Film is Female is a very curated endeavor. I think that this whole fight for gender parity in the film industry won’t be achieved until exhibition and distribution catch up.
I feel like exhibition is maybe lagging behind distribution in that regard—not necessarily through the fault of exhibitors, but because there’s not really a system in place for finding and screening films unless they’ve already been picked up. In our recent State of the Art House panel, exhibitors were saying they’d like to have more access to undistributed films. We’ve seen a real need for expanded programming over the part few years, and there are all these great films that play at festivals and then disappear. How do you bridge that gap?
On a very easy level, I think when exhibitors or first-run film bookers go to film festivals, [they should] make time for the films that aren’t the films that you know you’re going to book. When I go to TIFF, my mission is to watch international, independent films directed by women. I’ll go see Hustlers, because I can’t wait. But for the most part it’s, ‘What are the films that don’t have distributors yet?’ There are so many amazing films that I’ve seen at TIFF that have gone nowhere, especially international films. For [FOIF’s] upcoming MoMA feature film program in June, I will be bringing some of those [films] from past years, because I think they’re so incredible.
How do you handle that from a logistical perspective? Are you just emailing people out of the blue asking to screen their films?
I do, sometimes. I’ve Instagram messaged filmmakers. One of the films I wound up showing at Nitehawk is called The Good Intentions. It’s from Argentina, and I knew another Argentinian filmmaker. I saw that they knew each other on Instagram, and so I asked, “Can you introduce me to [The Good Intentions director] Anna [García Blaya]?” A lot of times, there are production companies’ email addresses in catalogs, and I will ask for screeners. I think what it comes down to is being willing to do the work.
[There are practical things to work out], like ticket sales and what counts as a premiere and all that logistical weird stuff…. I do think that that is one of the issues [around] women- or non-binary- directed films having an opportunity to get into that theatrical space. Independent and lower-budget filmmaking, [too]. Nobody ever has enough screens. Even if you have 12 screens, it’s never enough, because people are demanding them. Even if no one’s come to see a film for, like, two days, you still have to keep it in. It’s a lot of unnecessary politics, and it winds up hurting younger, independent filmmakers. I think about when I lived in Los Angeles, the times I would just happenstance upon a movie because some other movie was sold out. Having space for that to happen is very, very important.
I know you’re personally very invested in short films. There’s this attitude that people won’t come to see them on the big screen unless it’s that year’s Oscar-nominated shorts. How do you get people to come out and see shorts?
First of all, I’m shocked at how many people go to see the Oscar shorts. Regular people! My parents, they go and see shorts. At Nitehawk they show the Oscar shorts, and I would always have them put the Nitehawk Shorts Festival trailer on there, even though the festival at the time was in November and the Oscar shorts were screening February, March. But these people love short films! If you don’t like one, there’s another one coming right up that you might enjoy. I think that programming them correctly [is important]. I’ve been in shorts programs where it’s a lot of one theme, and you feel like you’re getting beaten up by the end of it. There’s a rhythm to shorts programming that needs to be adhered to.
At the [Nitehawk] Shorts Fest or at any shorts film screenings I have done, they’re usually the most instantly successful. Part of that is, when you’re screening seven filmmakers they all have their own crowd of family and friends. They’re gonna market the hell out of themselves. Yeah, so it’s wonderful. When you look at NoBudge and how they have grown their short film program; it’s now selling out the 200-seat theater [in Nitehawk’s Prospect Park location]. I do think like younger crowds enjoy shorts as well. I love sneaking short films before feature films. So people are trapped! I’m not going to put a 20 minute short film in front of something, because I don’t want to surprise too many people. But they always love it. I hope that what will happen is, that filmmaker will make a feature film and [someone who saw their short will say] ‘Oh my gosh, I remember when I saw that short film.’ I think that there’s 100 percent a really good audiences for short films. And there needs to be, because outside of festivals, you don’t see them screened in blocks very often.