Emerging Female Voices, Debut Directors Take Stage in 2017 Awards Shorts (Video)

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Emerging female voices and buzzy first-time filmmakers took center stage at a recent special short film presentation from TheWrap’s Awards Screening Series.

Bold, conceptual work played at West Los Angeles’ Landmark Theatre last week, where we welcomed an innovative shorts distributor, directors and producers to discuss the toxic energy of Hollywood harassment, streaming giants and working with big talent in a smaller medium.

“We had to build a video unit, and we tried to get help from Hollywood and people said, ‘We can’t help you, there’s not enough women for you to work with,'” marveled Amy Emmerich, the chief content officer of digital brand Refinery29.

The company spawned their Shatterbox Anthology, which consists of 12 short films from 12 female directors released over a year, to combat gender imbalance behind the camera.

“I have emails that I will one day release [saying] there’s not enough comedy female directors that we could work with. I said a lot of curse words,” Emmerich added.

Shatterbox released two of the four shorts screened, including Kristen Stewart’s visually gripping directorial debut “Come Swim” and “Lucia Before and After,” directed by Anu Valia. The former short debuted in the Sundance Film Festival’s shorts program this year.

“Lucia” was a Short List Film Festival finalist about a young woman seeking an abortion in Texas. The character is subject to Texas’ mandatory ultrasound 24 hours prior to the abortion procedure, and the emotional and logistical ripple the process creates.

“Ladies First,” from director Uraaz Bahl and producer Shaana Levy, had an incredible emotional effect on the crowd. It follows Deepika Kumari, an Indian woman representing her country in archery at the Rio Olympic Games.

Kumari was under intense pressure to perform and lift the national spirit, while being simultaneously being confined by her conservative culture and under developed as an athlete. Already her journey exposed inefficiency in Indian’s Olympic bureaucracy and shed light on widely-accepted gender bias in her home country.

“You have to think very big. We have a dream that 100 million Indians will watcher film. We bought the movie to the government because we want the film to be shown in schools,” Bahl said of the film.

“If little boys see this girl shooting, this is not what girls in India do, she’s shooting a [bow and arrow]. Little boys need to see this girl performing, and little girls need to see her doing this, too,” he added. An Indian woman has ever won an Olympic medal, and Kumari is training for the upcoming Tokyo games.

Talk went from first-time Olympians to first-time directors. Ryan Egypt brought his polished crime short “Cashing Titles Vol. 1,” where Brian Austin Green stars as an express mail driver dealing more than overnight packages.

Green plays father to an old-for-his-age preteen Caleb (Landon Gimenez) watching his family disintegrate thanks to addiction and waning opportunity. Not unlike the “Come Swim” producer who executed “Twilight Saga” star Stewart’s vision, both of the upstart projects have elevated profiles thanks to talent.

“They bring a lot of value because they understand,” Egypt said of his actor, “90210” breakout Green. “I didn’t have to spend so much time reiterating myself, discussing what I wanted. I also loved his idea.”

While “some people may say there’s a downside monetarily … for me time is just too valuable,” said Egypt of the shoot. The director plans to make a feature length follow-up to the short (“Chasing Titles Vol. 2”) for release in 2019.

“Come Swim” producer David Ethan Shapiro said that, despite Stewart’s years in the spotlight as an indie darling and franchise lead, she brought the appropriate expectation and know-how to her short.

“Kristen is unique in that her parents are crew members. She grew up around film crews,” Shapiro said.

“The crew of this film was a balance of ambitious contemporaries, people her age … I wanted to recreate my film school experience. But a lot of industry veterans are on her film team, so there were times where it was just making sure the expectations were for that of a short film,” he added.

“Come Swim” and “Lucia Before and After” are available to view on Shatterbox. “Chasing Titles Vol 1.” is planning a limited theatrical release. “Ladies First” is still securing worldwide distribution.

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