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A Movie Made By Women

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A story about sisters, set in Mumbai and Barcelona, Traces of Sandalwood is a movie to be made by an all-female crew: director, composer, line producers, etc. This exciting project is, in part, an effort to balance the extreme male dominance of the movie-making industry. Guest blogger Holly Bieler — who grew up in LA with parents who have worked in the movie business — interned with the executive producer in Barcelona this past summer. The story of her eye-opening experience is below:

As a 23-year-old in the midst of beginning my first foray into the professional world, I realize I have about a billion more opportunities than my mother did at my age. When we watch Mad Men together I’ve often feigned incredulity over the characters’ overtly sexist remarks, the consistent, unembarrassed machismo; such behavior is so apart from my own female experience it’s hard to believe it was ever so pronounced. My mother is quick to point out, however, that of course it did exist, and that the consequences of such chauvinism were often tremendously more destructive and cutting than a little slight by Don Draper. She reminds me that I am lucky. And I am.

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                                                  (Holly Bieler, 2nd from right, her mother Randee Russell Bieler, right)

I’m coming of age in the era of Cheryl Sandberg, of Kathryn Bigelow, a time when women have access to such myriad professional possibilities the discussion of workplace discrimination against my gender oftentimes feels a bit archaic, a bit moot. Thus I was dismayed and more than a little stunned, when my boss at the Pontas Literary and Film Agency, where I interned this summer,

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                                                                     (Anna Soler-Pont, Pontas)

showed me the following article:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/06/14/191568762/at-the-movies-the-women-are-gone

A quick synopsis: Linda Holmes, the pop-culture writer at NPR, took a survey of summer movies and found that 90% were stories exclusively about men or groups of men. While this statistic is startlingly high, it hardly seems far-fetched: even after a detailed brain-racking I’m hard-pressed to name the last female character of successful contemporary film who seemed anything more than a pretty face, a pair of boobs. Of course, independent films generally proffer a more progressive, realistic take on the dynamics of personality and gender, and recent low-budget films such as Drinking Buddies and The Incredible Now have bestowed some vivid, complex female characters with motivations and eccentricities and failures all their own. However popular cinema remains starkly devoid of women with personality quirks that extend beyond the realm of comic sexual deviance or housewife snarky-ness. This is a problem. When they go to the movies, who, exactly, are girls supposed to look up to? This is to say nothing about the lack of women behind the camera. It’s not a secret, of course, that women filmmakers are still a relatively rare breed—I mentioned Kathryn Bigelow above, however most people would struggle to name another successful female director, while the names of male directors fall off the tongue, privy to the same cultural ubiquity as Ryan Gosling or Tom Cruise. For an industry long recognized for its progressivism and liberal values, Hollywood boasts a startlingly large gender gap. This is a problem as well.

All of this brings me to a film coming out of Pontas Films that I believe in tremendously. Traces of Sandalwood, currently in pre-production, features an entirely female crew, everyone from the director, to the line producer, to the executive producer, to the composer. Everyone. This is an unparalleled move, but a necessary one, I believe, if this gender gap is ever to be remedied. The film tells the story of two incredibly strong sisters, Muna and Sita, separated as children in Mumbai after their mother dies in childbirth. Sita is taken to an orphanage and Muna to a wealthy Mumbai family. Muna falls in love with the son of the household, eventually marrying him and becoming a famous Bollywood film star, however she never forgets the beloved sister taken from her so many years ago. She finally discovers Sita is in Barcelona, successfully working as a scientist, and ventures there to reunite with her. What follows is a story in turn sorrowful and uplifting, a complex and brilliant portrait of strength, sisterhood and the pain and joys of discovering who we really are, what we’re really capable of. These characters are complex, in turns flawed and fiercely smart, realistically frightened but passionate. These are real women that girls can look up to.

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                                                              (Nandita Das who plays the part of Muna)

I’m extremely excited about this project and want to spread the word about it as far and wide as I can. If you have a second, take a quick look at the blog here: http://tracesofsandalwood.wordpress.com/ The film is currently in pre-production, with shooting set to begin in mid-October in Mumbai. The producers are still looking for additional financial support to make this film right, as beautifully as the story deserves, so please take a look at the IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign here, which offers up a more detailed synopsis as well as a teaser shot by the film's ridiculously talented director, Maria Ripoll:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/traces-of-sandalwood

I think if you take a look at this project you’ll be as excited about it, and its potential repercussions, as I am. Hollywood’s gender gap is far too pronounced to ignore any longer. Things might have gotten a whole lot better since Donald Draper’s time, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a long way to go.

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                                                      (setting: Barcelona Beach)

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                                          (Auto Rickshaws, Setting: Mumbai)

(Note from Peggy: I am of course also interested in this movie because of the winter I spent in India researching my novel Sister India, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I'm eager to see Traces of Sandalwood and will chip in a few bucks to be sure that I get the chance.)

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