Each spring New York University puts on the Fusion Film Festival, a film and television festival dedicated to celebrating women in the film industry. With multiple screenings, panels, pitch meetings, master classes, retrospectives, networking events, competitions and student showcases, Fusion is a three-day shout-out to women killin’ it in the male-dominated industries of film, TV and new media. This year Fusion’s all-student staff is run by four co-directors: Gabriela Alcalde, Natalia Bougadellis, Nicole Quintero Ochoa and Callahan Zacks, with major support from professor and faculty adviser, Susan Sandler.
The festival takes place right after this year’s 88th Academy Awards, which has been under scrutiny for being #SoWhite: for the second year in a row, only white actors and actresses were nominated for the top four categories. And according to a 2013 Los Angeles Times survey, the group of 6,028 Academy Award voters were 94 percent white and 76 percent men, an indisputably poor representation of women and people of color. The film industry itself is a bit of a boys’ club — out of the top 100 films of 2015, only seven percent of the directors were women.
Fusion aims to change that by celebrating the female voices of film and encouraging collaboration between sexes. With its social media campaign #ChangeTheRules and several free events open to the public, Fusion is an important step in right direction. I spoke with co-director Natalia Bougadellis about the festival, the industry and the her own experience as a woman in film.
Natalia Bougadellis is a Film & TV student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She co-directs the festival with Gabriela Alcalde, Nicole Quintero Ochoa and Callahan Zacks, and is also the head of Fusion’s photo/video department.
BROADER: Why is the Fusion Film Festival important?
NATALIA: I think Fusion is really, really, important because the first step to fixing any problem is raising awareness for that subject. Women comprised 12 percent of directors working on the top 500 films of 2015, compared with nine percent on the top 250 and seven percent on the top 100. So one of the biggest things that Fusion does is shed light on this problem that is happening in the industry. A lot of people aren’t aware that this is happening, and even if they are aware, they don’t really care. So by reminding them and reminding them, we’re trying to make people understand that this is a problem and it needs to be fixed.
The film industry is notorious for being a boys’ club. In what ways have you seen that disparity reflected in Hollywood and in the classroom?
We’ve been hearing the same stories from the same perspective for so many years, and it’s not giving us anything new. In the industry, women have proven themselves — they’ve proven that women can direct big budget films, that they can bring money to the box office. But for some reason that hasn’t registered in the minds of people even though women prove themselves every single day.
Women are well-represented in film school, but something goes wrong on the way to the industry. Money comes in, big executives come in… I don’t know what happens. The root cause isn’t very clear, and that’s why it’s hard to fix. But that’s why we’re starting early at school and at Fusion. We educate the future industry now.
What has your experience been like as a woman in film?
Last year, I went on a set as director of photography and I came to set a few minutes late. Everyone was there already, and one of the actors turns to me and asks, “Are you the makeup artist?” And I was like, “No, I’m the director of photography, nice to meet you.” But today, I got three different emails from people asking me to shoot their movies, and when I work on student projects at Tisch, I never run into that problem. So I suppose things are starting to change.
Fusion stresses that its mission is not about making film an exclusive girls’ club, but rather encouraging a collaboration between sexes. How do you see the film industry changing with more collaboration?
In order to submit a film to the festival, at least one of the major creative positions (director, producer, writer, writer, co-writer, etc.) must be female. So we’re not just saying, “Women and only women,” we encourage collaboration. We don’t want the industry to be 100 percent women — we just want 50-50. A lot of people think Fusion is a “girls’ club,” but it really isn’t. We have men working in every department, because it’s unfair to not have all voices heard.
We really do want everyone’s story to be heard. Hollywood is mostly white and mostly male, and we’re trying to change that. Our staff has people from all over the world, and we pursue equal representation regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.
What should we expect this year at Fusion? What are you most excited about?
I’m excited about our Woman of the Year, Christine Vachon. She’s an incredibly hard worker who produced so many movies, including Boys Don’t Cry and Carol. And this year we have a lot of interesting events — we’re doing our first Women and Video Games panel. I think it’s really interesting, because the same disparity in the film industry exists among game developers. Even though 52 percent of game players are women, 22 percent of game developers are women. During our event “Level Up,” female visionaries and game creators will take us on a journey into the new world of gaming. This event will be followed by a reception with a video arcade of games you can experience all created by women.
What are your favorite movies?
I love Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cabaret. I should probably say some female-director movies, but I wish there were more to choose from! I should know more. Do you know how many times a woman has been nominated for Best Director?
(I didn’t. I guessed twenty times.)
From 88 years of Oscars, four women have been nominated for Best Director. And one won, Katherine Bigelow. No woman has ever been nominated for Best Cinematographer — it is the only category in the Academy Awards history where no female contender has ever been nominated. And I’m curious to see who the first woman will be.
Who are some of your biggest female influences in film, TV or media? What have you learned from them?
I want to shoot and direct, but a lot of people are telling me it’s not possible. But Reed Morano, Fusion’s Woman of the Year in 2015, has done it. She’s not necessarily a creative influence of mine, but she’s an example of a woman who’s successful in the industry. There are very, very few female cinematographers, and she’s a woman who’s making it. I look up to her as an example that I can make it. I can do it. Mandy Walker and Sandi Sissel are also really great female cinematographers.
I personally would not decide whether I’m going to watch a movie or not depending on the creator’s gender. But because the industry is like this, because there are so few films made by women, people of color and LGBTQ people, we have to specify, “Who are your biggest female influences?” If the industry was ideal, we wouldn’t have to specify that. You would never ask, “Who are your biggest male influences?” I hope Fusion can change that.
Fusion Film Festival will be hosting free events through March 3-5 at the Cantor Film Center and at NYU Tisch. For the festival schedule and other information, visit www.fusionfilmfestival.com or their Facebook page.
Grace Rogers is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.