Cowperthwaite: It's funny. Everybody thinks that my documentaries, or at least my recent one, is a man. In its pacing. In its subject matter. It's "Blackfish." It's the killer whale that killed the Shamu trainer. And I think people come into it, if they know there's a woman director, they think it's gonna be sort of Enya, with just whale sounds.
Cowperthwaite: That's exactly right. And I knew that wasn't the film I was gonna make. I know there are films like that out there. But I knew that I wanted the pacing to be adrenaline-rushed and very hard-hitting. You know, and whether I think it's important that it felt like it was a man, I'm not sure that that's that important to me. But it is interesting that I sort of, you know, end up almost taking—I don't know if that's subconscious or not, but I'm making these choices in my films that are deliberately not necessarily always, you know, sweet or, you know, forthcoming or gentle.
Foner: I don't think "sweet" is necessarily female. But I do think that women haven't had their perspective presented. So what I set out to do in my movie, which is a coming-of-age story, is to fill an empty space that I looked for when I was young, where I was identifying with men in movies. 'Cause except for Katharine Hepburn, I couldn't find anybody who I wanted to be.
Those movies didn't exist.
Foner: They didn't exist. And the movie I just made, I was very anxious to show what it felt like to be a young woman just discovering your sexuality. 'Cause we see all these movies from a man's point of view about that. And I had a lot of men between me and my end product. I hope some of it's still there. But in some ways some of them were offended by the perspective of what it's like from a woman's point of view.
In terms of the sexuality? In terms of gratification? In terms of what?
Foner: Well, just in terms of what the experience is.
They're uncomfortable or offended? Or both?
Foner: You know, I think they have this idea that girls in love with some guy are going, "Oh, oh, oh." You know, and there was a very sophisticated, kind of cool presentation of what it felt like for a smart girl to be stuck in the dilemma of what she was gonna do about this relationship with a guy. And, you know, when you show it to women, they respond with, "Oh, I get that." And when you show it to men they go, "She's really cold." And it's very interesting to me, because it never occurred to me that that was even something that existed. And the lack of sympathy for it is a lack of awareness. And I think, as in any other, not knowing who the other is, really, is a missing piece. And so what I went out to do is try to supply the missing piece, both for the people who have never seen themselves portrayed on screen and for people who have never seen what it's like to be inside that other. And, you know, I remember, you know, I started my career on "Sesame Street." The very beginning of "Sesame Street." The first year we did a test, in which we asked a bunch of 4-year-old black kids whether they would like to have one of two dolls. One was black and one was white. And the black children chose the white doll. After the show had been on the air for a year, they chose the black doll. Because just because they had seen themselves on this magic box, they had been validated in some way. And I think that there's a role for women directors to put ourselves—not exclusively, 'cause I might like to do a cowboy movie next. But there's something about just seeing yourself up there that validates your existence.
Garcia:I couldn't agree more.
In terms of "The Lifeguard," what would you say about...?
Garcia: Well, I mean, I agree with everything you're saying. First of all, I know very well the experience of getting the opportunity to direct and put your female story out there, and then the filter between you and the product are your male producers and your male financiers.
Foner: You got it.
Garcia: My film really deals with explicit female sexuality. I mean, there's cunnilingus in the movie. I think that tells you right there that this is a woman making the movie. And I'm really proud of that. But there were moments where we didn't see things the same way, and I was really concerned, particularly with the trajectory of the romance. I was looking for a slow burn, and they weren't. And I did read that along gender lines. I think it did have something to do with that. The issue of foreplay. Ultimately, I got what I wanted. But it made me realize, you know, this is just the first step. Being able to direct is the first step. But then, after that, you need final and you need female financiers, or at least financiers who aren't so steeped in corporate culture that they don't recognize the validity of a powerful woman or her voice. And I also want to say it is of critical importance to me that people sense, when they're watching "The Lifeguard," that this is a female voice. I don't think it's a traditional female voice. But as a young person, when I had the rare opportunity to watch a film that felt like there were women involved behind the scenes, it meant everything to me. Not just the roles, but—
Just in terms of the way you read the film?
Garcia:Well, I was a creative person. I wanted to be a writer. And I'm sort of love in with storytelling. I mean, your career has meant a lot to me, as a screenwriter. To know there are people out there who have a family, who have kids, and who are writing. I mean, "Bee Season" was a big deal for me, to read that. Because that's female, but it's not a romantic comedy, which is novel.
Cherien, what about your film? Do you think people should look at that and recognize that as being directed by a woman? And is that important to you, in terms of how you approached the material?
Dabis: No, I mean, I think that it's probably pretty obvious that it was directed by a woman. And, you know, I'm pretty proud of that. But it's not necessarily important to me. I mean, my films are cross-cultural. And they deal with not just women, but women of color. So that's sort of another layer that I'm sort of dealing with.
Why do you think it's obvious that your film is directed by a woman?