Women in film: a movie by women for women

Director Ellen Mulvihill conducts her film Feis' lead actors though an emotional scene.

Director Ellen Mulvihill conducts her film Feis' lead actors though an emotional scene.

BY MICHELE RODRIGUEZ

Between #OscarsSoWhite and other calls for diversity in the film industry, Hollywood has seen a rise in inclusive, progressive films showcasing people from all backgrounds, but the behind the scenes are still lacking representation.

Among these marginalized groups are the women who work as cinematographers, editors and directors in the film industry. CSUN’s Cinema and Television Arts department is working to fill those gaps.

One of this year’s five senior showcase picks, FEIS, tells the story of a young Irish dancer who feels smothered by her mom’s encouragement to be all she can be and more. In an interview with writer and director Ellen Mulvihill, she discusses the importance of her female dominated cast and crew and the way CSUN is helping her stay optimistic in a male dominated field.


Q: Your film is a mother-daughter story with minimal male influence. Was that intentional?

A: I was sitting in class when my professor said, “Okay, you’re gonna write a short that can be based on your personal experience and it’s one of the only few times you can get away with that.” I did know that I wanted to talk about the relationship between certain types of women so I pulled from the mother-daughter relationships I witnessed around my community. Growing up in Orange County with the soccer moms and these moms who are over-involved in their children's’ lives and don’t let them breathe and don’t let them make decisions for themselves. I wanted to tell that story. There’s a lot of content that gets labeled as “female content” but it’s usually something where the girl is so dependent on the male lead who she’s in love with. This story doesn’t even involve that. There’s no place for a romantic storyline at all. It’s really just focused on this female relationship.

Q: When there is a movie like that, it’s often written off as a “chick flick.” Were you actively fighting past that?

A: I don’t think we ever saw the movie as a chick flick but there was some opposition to the mother-daughter storyline and the fact that there were no dominant male characters. In my original drafts, I would get notes about how there was no father figure in the story at all. They wanted to have it explained and saw it as necessary, whereas I didn’t feel like that was even important. The storyline could’ve just focused on the relationship between the mother and the daughter. I think there is an interesting element to it being between a mother and daughter besides a son and a father because women struggle with this idea of looking perfect and being perfect in a way that only women experience.

Q: Was your mostly female crew chosen deliberately or did it just happen that way?

A: It kind of just happened, but I do gravitate towards working with women because I feel it brings a softer aspect to the film. But I had it balanced out. Like my editor, Jessica, is paired with a male editor, Sean, and our cinematographer, Sydney, is with a mostly male camera crew. Our producer, Amanda, is a co-producer with our other producer, Michael. So there is that balance there but I definitely did want to work with a lot of women. I even brought it up in my proposal [to the department to have this film made] and mentioned that in order to tell female stories like this, you need female voices.

Director Ellen Muvihill, cinematographer Sydney Barfield and set designer Sachie Mesuda assess a potential shot through an iPhone camera.

Director Ellen Muvihill, cinematographer Sydney Barfield and set designer Sachie Mesuda assess a potential shot through an iPhone camera.

Q: Do you think inclusion like that should be deliberate?

A: I do because when it’s more balanced like that, you get different opinions from people with different experiences and it’s more personal to the struggles of the filmmaker. Like for our first rough cut, Sean and Jessica each did separate ones and we compared and contrasted them and took aspects from each. I just think it allows it to have a more wholesome perspective.

Q: Are you inspired by female directors in particular?

A: Unfortunately , when I first got into filmmaking, I didn’t watch a lot of films made by women behind the camera. There is an inequality within the industry and what is produced and valued. You really have to go searching for those female filmmakers to get into them.

Q: Are you inspired by female CSUN film professors? Do you think there are enough?

A: The department is pretty diverse with faculty. Karen Carpenter - she teaches one of the intro to production classes - she was very optimistic about our film going into it. There are a lot of theory female professors who re-invent the history of film by teaching through different lenses and trying to put that emphasis on women filmmakers because it was once so male-centered. CSUN has really done a good job having us learn about and watch films made by different minority groups.

Cinematographer Sydney Barfield leads camera operator Mitch Granese to capture one of the film's climactic scenes.

Cinematographer Sydney Barfield leads camera operator Mitch Granese to capture one of the film's climactic scenes.

Q: Have you faced any disadvantages at CSUN?

A: CSUN does try its best to represent diversity so within this program, I haven’t felt any of that. But I have had classes with students who will put down a woman’s opinion and things like that. But for the most part, the types of directors a faculty selects and the films they represent are pretty inclusive. But I am aware of the struggles in the industry outside of this school.

Q: Are you optimistic about a future of women in film?

A: Right now, I’m in a bubble because the department is really diverse but I do think that there are currently so many platforms to distribute content and now that there is so much awareness, people are making the effort to [include] women and other marginalized groups to projects because they’re aware that that is what the people want. Even with the internship I have, the production company is owned by two women so I get to see them meeting with female writers and directors constantly. It makes me optimistic for film in the future.