Yara Shahidi, Phoebe Tonkin Help Kick Off 2019 Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program

Yara Shahidi -Phoebe Tonkin -Publicity - Getty - Split - H 2019
Dia Dipasupil/WireImage; Courtesy Chanel

In videos exclusive to THR, the actress-directors share their dream roles, as Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Kruger and Catherine Keener are announced as 2019 Through Her Lens participants.

The fifth annual Through Her Lens: Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program, which provides mentorship and financing for female-led short film projects, kicks off Nov. 4-6 in New York. Presented by Chanel and Tribeca Enterprises, along with Pulse Films and Tribeca Film Institute, the program targets U.S.-based female writers and directors.

“Chanel was prescient and there right at the beginning when we created the program six years ago," Paula Weinstein, CCO of Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival’s executive vp, told The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s no new secret that women have been underrepresented as directors and producers and have been paid less as actresses. So we applaud Chanel for having come in before it was a front-page issue and recognizing the importance of supporting women’s voices.”

To show their support, actress-directors Yara Shahidi and Phoebe Tonkin, both advisers to the program, have created videos (shared first exclusively with THR) in which they talk about their own experiences on both sides of the camera. On Monday, the five pairs of female filmmakers and projects selected for the 2019 program, along with this year’s master class leaders, mentors and jury members, were announced. 

The three-day program includes one-on-one mentorship and master classes on script-to-screen development, casting, costume design, music composition, producing and directing, as well as $100,000 in grant funding. To conclude the programming, the filmmakers will pitch their projects to a jury including Weinstein, actresses Diane Kruger and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, producer Dede Gardner and director Sam Taylor-Johnson. One team will receive full financing to produce their short, with support from Tribeca Studios, while the others will all receive grants to continue developing their films.

This year’s master class leaders are actor-director Sarah Jessica Parker, producer Alison Benson, costume designer Ane Crabtree, editor Sabine Hoffman, casting director Laura Rosenthal, and writer/director/producer Julie Taymor. Serving as mentors are actress Catherine Keener, producer Anne Carey, director-producers Julie Dash and Lesli Linka Glatter, director/writer/producers Nicole Holofcener and Aline Brosh McKenna, writer-directors Semi Chellas, Tina Gordon and Olivia Milch, and writer-producer Liz Hannah.

In the video, program adviser Shahidi shares her dream role since age 10 ("a superhero or a sociopath") and says that she received the best advice from Kerry Washington, while working with her on Shonda Rhimes' Scandal. The 19-year-old also talks women and money, her mantra, what defines femininity, what drives her, and the impact of speaking five years ago at the NAACP Hollywood Bureau Symposium panel. Tomkin reveals that her dream role is Anna Karenina ("I do like a complicated Russian protagonist!") and discusses directing and the power of reaching out to other women, in her case Gia Coppola, for mentorship.

Selected 2019 projects include Champ, the story of an encounter between a high school basketball player and her coach, from writer-director Hannah Peterson and producer Taylor Shung; Coche Bomba, about a 12-year-old girl who loves aliens, from writer-director Kantú Lentz and producer Roja Gashtili; Keep It Together, set in 1976 Beirut during the civil war, from writer-director Bane Fakih and producer Birgit Gernböck; Melissa, the account of a relationship between a queer theater director and her married female boss, from writer Charlotte T. Martin and director Cynthia Silver; and Over and Over, a tale of a woman who has troubling visions about the future of humanity, from writer-director Laura Moss and producer Mali Elfman.

Past participants, whose films have received accolades, include Nikyatu Jusu’s Suicide by Sunlight (2017), which premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and A.V. Rockwell’s Feathers (2016), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was acquired by Fox Searchlight.

“In these few years, the work we have funded and produced has been presented at major festivals around the country, acquired by distributors, and the women have gotten other work from it," Weinstein told THR. "Through Her Lens has become a calling card into meetings with major financiers and distributors.”

Actress Emily Mortimer, who served as a mentor in 2015 and subsequently produced and starred in two short films from the program, told THR: "When I go to the lunches and meet the directors and producers and other mentors and judges each year, I keenly feel the influence of Jane Rosenthal, who is so dedicated to the notion of redressing gender inequality in the film business. It’s all about women helping women, and the joy and power that brings. And Chanel is the best fashion label, bar none, when it comes to supporting film and female talent in film."

In 2019, the Tribeca Film Festival included 50 percent female-directed or co-directed films and 40 percent female-directed feature-length films, down slightly from a record high of 46 percent in 2018. Female directors won all four of the festival’s short-film categories in 2019, while 67 percent of the winners of the best documentary award (since the festival’s inception in 2002 by Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff) have been female. 

“The industry is more conscious; the figures have not greatly changed but are on the upswing," Weinstein told THR. "We are going to keep doing programs like this until there is parity…and then continue even after that. At Tribeca we are always exploring underrepresented areas and providing a platform. We are looking at each area where the motion picture industry has fallen down, where providing funds and mentorship can have the greatest impact and change the kinds of stories that are being told.”

Chanel and Tribeca additionally partner to support The Nora Ephron Award, which has granted $25,000 annually since 2013 to female filmmakers.