04 August 2008

Q&A with Amy Sewell on "What's Your Point, Honey?"

Amy Sewell, the creator, writer, and co-producer of the award-winning 2005 documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom,” has completed her second movie, "What's Your Point, Honey?" Through the stories of three groups of girls and women, it explores when women will become equally represented among candidates for U.S. president. A portion of the movie's DVD profits will support the Ms. Foundation for Women (purchase online). [Update: the video can also be rented or purchased digitally from Amazon.com. Download it today.]

In a recent telephone conversation with Amy Sewell we learned more about the film and its genesis -- namely, her concern for her daughters' future and an interest in the impact of feminism on emerging young women leaders.

Why did you make this film?

Amy Sewell: It started before we ever shot anything for "Mad Hot Ballroom." I was putting my six-year-old twin daughters to bed and one of them told me that girls couldn't ride motorcyles. I asked her why, and she said it was because she had never seen it before. It dawned on me that there may be many other things my young daughters do not see and therefore think impossible. After "Mad Hot" was done that insight returned and I started thinking about doing a documentary about feminism. I didn't quite know how to put it together because to me the topic seemed so big and vague.

Shortly after that I met Susan Toffler and she also wanted to make a documentary on feminism. She had been in the commercial production business for fifteen years and after she left to have a child she felt she had become invisible, and had ceased to exist in that world.

As we explored what and how to tell a story, we realized we wanted to look ahead, to explore the future of feminism. The only way to do that is to listen to the voices of future generations. So we decided to go after three age groups: tweens, teens, and twenty-year-olds. We found roles for each of the groups and got lucky finding the twenty-year-olds because they were interns in the 2024 Program co-sponsored by the White House Project and Cosmo Girl magazine.

The film tells its story through their voices and shows us where we're headed. We think it worked out magically. The tweens played the role of three little Michael Moores, asking boys their age and people of all ages on the streets of New York questions about the possibility of woman president. The teens show us something about the realities young women face in a society where the commercial culture bombards you with sexualized images. The seven twenty-something women are the focus of the movie, and they provide us with a compelling view of the promise of young women to be the leaders of tomorrow.

The key in the movie is that the goal is not one candidate who is a woman running for U.S. President, but a slate of women running. Then we will, as Marie Wilson notes in the film, "get beyond gender to agenda."

Can you explain the title?

We borrowed it from a Jim Borgman cartoon from January 2007. One of our investors sent it to us, and we saw it and laughed immediately. Documentary film titles have to attract attention and make people wonder. In this movie we wanted to wake people up. We wanted a title that was not sappy, nor angry, sarcastic, or erotic. We wanted to keep people guessing.

We tried many other titles, but nothing seemed to stick like this one. (As we made the film we found ourselves joking about it, turning to each other and asking "What's your point, honey?" The result is that the sting of the message is blunted.) Finally, we're pleased that the result of seeing the film is enthusiasm about seven young women who might become political leaders in the future and the knowledge that if it's not one of them, there are many others out there preparing as well.

What have you learned from the screenings?

We have shown the film in locations around the country, and will be in San Francisco, Columbus, and Asheville, North Carolina, then back in New York City in October. We have sold out in almost every city, and it's been very well received in the press.

I think that many young women do not realize how far we still have to go. They grew up with their mothers working and they are told they have any opportunity out there. They don't see that women still are paid 77 cents to the dollar earned by men, and that the discrepancy is larger for women of color.

One of the responses we have been getting from younger audiences is usually a big “wow." We knew that we did not have a solution to the challenges facing women, but hoped that we could start a conversation between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. We wanted also to mark a moment in time when the political participation of women is still much too low for our representation in the population.

How should someone use the DVD?

Our goal is for someone to buy a copy, and walk up to their local theater and ask "can we show us and bring a group in?" or to assemble in someone's living room and invite thirty friends over and watch the movie together. They can use the viewer's guide, which comes with the DVD -- though I guarantee they won't need it -- to discuss the issues the film raises. You can also watch it at home with a loved one or a friend.

How did you select the organizations supported by DVD sales?

When we made this movie, we realized it was very American, and some of us are very fortunate in this country. When we went out to find the three groups to "pay it forward with," we selected the White House Project, because it is bipartisan, and we want to get all women more involved in the positions of political power; we went to Girls, Inc. to help build the pipeline with their 98 chapters across the country. Finally, I knew I was not doing enough for women who are less fortunate, and I knew that other women are feeling that way, too. So we chose the Ms. Foundation. And if we can get every woman in the country to buy a DVD, and get a few dollars from each one to the Ms. Foundation, wouldn't that be great? The Foundation is going to take those funds to the grassroots groups where women face the intersection of race, class, and gender, and are building change that affects women and their families.

Do you think we will see a roster of women running for president in 2024?

I hope so, though it’s likely it will take that long to see a critical mass of women running for president.

Many young women today don't realize that the personal is political -- it's the sidewalk you walk on, it's your library, it's your firehouse, it's something going on in the community -- and most women are already geared to run for political office, whether it's at the local, state or federal level. I don't think they understand they have so much to offer politics, and so much to bring to the table. The seven twenty-something young women in the film act as role models -- they are doing work in public service -- and that is what a politician does.


The DVD of “What’s Your Point, Honey” has just become available for sale. Amy Sewell and Susan Toffler, the co-writers, co-directors, and co-producers of the film are sharing 30% of the DVD profits with the Ms. Foundation for Women, the White House Project, and Girls, Inc. The DVD can be purchased online.

Image: detail from Jim Boardman cartoon.

No comments:

Post a Comment