An Intern’s Farewell Address

Aubin Pictures and its missions seem tailor-made for me: a not-for-profit organization and documentary production company which aims to create and promote films about relevant social issues, such as gender relations, and reproductive rights. I am a film major with a minor in women’s studies, and a specific interest in documentaries, which spawned at the age of 15 when I first saw the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens. I admire and deeply respect all of the work that Catherine Gund and Aubin Pictures have been both responsible for and involved with in the past, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to work on some of these projects, but am most grateful to be able to call myself a member of the Aubin Pictures family.

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Director Catherine Gund congratulates STREB dancer Cassandre Joseph on One Extraordinary Day, photo by Shane Dempsey.

In the Gender & American Popular Media class I took last spring, women’s roles in the media and the effects of those roles became a major and recurrent discussion topic. It is my opinion that one of the most pervasive obstructions to gender equality in the United States lies in the confining, stereotypical representations of women that dominate films, television and other media forms. Nearly all of Aubin Pictures’ films focus on girls and women making a difference in the world, including and especially its current production – a documentary titled How to Become an Extreme Action Hero, which explores the life and art of extreme action choreographer Elizabeth Streb. Unfortunately, most American production companies, and all of the larger, most influential ones tend to produce based on patterns of mass consumerism as opposed to morals, ethics and the benefit of society. There are very few women in positions of power in this country, and the women who actually are excellent role models for young girls are not promoted nor shown on television nearly as often as reality TV stars, pregnant teens and drug addicted starlets with too much plastic surgery.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an article titled How Can Women Gain Influence in Hollywood?, which provided a disheartening, yet not so surprising statistic:

“For the top 250 domestic films of 2011, only 18 percent of behind-the-camera positions, including producer and director, were held by women. Hollywood is still mostly men making movies for men.”

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Hero's camera-woman Esy Casey filming Elizabeth Streb and Anne MacDougal as they prepare for the performances on One Extraordinary Day[/caption]

The male gaze and its rampant influence over the media, and especially over the film industry is something I have learned about in classes and through readings, and have become increasingly fascinated and disturbed by. Thus, I was initially reassured by the female-run environment at Aubin Pictures, and came to be even more encouraged by the organization’s defiance of the aforementioned trends of the American media. This is a socially active production company run by award-winning women filmmakers that consistently provides important female perspectives that have otherwise been ignored. I also entered the Aubin Pictures office at a very significant and exciting time, as Catherine Gund was developing her most recent documentary How to Become an Extreme Action Hero.

I suddenly found myself involved and invested in a film about an innovative, creative, successful and powerful woman, being made by an innovative, creative, successful and powerful woman. I got the chance to work on a set- inside the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM), where a female camera woman, Esy Casey, filmed Hero’s female subject Elizabeth Streb as a female sound person, Cassie Wagler, recorded her words, all under the direction of female filmmaker Catherine Gund.

I feel quite privileged to have worked on Hero, a film that will demonstrate to women and girls, young and old, that they do not need to exploit themselves, submit to men or conform to stereotypes in order to achieve success, fame or fulfillment. More films like this one need to be made, and more organizations like Aubin Pictures need to be formed to further progressive action for women’s equality and against the popular media’s perpetuation of negative gender representations. The inspiration, motivation and experience I have accrued since my start here will remain invaluable to me for the rest of my life, especially in my career endeavors which I hope will be centered in what I love- the film industry. I sincerely hope that I will someday be able to emulate Catherine’s integration of social activism, female empowerment and the influences of the film medium.

-Devin Leary

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Women on the panel at one of Aubin Pictures' screenings of its 2009 film What's On Your Plate?, which featured many powerful and active women and girls: Producer Tanya Selvaratnam, featured interviewee in the film and Founder of Harvest Home Farmer's Market Maritza Owens, Kids' Movement Director at The Clinton Foundation's Alliance for a Healthier Generation Kimberly Perry, Jennifer Clapp from the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, and Nhumi Threadgill, who is featured in the film.