By Brianna Smith-Herman
Women have been directing films from the beginning of cinema — and have continued to break new cinematic ground since. Earlier on women sometimes had a good shot at participating, but as the studio system took shape, men largely muscled women out of directing, producing, show running and other key creative roles. Female directors persisted anyway, innovating techniques and tackling subjects once prohibited to their gender. This piece focuses on filmmakers that have innovated or pushed boundaries in some way. Thanks to a push for more women in this film and television space.
These 5 women filmmakers have produced a wide range of creative content, from narrative and documentary shorts and feature films to commercials and web series, even establishing film festivals. These women have learned from their experience developing projects from concept to completion right here in Memphis and beyond.
Miriam Bale is the Artistic Director at Indie Memphis. Indie Memphis is a year-round program that inspires, encourages and promotes independent films and filmmaking in Memphis. The year-round organization is best known for its annual Indie Memphis Film Festival presented by Duncan-Williams, Inc., which transforms the city into a connecting point for filmmakers, musicians, artists, and audiences. Bale has covered films for popular publications such as The New York Times, Sight and Sound, and Film Comment. She’s organized film programs and founded a film festival in NYC. She, along with The Memphis Indie team has done an exceptional job keeping film in Memphis in the forefront during the pandemic.
Melissa Anderson Sweazy
Melissa is an award-winning screenwriter, film and music video director, podcaster, essayist, and photographer. Right here in Memphis, she began to create films on her own terms. Resurrecting scripts, and handling the production process, she has been able to direct and produce several of her own works. Sweazy has created an animated short for the Grizzlies through a grant. She also created a documentary about Camp Good Grief which won both juried and audience awards at film festivals. You can see her movies and catch up on her sporadically updated adventures at melissasweazy.com.
Memphis-native Katori Hall is the book writer and co-producer of the West End and Broadway hit, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. She’s also the executive producer and showrunner of P-VALLEY, the breakout Starz drama based on her play Pu**y Valley. Katori is an award winner, known for her writing, playwriting, journalism, and acting. She is, perhaps, best known for The Mountaintop. The play, which fictionalizes the last night in Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2010 before opening on Broadway in October 2011 to critical acclaim. Katori’s other works include the award-winning Hurt Village, Hoodoo Love, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, Our Lady of Kibeho and The Blood Quilt. She is also the director of the award-winning short, Arkabutla. Katori is currently developing multiple projects across film, television and theater.
Lauren is an Emmy award-winning storyteller with more than a decade of experience. She spent the first part of her career in TV journalism. Ultimately, WMC Action News 5 brought Lauren and her husband Scott to Memphis. And it was here that Lauren found her passion for telling the stories she does now, as owner and Principal Storyteller for Forever Ready Productions. She directed and produced an Emmy award-winning short documentary called “Bike Lee.” It won Audience Choice at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. She created the Emmy-nominated video featuring a former Regional One Health patient who, after a tough battle against near death, was reunited with his doctors and nurses who saved his life. She directed the team-wide production of 2018 Indie Memphis winner “You Must Believe,” which took home the Audience Choice award in the Hometowner Documentary Short category. It also won an Emmy in 2020. Lauren is constantly producing and capturing stories visually.
Zaire is an award-winning filmmaker, music maker, and writer whose mission is to honor, amplify, and archive the stories and voices of the Black South concentrating her work in Memphis and Mississippi. Her artistry is an ode to being Black and southern in America because the Black South has always had meaningful “cornbread” to share. In her TEDx talk, Baby Hair + Hot Sauce = Embrace What They Ain’t, she talks about the power that Black women [Beyonce and Fannie Lou Hamer] from the South possess and how that power of embracing what others are not is the power that makes them legendary. Zaire is currently making and creating with her studio, Creative Cornbread. Check out her works at zairelove.com.