Susan Sarandon at the panel for [Bombshell: The Heddy Lamar Story (Source: Flash of the Stars)
Another Tribeca Film Festival has come and gone, but I'm still enthused about the filmmaking, both traditional and digital, as well as the talks and panels that I witnessed there. I reviewed my two favorite LGBT films, the exhilarating musical Saturday Church and the timely documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson for Geeks OUT. Gay sexuality is also touched on in the grimly compelling My Friend Dahmer, starring Disney star Ross Lynch as the high school aged future serial killer. The throngs of fangirls who turned up outside the premiere aren't going to know what hit them when the film opens this fall.
Another festival highlight was the documentary Bombshell: The Heddy Lamar Story, which details how the silver screen vixen quietly invented the "signal hopping" technology that gave birth to wifi and scores of other innovations but barely received credit for it during her lifetime. Masterfully made by first time female director Alexandra Dean, the movie transcends the "talking head" format and weaves together vintage film scenes and footage, audio interviews, and animation to give Lamar the voice so long denied her. The film was executive produced by another iconic movie star, Susan Sarandon, who appeared at a panel discussing the film and its themes.
"When you tell stories like this about women, like Hidden Figures, not just older women looking at it but little girls, anytime you see ... anything that breaks the ridiculously narrow definitions of what you're allowed to be, or what you can accomplish, [it] lights something in people's minds, and that's where change happens first—in the imagination," Sarandon declared. "You have to believe in yourself ... That's why Rocky Horror has still haunted me, because you can't just dream it. You've got to be it." As if that statement wasn't enough to confirm the actor's queer cred, she also popped up on the Saturday Church red carpet to support her pal, handsome director Damon Cardasis.
Cardasis with Sarandon
Girl power was also in evidence at the Out of This World: Female Filmmakers in Genre digital screening. Three very different fantasy and science fiction works were shown, all by female directors. The best was Vera Miao's Ma, part of an upcoming anthology of Two Sentence Horror Stories adaptations. (I can't wait to see the rest now.) The creepy and emotionally involving episode involves a young Asian woman living with her domineering mother. Her telekinetic powers are awakened when she begins an affair with a butch Black neighbor; the interracial lesbian romance is presented as matter-of-factly as the horror content.
Speaking of women in horror, first-time producer and Hollywood legend Jamie Lee Curtis—a personal heroine of mine—was also at the festival as a producer for the documentary Hondros. The film centers on the work of the late war photographer Chris Hondros. Although acknowledging that "inequity" in the industry is "an important question," Curtis stated that "I did not approach this as a woman. I approached this as a human being. And I was touched by the photograph of Samar Hassan that Chris took as a human, not as a woman, maybe as a mother, but I wouldn't put it into my gender, I would put it into my humanity." Curtis reasoned that co-producer Jake Gyllenhaal could have easily been the one first involved with the project, "so I don't think it's a role of women here, the fact that I'm a woman, a mother, and a co-executive producer of this wonderful movie is a fact, [but it] was not the intent."
Curtis at the Hondros premiere (Source: Mike Coppola, Getty Images)
Despite the depressing current political climate, this year's Tribeca Film Festival provided encouraging signs that the tide is turning for women in Hollywood. Sarandon certainly saw hope for the future: "With the advent of so many women creating, in positions of power, it's not quite as lonely. Women don't have to push other women out. You can be envious, but you know now that we are stronger together."