Jennifer Reeder describes what it’s like to be a woman in the filmmaking industry 

Being a woman in the filmmaking industry can be a challenge. Read more to find out about the adversities to be faced. Photo by Dmitry Demidov/Pexels.

On April 24, the University of Connecticut’s Department of Digital Media and Design hosted filmmaker Jennifer Reeder to discuss her multiple feature-length films and her journey to creating them.  

Reeder began the discussion with her personal experiences of entering  the film industry. She explained how she never went to film school but instead went to art school. Due to her gender and limited access to resources, Reeder never felt that she had a real mentor in film. She went to art school in the late 1990s, a period when few female filmmakers gained publicity. For those that did, Reeder felt wildly disconnected from them.  

In her pursuit of becoming a director, Reeder turned herself into her “own little sweatshop,” as she essentially taught herself how to write scripts, work cameras and direct casts.  

Reeder explained that through her films, she aims to highlight the importance of queer storytelling. She wants to illustrate important, real-world issues that are often swept under the rug or sugar-coated. Reeder elaborated on how she gathered inspiration from other directors like John Waters and Jack Smith. Reeder admires these directors because they work at the fringes of creativity.  

She also hopes that her work encapsulates this same energy, as Reeder finds living on the edge liberating. While walking a fine line may sound daunting to some, to Reeder, she finds it as the freedom to be “as bold as you want to be so long as your stories are grounded in authenticity.” 

Reeder segued into discussing her thought process behind film production. She revealed how she likes to compile a cast that lives both in front of and behind the camera and also embodies inclusivity. She elaborated by explaining how she wants her actors to feel a genuine connection between themselves and the crew and vice versa.  

To conclude, Reeder explained how her directing differs from that of other directors. She alluded to how the freedom she feels from filmmaking has allowed her to feel confident in illustrating stories of dead and/or missing girls, in addition to other traumatic situations that women endure. She calls out other, better-known filmmakers for staying away from feminist tropes. Reeder doesn’t aim to embarrass or trigger young women through her work, but instead wishes to provoke thought and to “make women who have become invisible in their death visible.” 

At the end of Reeder’s talk, the floor opened for questions.  

Fourth-year DMD major Sarah Oxner asked Reeder about the biggest obstacle she has faced as a woman in the film industry. Reeder answered with a description of the “trust gap.” 

“In the film industry, men are hired for their potential, whereas women are hired for what they’ve already done,” Reeder said. “Producers trust a man’s word, while they only trust a woman’s portfolio.”  

The struggle Reeder deems the most suppressing is that women need to reinvent themselves with every new film, while men have permission to create films at their own free will — even if they are no better than mediocre.  

Lexis Johnson, a third-year DMD major, then asked Reeder about how aspiring filmmakers can find their own creative voice. Reeder replied with a trite response to just “be yourself.” Reeder understands that this advice is cliché and easier said than done, but she emphasized its importance. She explained how oftentimes people lose their voices in the production process because their only goal is to get their movie made, even at the cost of losing the core of the story they want to tell.  

Reeder urges young filmmakers to take what they believe is the right advice for their film and to have the confidence to say “no” to someone who wants to suppress their ideas. Her greatest piece of advice is not to settle, because there is always someone out there who will take your story just as it is.  

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