WonderCon: Women Rocking Hollywood Panel – Jennifer Merin reports

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AWFJ member and senior contributor Leslie Combemale recently brought her 10th Women Rocking Hollywood panel to WonderCon in Los Angeles, on Saturday, March 30th, just in time to celebrate Women’s History Month. Hundreds of convention attendees who are fans of cinema and women in film were present to hear this year’s cohort of female filmmakers discuss their careers and latest projects.

The panel included Anna Halberg, Amy Greene, Anna Biller, Erica Tremblay, and Andria Wilson Mirza, with Leslie Combemale moderating.

Leslie has been kind enough to allow us to premiere the video from the panel here on AWFJ, and we couldn’t be more delighted! Read on to learn more about each panelist and their their contributions to the conversation. Then, at the bottom of this article, click on the link to the video of the panel.

First to speak was writer, producer, and director Anna Halberg, who, with her partner Spenser Cohen, wrote, executive produced, and directed Sony’s upcoming horror film Tarot, releasing May 3rd. Sony sent the trailer to show at the start of the panel. The film stars Avantika and Jacob Batalon, and follows a group of friends as they unwittingly unleash evil trapped within a cursed deck of tarot cards. Halberg is also a producer on the upcoming sci-fi thriller Distant, starring Anthony Ramos and Naomi Scott, nd she recently finished co-writing a feature project, The Wand, based on an original idea by Steven Spielberg. She talked about how, as a Japanese American, her challenges being cast in projects when she was acting galvanized her desire to commit to diverse casting as a producer and director, as well as about her experience as a first time director on Tarot.

Next was Amy Greene. She is a film producer, stunt coordinator, and stunt performer, who’s recent projects include the Academy Award winning Sound of Metal and Academy Award-nominated Knives Out. Other films she’s been a part of have won awards at Sundance, Cannes, and The Independent Spirit Awards, including AWFJ favorite, Leave No Trace. As a stunt performer, she has doubled for Meryl Streep, Laura Linney, Chloe Grace Moretz, Amy Ryan, and Taissa Farmiga. As a stunt coordinator she collaborates with directors to create believable and authentic action, most recently working with Alexander Payne on his Oscar nominated film, The Holdovers. She spoke about the importance of safety on set, including humane working hours. She also shared stories about her experience on The Holdovers, and how essential kindness as part of working in the film industry.

Before introducing the next panelist, Anna Biller, the trailer for her 2016 film The Love Witch was played. Anna is a filmmaker and a writer known for her feminist point of view, and for her meticulously crafted visual design. The New York Times called The Love Witch “a hothouse filled with deadly and seductive blooms,” and the Telegraph called her recently released debut novel Bluebeard’s Castle “wildly enjoyable,” including it in their list of the best fiction books of the year. She is currently in development for a ghost movie called The Faces of Horror, set in medieval England. Leslie mentioned at the beginning of Anna’s portion of the panel that she was signing copies of her book in the exhibitor’s hall through the indie book store Mysterious Galaxy. She explained her very subjective and decidedly feminine aesthetic, and how it leans into a woman’s perspective, particularly in the cinematography and production design. Anna clearly had lots of enthusiastic fans in the audience, as shown by those who indicated they’d seen The Love Witch when Leslie asked for a show of hands.

Next, a clip from Erica Tremblay’s upcoming feature film Fancy Dance, starring Lily Gladstone, was shown. Erica is a filmmaker from the Seneca-Cayuga Nation. Fancy Dance, which is her debut feature film, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and has since garnered not only rave reviews, but a number of awards, and was recently picked up by Apple TV+. Tremblay produced the film, which is based on her original screenplay co-written with Miciana Alise. Erica is currently writing for Season 3 of Dark Winds at AMC, and has previously written for FX’s Reservation Dogs, where she also directed two episodes. In 2021, she was accepted into the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Lab, and was awarded the Walter Bernstein Screenwriting Fellowship, the Maja Kristin Directing Fellowship, the SFFILM Rainin Grant, and the Lynn Shelton Of a Certain Age Grant. Her short film, Little Chief, premiered at Sundance in 2020, and was, in part, the inspiration for Fancy Dance. Tremblay lives on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York, where she studies her Indigenous language. She spoke to the audience, among other things, about why the subjects of MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) and the longterm impact of colonization were so important to include in the film. She also talked about the immersive language schooling she has been in was used as part of Fancy Dance, by having the two leads speak to each other in Cayuga in the film.

The Queen of My Dreams, a new film directed by Fawzia Mirza, was produced through the production company Baby Daal Productions, in which the last panelist Andria Wilson Mirza is a partner. She is also director of ReFrame, the screen industry’s gender equity coalition founded and led by Sundance Institute and Women In Film. Previously, Andria was Executive Director of Inside Out, Canada’s largest LGBTQ film festival. There, she established the world’s only LGBTQ Feature Film Financing Forum, launched two development funds, co-founded the North American Queer Festival Alliance (NAQFA), and spearheaded a four-year partnership between Inside Out and Netflix.

Leslie first asked her about The Queen of My Dreams, which is a Pakistan-Canada co-production, and has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and was named to TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten list for 2023. She then spoke about the post-strike and pandemic challenges specific to women in film, and the most recent research about representation for women and gender-nonconforming creatives in Hollywood. She also explained the importance of fans supporting the ReFrame Stamp, which serves as a mark of distinction for projects that have demonstrated gender-balanced hiring.

See the whole panel presentation in the video below:

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).