E. Beth Nelsen:
On Shooting Women’s Spaces
Posted by Beth Nelsen
June 18, 2018 A post by Empowerment Coach, Social Activist and Nationally Acclaimed, Award-Winning Filmmaker. E. Beth Nelsen, who is currently crowdfunding on Seed & Spark to cover post production costs for her documentary Mothership. Check out and back the campaign here.
Since the release of CAMP BEAVERTON: MEET THE BEAVERS, I did get a number of calls to make films about various communities and one thing became very apparent to me: most people don’t realize how time consuming it is to make a film. I know that I must be passionate about whatever story I undertake. I know this because the project consumes me and I only want to be consumed by something that makes me feel good. When MOTHERSHIP Founder Laura Wise contacted me, I knew she was onto something with her all women’s festival and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Let’s face it—patriarchy is exhausting. The chance to go to the desert of Coachella Valley for three days and be surrounded by women in a place that just IS trans inclusive was something I did not want to miss. There’s a certain sense of freedom when there are only women and queer folk on a shoot; no one will mansplain about how or when we should fly a drone, place a camera, or what kind of stuff I should try to coerce from the participants. (No joke, I had plenty of men tell me that if they had directed the BEAVERS they would have found a way to get inside the strap-on-a-thon).
What was interesting about the BEAVERS was that I knew my audience were queer, left of center types, but when it was picked up at the Hot Docs market by a distributor, it was repackaged and rebranded with two sexy women on the cover (a shot we had taken), and sold for the male gaze. Being queer myself, I struggle with the male gaze because I also appreciate sexy women, however, what I quickly learned was that a film that had brought so many people to tears for bringing them comfort of knowing they are not alone in their queerness, or their kink, was quickly shredded to pieces by angry dudes who had sought to watch the film on Amazon and were actually angry that there was no sex on screen. I also learned to stop reading the reviews by men. Sure, there were a few who genuinely enjoyed the film, but these were not the majority.
Before heading to the Mothership festival, I knew I was a little out of the loop as I am no longer the current generation; I am not a millennial and I’d been busy doing that thing that certain feminists before my generation said we women ought not do if we are to be effective feminists: I was building my own family, becoming a mother and learning to balance caring for a baby and being an activist filmmaker. I also knew that MOTHERSHIP would most likely be a time capsule of millennial feminism, so I did my homework in the months leading up to the shoot; I sought out more contemporary writing and came across books like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I followed the posts by the Mothership organization. I did not have a lot of funds for the shoot, but we did not have to travel far as we are in the Bay Area and only had to get to Southern California. I rented an RV and I was lucky in that I had four friends who were genuinely excited by the project. It also helped that the event was partnered with the Tegan & Sara Foundation and chances were we would interview the twins; my peers are huge fans. I felt solid; we had our team, we knew where we were going, more or less.
When arriving to Mothership, we had an idea of the types of questions we would be asking of the participants and the conversations in which we would engage. It was important to me to address intersectionality and to particularly address the race and gender topics. Additionally, festivals like Mothership would not have happened without the festivals that had preceded them.
I hadn’t known the exact demographics we would encounter, so exploring what the participants knew of the past was also important. Previous festivals had their struggles around inclusion, yet it is still important to recognize them, I think. We found participants who were part of that legacy. I wanted to make sure we got a decent sampling of the population who attended and make sure we found different viewpoints. The gates opened on a Friday and by early Sunday afternoon, campers were exiting. We did not have a lot of time, but with five of us speaking with participants, I think we did a pretty good job and with the real world crumbling after the Weinstein news I could not have asked to be in a more nurturing, empowering space than shooting a film at Mothership. By the time the festival was stripped back to its desert essence, #metoo had just gone viral.
Similar to the BEAVERS, I spent a few months in whatever spare time I could find transcribing interviews. In the end, we have 140 pages of Mothership participants speaking on race, gender, class, ability, body image, motherhood, sex positivity, orgasms, sexual harassment, periods, and more. Now we are in post production, attempting to fund the music, color correction, and post sound. We chose Seed & Spark because I like that it is run by filmmakers. I hadn’t been so tuned into what they have been doing, but the women who make the videos caught my attention. We do not currently know who will hold our world premiere, but we are so excited to share the voices of Mothership—today’s feminists—with the world. Although I am not sure exactly what our distribution will look like, I hope that this time around I can stick to serving the audience for whom I intended this project to be: kickass women of all different flavors who crave to live in their own power and see it on screen.