Leandra Sharron of Massachusetts – Assistant Director of The Boston SciFi Film Festival – Member of WIFVNE
What’s the best part about your work?
What I enjoy most about my work is getting to experience and advocate for what I believe to be innovative, new, independent film and finding how it can connect with the Boston community. I’m going into my 3rd year programming the Boston SciFi Film Festival and I’ve learned a great deal more than I could ever even put into words, but the one thing I will say is that it’s not so simple as picking good movies. Perhaps the hardest, but also most rewarding part of the process is finding the right fit for a collaborative effort between the festival and a local organization, whether it be for a film screening, panel discussion, or workshop. This is something that I think Boston SciFi has only just recently started to succeed at, as is evidenced by our partnership with you lovely ladies as well as organizations like the Boston Museum of Science and Dust Production Company. Through coordinating co-presentations and sponsorships and the like I end up meeting so many awesome people in the Boston community as well as some amazing filmmakers from all over the world. And it was such a pleasure having JoAnn Cox in attendance to introduce the documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, with Director Arwen Curry and Q&A Moderator Theodora Goss. All wonderful, truly inspiring women! As great as our last festival went, we’re all psyched for what the future holds and how we can ride this wave of momentum to make it even better next year. I’m sure you’ve got a great many smart and successful women applying for this feature, and I’m fully aware I’m on the outskirts of the industry as I’m not an actual filmmaker, however the role I play in showcasing independent films is one I believe to be important both to the film industry and to the greater Boston community, so I appreciate your consideration.
What challenges have you’ve faced in this industry as a woman?
I’m lucky in that I don’t have to deal with the types of issues women on set do, and that most of my correspondences with filmmakers is done through email, where it’s relatively easy to stay autonomous. I really can’t say that I’ve experienced any drastic challenges that can clearly be traced back to my gender and the traits traditionally associated with women. However as the Assistant Director of Boston SciFi I am often the face of the festival, to a total of the 3,000 people, including 80 filmmakers, attending the festival, and as such, I try to always be welcoming and inclusive to everyone. But I’ve often had men misinterpret my professional friendliness as something more. Although this has happened to me a number of times in my personal life, as I suspect it happens to most women, but I’m still not quite sure how to handle it when it happens professionally. My go-to move is to politely decline and then bring my (made-up) boyfriend into the conversation a little later on. I find this doesn’t hurt anyone’s ego or damage their relationship with the festival. Additionally, the thing that was a bit difficult to get used to was the amount of people, mostly older men commenting on my looks, rather than the work I’ve done with the festival. I know it is ultimately meant to be a compliment, however, I can’t help but think that if I were a young man there would be no need to bring up my looks. What do my looks have to do with the work I’ve done all year long to put on this event, after all? Do my looks somehow make me more qualified or intelligent? Do these men think because I put effort into how I look, that I need them to tell me I’m pretty, as confirmation, as if I get dressed in the morning for them? I try to reassure myself that they don’t mean anything by it, it’s simply how they were raised.
In the age of #MeToo & #TimesUp, what do you hope to see happening in the future for women in our industry?
As I’ve alluded to in my last response, I’d like to see a greater acceptance of women in the industry by appreciating them solely for the work they’ve done, and not how attractive they are or aren’t. More females being nominated for major awards and more focus on why they’re nominated. What I would like to see happen for women in the industry moving forward is for them not to have to even deal with the silly little issues I mentioned in my last response because they’re viewed as genuine peers and equals. Isn’t that what every girl wants!? My goal is really to use the films and filmmakers coming through the festival to get the word out to a more mainstream audience, and prove to them that the work women are creating is ; In this I see the work I do almost as an act of activism, attempting to change the general public’s opinion of women working in the industry. We all see a number of high-profile women in the industry speaking out against injustices they’ve faced, which is extremely important, but it’s just the start of what I hope continues to go much further and deeper in impact. People need to realize that it happens at every level of this industry, not just in Hollywood. I just want to be one of those women uplifting other women, showing the world that we’re capable of greatness too. Hollywood has been a boy’s club for far too long.
What’s one way you would suggest people “Change the Lens”? (Such as going to see women directed movies, or pushing for an inclusion rider)
Well the opposite side of that, for someone like me, is to try my best to support the women directing films and/or pushing for inclusion riders. Women supporting other women is one of the best things to see. Not only do I aim to program as many quality, female-directed, produced and focused films as possible, but I also do my best to open up the dialogue between both filmmakers and film watchers through post-screening Q&A’s, panel discussions and more personal, intimate networking opportunities like afterparties. I believe this to be vital to the cause because, at the end of the day, it’s important that this issue isn’t seen as an industry-specific issue, but as a universal issue presenting itself to be particularly problemsome within the film industry. And that it’s not just the responsibility of the filmmakers to fix, but the responsibility of our society. Everyone has the capability to be a factor in creating a change for the better, as challenging as it may be.
What advice would you give to a new female filmmaker?
Don’t take no for an answer, always ask why, and support as many other women as possible.
What goals do you have for this year?
Well, of course, I hope to be a driving force in the festival’s continued success, by enhancing the filmmaker’s experience as well as our community engagement. I aim to develop more partnerships with smart, local organizations and businesses who’s views and audiences align with what we try to do with the festival. Boston has had such a thriving film scene and it’s well on it’s a way to having that again, and film festivals like mine can really help make a difference. One lead that I’m particularly excited to pursue is with another WIFVNE member Jen Myronuk, and her interesting new immersive theater experience about Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She seems to be getting a lot of traction with it and is very willing to share her success stories, bless her heart. I can see some very exciting potential partnership opportunities in the mix as well! My personal goals are to find a good film program to take that will help me to figure out what career path I’d like to pursue. I’m at the point now where I realize I want to go into the film industry, I’m just not sure what area would be the best tapping of my potential. The bubbling sense of excitement I get in my chest when I think of all the possibilities and avenues of success is such a good feeling! And on a somewhat separate but fun note, I’d also like to get back into creative performance as well. I have a background in theater education and as such have done a bit of improv and I find it to be terrifying, exhilarating and fun all at the same time. It’s generally just good for the soul to learn to take risks when being creative. So I’m taking an improv class at Improv Boston, should be a fun way to get the inventive juices flowing.
What women in the region (New England) inspire you?
The first who come to mind are the sisters behind the Roxbury International Film Festival, Lisa and Alison Simmons. They are absolutely killing it with that festival, shedding light on some truly phenomenal films before they go on to win great mass acclaim. I had the pleasure of attending last year with an industry pass, and the opening night film, Liyana, was very much an example of this. It literally has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes that’s how good it is. I also recently had the opportunity to moderate a Panel Discussion on film festivals with Lisa and that was extremely informative. The intention of their festival is an admirable one as well. These women are sincerely and whole-heartedly doing a wonderful service to the Boston community and I applaud and respect them so much for it. I’m also awed by the work of Kelley Vickery, the Artistic Director and Founder of the Berkshire International Film Festival, in my hometown of Pittsfield, Ma. It’s a pleasure to attend each year and see first-hand what the festival is doing for its community, and it’s a contribution to Pittsfield’s cultural and artistic rep. The city of Pittsfield has had a tough past with crime, drugs, homelessness and mental illness, and has over the last 15 years seen a cultural revitalization of sorts, with the renovation of a beautiful old Colonial Theater and several professional theater companies opening up, a city-run monthly Summer Arts Walk and Concert Series, ect. And make no mistake, the Berkshire International Film Festival is a great addition to the downtown arts scene, essential to putting Pittsfield in the same league of other, more affluent surrounding towns in the Berkshires, like Lenox and Great Barrington. The festival is almost entirely run by women as well. I can only hope to have a similar impact on the community we serve in and around Somerville, and the surrounding Boston area as well as all of New England. Elizabeth Warren (because obviously). Elizabeth Banks, may not currently be in the region, but she is from Pittsfield. As a wonderful, successful actress, activist and mother she’s an amazing advocate for women in film. Some other women I find inspiring are Suzzann Cromwell, the co-curator of Boston SciFi, Miriam Olken, who also works for Boston SciFi but has been working on a lot of the local film and television sets recently. Olivia Grant, the Head Publicist for Boston SciFi, who previously worked at HBO and left that job to raise her daughter in Boston around her family and countless others. Inspirational women are all around us!
Upcoming Events or Announcements? What are you working on?
Well, we wrapped up SF44 about a week ago, but we’re already working on SF45! Lots and lots of thoughts flying around, too many to mention, but suffice it to say it’s all about the relationships and collaboration we can garner with folks like you all, The Boston Science Museum and Dust Distribution Co. First and foremost is finishing up the final touches on this year’s festival, but then we’re planning some year-round programming this year, like a youth animation workshop with local animator Michael Neel and his 6-year-old son Jasper. The two of them often create simple, fun 30-second long shorts based off Jasper’s animations and he narrates them too. They call them Jasper Tales and even have their own Facebook page for it. And then in May, I’m planning to attend the London SciFi Film Festival, a week-long festival we have a good relationship with and would like to garner more of a partnership. I may also stop over at the Prague Fringe Festival since a Boston SciFi staff member will be volunteering for it and it’s run by a woman I became friends with while working at the inaugural Newcastle International Film Festival in Northeastern England last year. As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently doing a lot of research on various different film programs at the local universities. I’d like to go back to school soon so I’m thinking maybe a summer program will help me figure out what field exactly I’d like to pursue.
How can your fans find you!?
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