On Saturday, March 25th, 2023, also known as International SWAN Day, NYWIFT (New York Women in Film and Television) hosted its 15th annual SWAN Day celebration. This event was co-sponsored by FF2 Media as well as Herflix, SAG-AFTRA (The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and WAMC (Women in the Arts and Media Coalition). The event was held at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea (Manhattan) as it had been for most pre-pandemic years since the very first SWAN Day in 2008. The vibe was especially joyous because this was the first f2f in-person celebration since the 2020 lockdown which began in mid-March of 2020!
Before SVA’s doors had even opened, dozens of people were gathered in the lobby, chatting amongst themselves excitedly about the hours to come. When the doors did finally open, attendees flooded into the theater (which has over 260 seats). To kick off the event, there was a welcome from FF2’s own Jan Lisa Huttner (co-founder of International SWAN Day) and introductions by Leslie Shrieve and Shellen Lubin.
The first session was Q&A about the history of SWAN Day, moderated by FF2 Media Associate Katusha Jin. The two panelists were Jan and Avis Boone. Avis is a co-president of WAMC and Vice Chair of the SAG-AFTRA Women’s Committee.
To start the Q&A, Jan gave a brief history of the origins of SWAN Day in Chicago…
To start the Q&A, Jan gave a brief history of the origins of SWAN Day in Chicago. Jan was inspired by an interview she had with Martha Lauzen—who coined the term “Celluloid Ceiling”—in which Martha explained that women must support women filmmakers from the audience, so these filmmakers wouldn’t have to advocate for themselves, by themselves. As Jan quoted Martha: “If we change media messages, we will change the world.” After that interview, Jan states, she teamed up with Martha Richards, at the time the executive director of WomenArts, to create SWAN Day. Since then, as Katusha pointed out, there have been over 2,000 SWAN Day events across the globe (and likely much more; Jan pointed out that they stopped being able to keep track once the events went virtual in the pandemic).
Following this, Avis told the story of the start of SWAN Day in NYC. The Women in the Arts and Media Coalition — at the time called the New York Coalition of Professional Women in the Arts and Media — celebrated the first year! At this 2008 event, Joan Firestone (one of the presidents of the Coalition, who was in attendance at this 2023 event) delivered a SWAN Day Proclamation signed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (following a conversation she’d had with him about support for the NYC arts community).
Avis delved into the ways in which we can uphold the principles of SWAN Day in the present and the future…
After a deeper discussion about the evolution of SWAN Day, which Jan pointed out has gone from a celebration one day a year to many events happening all throughout the year, Avis delved into the ways in which we can uphold the principles of SWAN Day in the present and the future: “One of the things that I would really like to see happen is that more women work together to do something and not create independent projects […] Come together with your projects.” Jan pointed to the ongoing high stakes of the work of SWANs with two anecdotes: the first, about a college campus in Idaho which had an exhibit banned from its Women’s Arts festival because it covered the subject of abortion (supposedly violating a law that the Idaho should not use state fund to sponsor abortion). The second, the fact that of all ten best actor and actress nominees at the Academy Awards this year, not a single one was for a character written by a woman.
This Q&A made clear the ongoing importance of SWAN Day, and of SWAN Day events across the globe; the fight is nowhere near over, and while we will continue to celebrate it annually on the 4th Saturday of every March (as part of the annual Women’s History Month calendar), it’s important to support women artists all throughout the year. As Jan said: “There is no more important time for women in the audience to speak out 24/7/365.”
The Q&A was followed by screenings of three short films, all three of which were both written and directed by women:
- Midas’ Son written by Tina Lee and Ela Thier and directed by Annetta Marion,
- 6:18 to Omaha written by Leah Curney and directed by Dana Offenbach, and
- A Man of His Time written by Kate Taney Billingsley and directed by Estelle Parsons
Between films, audience members had short breaks, during which they could be heard discussing each film enthusiastically in the hallways.
The shorts were followed by a FILMMAKER PANEL…
The shorts were followed by a FILMMAKER PANEL with the three directors: Annetta Marion and Estelle Parsons on stage, and Dana Offenbach via Zoom. This FILMMAKER PANEL — moderated by Terry Lawler — was an in-depth and inspiring conversation about directing, especially as women. Each filmmaker had a completely different perspective: while Annetta announced that she just directed her fourteenth short film, Estelle noted that her film (A Man of His Time) was her first and likely only short film.
As Estelle explained, A Man of His Time was originally written for the stage, but her team pivoted as a result of the pandemic. A Man of His Time depicts a difficult and nuanced conversation about race, and was meant to “start that conversation [about race]” for viewers around the country, originally as a play and now as a film.
Dana (who has made three short films), noted the difficulties of starting off her career in the 90’s. She challenged the SVA audience: “Could you have named five women directors in the nineties and early two thousands?”
The three filmmakers went on to unpack the different ways in which they collaborated with their writers, who Dana expressed were “the undervalued people in [the] industry”, and for whom all three of them expressed great respect. While Annetta worked with the screenwriters of Midas’ Son to bring specificity to the script, in her words to “make exactly what was there just a little bit more in focus,” Estelle stated that she practiced a much more hands-off approach.
The FILMMAKER PANEL ended with advice from all three women…
The FILMMAKER PANEL ended with advice from all three women. Dana said: “If you’re an artist, just go do your art. Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission.” And Annetta echoed Dana: “If you’re a director, direct, whether that’s on your iPhone… just practice your craft.” Estelle added: “I think it’s very hard, and I must say, the older I get […] the more I realize how hard it is. I don’t think you can think it’s hard when you’re doing it… You just have to put your blinders on and go ahead.”
Following the Q&A, the three screenings, and the FILMMAKER PANEL, SVA was filled with energy consisting of both appreciation and empowerment. At the reception, guests mingled with one another, getting to know the filmmakers and the members of the organizations that co-sponsored the event, along with many other women artists and general arts enthusiasts who were in attendance. The whole day was a triumph; a room full of (mostly) women appreciating and contributing to the arts, and supporting and inspiring one another, was — and will continue to be — a very powerful thing!
And, the cherry on the top of this sundae? SVA livestreamed the entire event, and it is now available to all on YouTube 🙂
© Julia Lasker (3/28/23) FF2 Media
Special thanks to all FF2 Members on-site at SVA (registering guests, passing out stickers & schedules, etc), as well as: Karen Wegelhenkel (the FF2 Graphic Designer who created the FF2 Logo in collaboration with the FF2 Media Post-COVID ReBranding Team = Dayna Hagewood, Amelie Lasker & Rosa Melkumyan), Sue Hwang (the FF2 Photo Editor who created the tribute to Loretta Lynn which ran in a continuous loop on various screens at SVA), Rob Copeland (FF2 friend & onsite photographer), and Yosani Astorga Brewer (FF2’s Business Manager). Special thanks to Richard Miller and Nathan Ho (the two spouses in attendance), as well as all our friends both in person and around the world (who watched us via livestream).
Finally, special kudos to the incredible team at SVA Theatre for all of their help, patience, and good will.
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Learn more about International SWANs® aka iSWANs here.
View the livestream of the event here on FF2 Media’s new YouTube channel.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo (from left to right): Q&A Moderator Katusha Jin of Art Avenue Productions with Avis Boone and Jan Lisa Huttner during the SWAN Day: Past, Present & Future Q&A. (Note that Katusha has been a member of the FF2 Media team since 2017.)
Bottom Photo (from right to left): FILMMAKER PANEL Moderator Terry Lawler of TLC with Annetta Marion and Estelle Parsons on stage plus Dana Offenbach via Zoom. (Note that Terry served as Executive Director of NYWIFT from 1997 thru 2018.)
Photo Credit: Rob Copeland (3/25/23) Special for FF2 Media.