I have always been fascinated by the challenges that women face in unconventional professions, especially those that are typically male-dominated. Women who work in the stunt industry must constantly prove themselves to male and female producers alike, and with a few exceptions, are rarely if ever promoted to stunt-coordinator positions. After meeting a number of stuntwomen, I was struck by the extreme challenges they face on a daily basis.
Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell have landed arguably the best action roles for stuntwomen in the history of Hollywood. They love their work, and rarely if ever complain. But, as Jeannie enters her sixties, her Wonder Woman physique is a distant memory and she considers getting plastic surgery to keep herself competitive for roles. While battling the aging process, balancing the challenges of motherhood and career can be overwhelming. For her part, Zoë is growing up fast. After stumbling into Xena: Warrior Princess, a dream job that lasted three years, she finds herself unemployed, leaving her family behind for an uncertain future in a brutal job market.
As an athlete and a woman in the film industry, these issues are all too familiar to me. I have played women’s rugby at the national level for over a decade, a sport that is marginalized for men in the U.S., but even more so for women, who are not encouraged to play contact sports at all, much less professionally. My first film, Just for the Ride, followed two women on the little-known Women’s Professional Rodeo circuit. I was compelled by the strength of character of these women and the unknown histories they carry on. At 51, Jan Youren won the World Championship in bareback bronco riding with a handful of people in the audience and $500 winnings in her pocket. Her male counterpart won over $100,000 that year. People asked, “Why does she do it?” To me, that answer is clear: She does it because she loves it, and she’s not afraid of being different.
The same stereotypes that keep women from professional sports careers abound in the film industry. Women like Jeannie and Zoë thrive on physical work; they courageously follow their calling despite the obstacles in their way. I have chosen these two characters because they set up dichotomies of young/old and past/present—between which lie the experiences of so many women defining their own identities in a culture plagued by gender stereotypes.
Amanda Micheli, Director
Amanda Micheli is an award-winning filmmaker with a solid background as both a director and a cinematographer. She shot, edited, and directed Just for the Ride, a documentary about cowgirls on the women’s Pro Rodeo circuit, which won an Academy Award and International Documentary Association Award in student categories and premiered on the PBS series P.O.V. in 1996. Since then she has shot a Sundance Award-winning documentary, My Flesh and Blood (HBO) and an Emmy-nominated film in Cambodia, The Flute Player (PBS). She also shot a film in Ghana, Witches in Exile, which won the special jury prize at South by Southwest. Most recently, Micheli shot and produced an HBO documentary directed by photographer Lauren Greenfield and an episode for Morgan Spurlock’s series, 30 Days. Other production credits include: You’re Gonna Miss Me, Same River Twice (Sundance 2003), and the ITVS series Girls in America. A graduate of Harvard University, Micheli has also been a member of the top U.S. women’s rugby team for over a decade.
Karen Johnson, Producer
Karen Johnson is an independent producer of documentary and fiction features. She is particularly drawn to subjects about women and women’s history. Her credits include the dramatic feature Prospect, adapted from the play and directed by acclaimed playwright Octavio Solis; the romantic comedy Twice Upon A Yesterday starring Penelope Cruz; and the Hollywood satire Hip! Edgy! Quirky! starring Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. She is currently working on two feature films: The Polka Dot Princess, a documentary about the avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama, and Life? or Theatre?, the dramatic true story of the young German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, directed by Paul Morrison, the writer/director of the Oscar-nominated film Salomon and Gaenor. She is also developing the reality series Nerd Girls, about a team of female engineering students from Boston-area universities who spend their summer break building a solar car. Johnson is an attorney and a graduate of USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program.
Danielle Renfew, Producer
Danielle Renfrew is an accomplished independent producer with credits ranging from grassroots documentaries to major motion pictures. She produced the independent feature film Groove, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000 and was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Soon after, she formed Map Point Pictures with Groove director Greg Harrison. Through Map Point, she produced November, a thriller starring Courteney Cox and James Le Gros for IFC and InDigEnt, and Double Dare. November premiered in competition at Sundance 2004 where it won the award for best cinematography. Renfrew is currently in post-production on Katrina Holden Bronson’s feature directorial debut Daltry Calhoun for Quentin Tarantino’s L. Driver Productions and Miramax. The film stars Johnny Knoxville, Juliette Lewis, and Elizabeth Banks. She was nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards’ Bravo/American Express Producers Award.