What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? is a bold question that Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker Sarah Moshman put into our minds with her striking documentary The Empowerment Project, as she travelled across America for one month, highlighting and interviewing ordinary women doing extraordinary things.
Then came the empowering statement Everyone has a pacific to cross… throughout her second feature film Losing Sight Of Shore, centred around the inspirational story of four women, known as the Coxless crew who set out to row the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia.
Dedicated to telling stories that uplift, inform and inspire as well as showcase strong female role models on screen, Moshman’s latest documentary Nevertheless examines sexual harassment in the workplace, offering an uplifting and eye-opening look into this harrowing issue. With two weeks remaining to raise funds for the production of Nevertheless via a Kickstarter campaign, Sarah fills us in on her filmmaking background and the work she’s done to get to where she is now.
Watch the trailer and CLICK HERE to donate because a new day is on the horizon..
When did you first become interested in film and what was it that attracted you to the form of documentaries?
It all started in my childhood home in Evanston, Illinois. My Dad was always such a huge influence and inspiration to me as a fellow producer and filmmaker. I got my first video camera when I was sixteen and it was the best gift I’ve ever had, because it really gave me a voice and the courage to ask questions of people that I may have been too shy to ask otherwise. Luckily, I come from a family where being a filmmaker isn’t that crazy, but I think with a lot of other parents understandably think, ‘why can’t you be a lawyer or a doctor?’ My parents never questioned my choice which I so appreciated because they knew that sometimes the money is great and sometimes there’s no money at all. It’s tough, but worth while!
Female empowerment proves to be a central theme of your career, was there anyone or anything in particular that encouraged or inspired you to merge feminism and filmmaking?
I didn’t grow up in a super feminist house, it was sort of the opposite in that my parents just never made me feel like my gender was a determining factor to my success. Once I got into college and the working world I started to realise that there are certain obstacles women face in general, but certainly in entertainment and film. So I wanted to help create more content that makes women and girls feel better about themselves and inspires them to go after their dreams.
When I finished school I was working really hard in the reality television world and making decent money but just feeling like I wasn’t contributing much to the world. I wanted to get back to that feeling you have in college where you just want to create because you love it and it speaks to your heart. I made a couple of short documentaries before making the two features that I have made and now I’m onto my third. All I’ve ever wanted be is a filmmaker and it’s very much interwoven into who I am as a person. I was also tired of going to the movies and seeing women be objectified or ignored on screen and it made me think that we have to be better than this. This made me want to create my own content and opportunities to help shine a light on the stories that I felt weren’t being told.
How did working in reality television prepare you for directing and producing documentaries?
I worked full time in reality television for five years and luckily it complemented the skills of documentary filmmaking in a way. I think filmmaking is really entrepreneurial which people don’t always recognise. It’s like starting a business. I’m fundraising right now and then I’ll create the product, which hopefully people will like and then we’ll take the product around the world, there’s so many parallels. I love the saying, ‘As an entrepreneur you jump off the cliff and build your parachute on the way down,’ which is definitely how it feels! I have no idea how to pull this off, but I have to figure it out somehow before I crash and burn.
When you first start working on a project, how much does an idea or story change from the beginning to the end?
My dad always said that if you make the film you set out to make, then you did it wrong. I think this is a really great way to think about a documentary. In narrative film you don’t shoot the movie until you have the script written and of course there’s some improvisation and juggling of elements when you’re on set, but really you plan it out and then shoot it. Whereas with a documentary you shoot it and then plan it out. There’s so much of the film and the story that comes together in editing which is why post production is such an enormous part of making a documentary and having a great editor is paramount to the process. For example with Losing Sight Of Shore it was such an incredible story that these four women were going to row across the Pacific Ocean all the way from America to Australia that whenever I talked about it, people would always have about ten follow up questions. So I started to pay attention to what people were asking and that then helped inform me on my decisions in the editing process of what to include in the film. It is this constant back and forth and you don’t have all of the answers going into it because if you do then it’s not really a documentary. The best part is being curious, open and present during the process and then the film will evolve into something that you never could have expected and is hopefully way better than what you thought it would be.
The story throughout Losing Sight Of Shore is so vulnerable and emotional, what was the biggest thing you learnt whilst working on that project?
It’s kind of hard to believe that it ever happened to be honest, but really, what I learnt is that anything is possible. Most of those women did not have extensive backgrounds in rowing, but what they had was each other, their friendship and perseverance. They taught me that if you have a goal, nothing is insurmountable and everything can be done with the right attitude which is so important for everyone to know and see. Although the film is a ‘sports’ documentary, I really see it as more than that. I’m not a rower or an athlete but the reason I wanted to tell their story is because it was always about the power of the human spirit for me. The biggest challenge was about how to tell this story in a way that people who don’t care about rowing or feel separated from the content, would still want to see it. So, the focus became about translating the idea that everyone can cross their own pacific, in whatever way that takes shape and I hope that translates to the audience because that’s the point.
Both Losing Sight Of Shore & The Empowerment Project have such inspiring themes – is there anything in particular that you really hope people take out of watching either of these films?
Absolutely! I really want people to feel uplifted, informed and inspired after watching my films and I hope to take that into my new film Nevertheless as well, even though it’s a rather heavy subject matter I still want it to have an uplifting tone. I think people digest content a little easier if they’re happy and people tend to take action when they feel inspired and empowered to do something rather than feeling alone or isolated. We have no shortage of celebrities on our screens, but I really love the idea of putting ordinary women up on this huge, larger than life platform so that we as women can see ourselves and our own stories represented, which we don’t see a lot of in the media. I’m trying to do my part to contribute to that landscape and flood the marketplace with stories that are inspiring with complex, strong and beautiful female protagonists and I mean beautiful in every sense of the word not just appearance. That is perhaps what is going to make the world a better place more than any other kind of content. Also, I don’t want the men or boys to feel left out because I think it’s just as important for them to see strong female role models.
Sexual harassment has been a topic of conversation a lot this year with movements such as Times Up and Me Too taking over the internet, did that play a part in your timing for Nevertheless?
When I was five months pregnant, I found out that I was having a girl which really ignited a fire within me. Clearly I care about this work already but it just changes your perspective to know that you’re going to be in charge of the safety of another human being in any regard, but especially a girl.
I experienced sexual harassment when working in the television industry and it made me feel awful. It made me feel really insignificant, powerless and small and I didn’t really address it at the time because I just wanted to buck up and be cool and not make waves. I wanted to power through it and prove that I could handle it and be strong, but now that we’re all having these conversations, it’s really important that we recognise that sexual harassment shouldn’t be the cost of being a woman in the workplace. It is really insane if we all admit that, yes a male said or did this terrible thing and touched me.. Why should we have to deal with that? It’s crazy timing really because I started this project in August of 2017 and we started filming on October 4 and the Weinstein story which really kicked off all of these movements broke on October 5th..
The Me Too movement is exciting because women are finally sharing their stories and we are uncovering that this is really an endemic issue that almost all women go through in some form in the workplace, which is scary. So I’m making a film about the sexual harassment crisis rooted in America, but I want to make sure it is appealing to international audiences as well and talk about how we got here and where we are going.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Nevertheless and what you hope to achieve with this film?
We’re looking at all of the different sides of the issue from the historical Anita Hill case in 1991 which was a landmark case for this issue, the legal side and how a lot of times our employment contracts and the laws are not really set up for women to feel safe to speak up, which is terrible. It takes a lot of courage to speak up and then if you do so and you’re not supported, then what’s the point? Perhaps the most interesting part to me is really the masculinity aspect of this issue, so how we are raising our boys and then questioning how they become men in the workplace that feel they can have this behaviour. There’s so much bias and sexism in terms of gender roles going on here that start from such a young age so I’m interested in all sides of the issue and working out the actual tools and solutions that we need to all move forward together.
We’re really early on in production and I’m doing this Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 which will help me move along in production quite significantly, but I’m really excited to make this film and to hopefully start some very important conversations about sexual harassment. They might be uncomfortable at times because it’s not easy, but I think change happens by pushing through that discomfort and coming to some kind of understanding on the other side.
How has having a daughter of your own changed things for you in terms of the importance of this topic and project?
It just brings a whole different shade to life, in a great way and a difficult way. I’m navigating a lot right now with being a working mum and figuring out my new identity as a mother and it’s a lot. I certainly bow down to support any other mums out there, because this is tough stuff and I want her to have all of the opportunities in the world that she could possibly imagine for herself and beyond for all girls, so it just ignites that fire a little bit and gives me even more motivation to do this. I’m not getting much sleep these days and I’m a little insane for doing a crowd-funding campaign with a three month old, but I think that says how much this means to me. I don’t just want to sit on the sideline as I feel it is my responsibility to take part in this conversation and the best way I know how to do that is to make a film, which is such a powerful medium, so three month old or not, it’s going to happen!
What are the benefits of running a crowd-funding campaign and do you worry that it may not go to plan?
I’ve done one before and I find crowd-funding to be really amazing. It’s a lot of work and a vulnerable position to be in asking people for help and money, but the attention it brings to what you’re doing is great. It helps build your audience which is exciting because the people that are aware of my film now, even if they’re not donating is exponential to what it was even a week ago and that’s important because those same people will hopefully be interested to follow my journey through making it and see the film when it’s finished.
I think the trick with crowd-funding is to put all the lines out in the water and then take a step back, because as much as it’s up to you to make it happen, it’s also out of your control when and how much people donate, you just have to trust the process. I try to have a point in each day where I put my phone down because otherwise you’re just staring at it all the time which is not healthy. I do worry about it every single day and what I am going to do if I can’t raise the money, because Kickstarter is all or nothing. If you don’t reach your goal then you don’t get any of the money, so there has been a pit in my stomach for the entire month!
Where can we expect to see Nevertheless once it is released?
I’d really love for it to be shown in offices and corporations because I think actual work places is where it could do the most good, as well as at colleges and universities for people who are preparing to go out into the working world. I would love for it to have some kind of digital release whether that is on a streaming platform like Netflix, Hulu or iTunes, but we’ll definitely be doing screenings around the world and would love to come back to New Zealand.
With one Emmy award already to your name, what does that level of recognition mean to you?
I think that the Emmy award was a really important award to me because my dad had won so many of them and it is a symbol that you’re on the right track. It was a huge honour to achieve and the ceremony was super fun, but honestly, what’s even more valuable is those moments where someone articulates the impact the film has made in their lives, that is what stays with me much more than any award ever could. While the awards and accolades are fun and I’d of course love to win more, they don’t last nearly as long as some of the wonderful pieces of feedback that I have received from my films. I think other people respond to the awards more, so it’s really less about me and more about how other people perceive them which hopefully then creates more opportunities for myself.
Lastly, do you have any advice for people who may be interested in becoming a filmmaker?
I think so often we get caught up in this idea that someone is going to swoop in to save the day and help us out and while that does happen from time to time, it’s certainly the exception to the rule. What I think about a lot and encourage other filmmakers to do is create your own opportunities because all of the tools are available to you. Cameras are a-plenty and you can even shoot something on your phone, the story is really the most important part when it comes to documentaries, so it doesn’t have to be the best quality camera to tell a good story. Look at me, I’m on my third feature film and I’m crowd funding, so the tools are really all there for you to create whatever piece of art or film that speaks to your soul. If you have an idea or voice inside gnawing at you, it’s probably just going to get louder until you do something about it. I will say, don’t wait until you are ready, because you’re never ready. I’m not ready for anything! I think the saying, ‘Great people do things before they’re ready’ is really important, because if you wait around until you are ready it might be too late, or it may never happen. Don’t wait for permission or this feeling that you think you’re going to get that everything is perfect and ready to go because it never comes, so just start. It’s messy and it’s difficult but you’ll figure it out because that’s what we do!