Audi champions women in the film industry to drive evolution.
This year’s AFI FEST, presented by Audi, screened 65 films directed by women, becoming a driving force for female empowerment through celebration and discourse—and making an impact in two industries that, more than ever, crave women’s voices.
Over the past year, the most dramatic narrative in Hollywood hasn’t been on the screen at all. It’s behind one—like the mind-boggling statistic that only 18 percent of directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers are female. Today, the narrative that is top of mind for almost everyone in film begs the question: How do we create progress where there hasn’t been any?
Our sponsorship sought to highlight not just our current efforts to bring more women into the movie industry on and off the screen, but to celebrate the current female AFI fellows.
Audi stands at the forefront of a dramatic transformation: the changing narrative that helps give the high-performing women doing amazing things in their field a push forward.
The dream factory
The AFI FEST had a particularly electric kickoff, with the premiere of the award-hopeful Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic “On the Basis of Sex,” directed by AFI alumna Mimi Leder and starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. Opening the festival with the film was clearly an honor and a career highlight for Leder, a trailblazer as the first woman accepted at the AFI cinematography program. “If it weren’t for that education, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight,” she said during her opening remarks. “It is a very special honor to be here tonight with this film.”
Natalie Camou, director. The winner of the 2017 inaugural Audi Fellowship for Women, Camou is passionate about making the most of her opportunity: “I hope I can make media which resonates with the young people of our country, that allows them to feel empowered, that allows them to not be afraid of speaking up… to look at an example on the screen and feel inspired to own their identity.”
Oran Zegman, director. Beginning her career as an actress in multiple television series, films and theatre plays and gradually moving behind the camera, Zegman recently finished the first musical in the AFI program, the black comedy “Marriage Material.”
Beata Harju, writer. At only 28, Harju is an industry veteran, having done acting, directing, and writing, including penning a full-length animated feature. For her, “just getting to AFI and making films every day is a huge success.”
Leder’s film follows Brooklyn-born Ginsburg as one of the few female students at Harvard Law School in the late 1950s. Although demonstrably brilliant and graduating at the top of her class, she had what now we’d consider a shockingly difficult time finding employment, due to prospective employers’ undisguised concerns about the “emotional state” of the young wife and mother. Nevertheless, she persisted.
“Discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is an injustice that affects us all.”
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a woman who, like countless generations of women before her —and since—withstood the subtle slights and overt discrimination of the culture around her,” Leder said. “And she’s a woman that changed that culture with her intelligence, and her eloquence and the support of a good man.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the country more equal, and more free for women and men alike,” Leder said. “Because as our film shows, discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is an injustice that affects us all.”
The world premiere of Leder’s film was the centerpiece of our #DriveProgress initiative. Our sponsorship sought to highlight not just our current efforts to bring more women into the movie industry on and off the screen but to celebrate the current female AFI fellows. We hosted a group photo of these filmmakers in conjunction with a light projection on the side of The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel that said “Be the change that drives you.”
One of the female filmmakers in that group photo is inaugural AFI Audi Fellow Natalie Camou. A talented Latina filmmaker, Camou was thrilled about the program and the opportunity to give a voice to those usually underrepresented in film.
Joyce Liu-Countryman, producer. Passionate about positive social change and intersectionality, Liu-Countryman is one of the few people at AFI who is a working mother. For her, the relationships and collaborations at AFI have been the most valuable as she looks forward to pioneering short-form content for Generation Z.
Bryana Scott-Hawk, screenwriter. Scott-Hawk always found it challenging to tell stories about complex women. But because of AFI, she’s found a confidence in herself, in her abilities and her future: “I’m amazed to be here.”
Christina Licud, screenwriter. A former marketing director, Licud always had a passion for narrative storytelling, but before coming to AFI, she didn’t know how to approach it: “It’s something that the school’s really helped me find.”
“As a Latina, it’s been very hard to see Latino representation in film and television that wasn’t stereotypical,” she said. “Now, I get to decide what story I want to tell. I want to put a Latina woman on the screen that is yielding power, gracefully, in an inspiring way, that gets us to look past the color of her skin, and lets us enjoy the ride that she is on in the story—and hopefully it inspires.”
Other female filmmakers, writers and producers who sat down with us reminded us of what drove each of them to succeed. “For me, I don’t want my child—or the next generation—to grow up without images of themselves on screen,” said Joyce Liu-Countryman, a producer currently in the AFI program.
The next AFI Audi Fellow will be announced in 2019.
From the screen to the table
No film festival is complete without the after-parties, fancy dinners and glamorous photo ops that take place around town. This year’s AFI FEST was no different. For the AFI gala dinner—which took place at The Hollywood Roosevelt, one of the city’s storied and iconic landmarks, after the screening of Nicole Kidman’s “The Destroyer”— we invited four-time James Beard Award-winning chef and L.A. food icon Nancy Silverton to select and prepare the dishes and pairings: from the farm and vineyard to the very elegant table.
“It’s women, women, women tonight!” Silverton said with a laugh.
Silverton sat down for an interview on the eve of the AFI gala dinner (also, coincidentally, the 12th anniversary of her Osteria Mozza restaurant). The iconic chef shared not only the concept behind and the ingredients on the evening’s menu but her experiences in the industry and her desire to inspire other female chefs.
Esther Choi, chef. A self-proclaimed “evangelist for modern Korean cuisine,” Choi owns three New York City restaurants: the contemporary gastropub Ms. Yoo and two locations of ramen favorite mokbar. She will be profiled in the upcoming documentary “Her Name Is Chef.”
Sandra Cordero, chef. Growing up in Amsterdam and Galicia, Cordero—a former model—trained under L.A. icons Neal Fraser and Michael Cimarusti. She now operates Gasolina Café in Woodland Hills, Calif., specializing in elevated daytime Spanish cuisine.
Although being a female chef who had to struggle for her position in a male-dominated industry was never part of Silverton’s narrative, her early inspiration, her story of success, her approach to cooking and business is wholly informed by being female. And she’s keenly aware of what a turning point this past year has been for women, especially in film and food.
“If we were having this conversation a year ago, I would have told you that perhaps the restaurant industry hadn’t gotten its wake-up call yet,” she said. “But today, I feel as though the industry is going out of its way to address issues.”
As chef-owner of several restaurants, three of which—Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and chi SPACCA—are located on a single corner at Highland and Roosevelt in Hollywood, Silverton’s been in the position of chef, entrepreneur, leader, businesswoman, inspiration and collaborator during her career.
As she concepted for the AFI gala dinner, Silverton made the very conscious decision to honor the theme in her own way: by celebrating and inviting the contributions of progressive female farmers, purveyors and winegrowers.
“The biggest compliment that I can ever pay to a male cook is ‘you cook like a woman’ and I’ve said that before,” she said. “Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. So, in developing the menu for the Audi Drive Progress dinner tonight, I wanted to showcase some of my favorite female farmers.”
To assist with the delicious menu—featuring grilled beef tagliata, fonduta ravioli with 40-year aceto balsamico and burratina pugliese, among other dishes—Silverton brought in Liz Hong, executive chef at the Mozza Group, as well as James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez. Both women brought their female sous chefs.
“It’s women, women, women tonight!” Silverton said with a laugh.
No less thrilling than listening to a food icon talk about food was witnessing the chef interact with up-and-coming talent: 2018 James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program fellows Sandra Cordero and Esther Choi. Both chefs and restaurant owners, the young women were fresh off their six-day rigorous leadership training at Babson College in Massachusetts.
“The biggest compliment that I can ever pay to a male cook is ‘you cook like a woman.’
“It’s terrific when a company such as Audi has the resources to partner up with a foundation like James Beard to help provide opportunity for women in this industry,” Silverton said. “It’s going to help all of us for generations to come.”