By the 'She' Side at the Sarasota Film Festival

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A documentary called Borderline on borderline personality disorder directed by a woman who has the diagnosis; a proposed feature about the exchange of sexual favors for pharmaceuticals at a nursing home called Geriatrics; The Itching, a stop-motion animated short about a shy wolf and hard-partying bunnies: these are just three of the many projects discussed at an intimate lunch of women filmmakers and mentors at the Sarasota Film Festival last Thursday.

As a pelican glides by outside the Hyatt boathouse, Tangerine Entertainment's powerhouse Anne Hubbell gathers the makers and mentors - herself, the producer Bronwyn Cornelius and me - to discuss opportunities, marketing and the media in a relaxed and creative atmosphere.

Two-time Academy Award winning documentary director Barbara Kopple, a dear friend and a bottomless font of experience and encouragement stops by the "Side By Side Women's Symposium" before catching her flight back to New York. The Harlan County USA director's music documentary Miss Sharon Jones played Sarasota and she's here to represent on the festival journey toward theatrical distribution. Undaunted by the Florida sun, the New Yorker's wearing her trademark urban blacks - no sandals for her, just chunky chic combat boots.

Kopple stands up and informally addresses the thirty women assembled, reminiscing that, for her 1976 feature she would "go up to someone at a cocktail party and say 'I'm making a film on coal miners' and they would say 'excuse me, I have to get a drink'" and disappear." Times have changed a lot for the status of documentaries since 1976.

That film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award but even then Kopple's pumpkin wasn't magically transformed into a carriage. She told the rapt assembled that when she was entered for an Oscar, her distributor threatened to "take away my p.r." Once in Los Angeles on her own dime, she got a dress, "somebody ironed my hair," a friend dropped them off at the ceremony.

In the four succeeding decades, Kopple explains, "Things have changed for us. Docs are the first films sold-out at festivals. People want a sense of what's real."

And what's real in the room is that, despite the fact that the gatekeepers in Hollywood and the media are predominately male, these creative women (black and white, gay and straight, young and old, American, Japanese and Italian) are passionate in their collective desire to achieve the connection between artist and subject that define Kopple's career.

As I left the event to attend a competition film called Chevalier, an accomplished comedy about six affluent Greek men adrift on a yacht playing a parlor game ranking each against the other - a metaphor for the masculine penchant for competing to be top dog - I carried a bouquet of business cards in my purse. One struck me as particularly apt: Meg Smaker, filmmaker/cinematographer/badass extraordinaire. Among the day's lessons for the women by the Sarasota seashore is that to succeed in realizing one's artistic vision, a female filmmaker has to kick ass like a man - and collaborate and connect like a woman.