Madeline Kelly is a Brooklyn-based film director. Aside from directing the award winning short film Nineteen, Kelly has conducted cinematic investigations into the AIDS crisis in Uganda, Melbourne’s hip-hop scene and the rehabilitative power of dance.
After awakening to the power of narrative while watching Bambi at a young age, Madeline threw herself into filmmaking…despite the naysayers who told her that being a female director would be too difficult. CONVICTS caught up with Madeline and got her word on the importance of diverse voices, the importance of role models and the process of finding one’s artistic voice.
Hey, Madeline. When did you find yourself drawn towards film?
I remember going to the cinemas for the first time when I was really young and seeing Bambi. I walked out of there, about ten years old, and realized that my mom was going to die. It’s pretty impactful when you have that realization as a ten-year-old. That no matter what you do, the one person in your life that’s always there for you is going to die one day. That really shook me and made me realize how powerful cinema is. It has the power to explain feelings that you can’t comprehend yourself. Cinema made a foreign concept like death simple and understandable to a ten year old I’ve always been drawn to stories because I just feel like it’s such a powerful way to open up people’s minds to things and places and feelings and characters and worlds that are just so far beyond your own.
How do you inject your own personality and viewpoints into directorial work?
As a filmmaker, you’re the driver. You’re the you’re the person who’s connecting the story on-screen to the audience. You become a conduit. Sometimes you want to be as impartial as possible so that you can tell a story with as much truth as possible. Other times, the lens you bring to the world has an influence. You’re more sensitive and drawn to people that you know and understand because of your own personal experiences, that another filmmaker might overlook. I’ve always been really drawn to gender and identity and sexuality and how all of those things define and shape people. Naturally, in my work, I deal with these themes, especially when it comes to understanding how these parts of your personality shape the experience you have in the world. The experiences I’ve had with with death, sexuality and being a woman really do shape the stories I tell.
Why are diverse stories so important?
It’s important to have a diverse group of people sharing their stories because they’re the people that should be telling a story. We’ve seen time and time females or people of color or people of various sexual identities have their story told through one particular lens. It’s really important to have people who have really experienced those things incorporated into the telling of those stories, because there are nuances that you wouldn’t really know about if you haven’t experienced those stories yourself. It just seems like such a simple thing. We want to hear from different voices. We don’t want to hear the same voice.
What advice would you give to a young female filmmaker looking to enter the industry?
Find your own voice. Don’t copy what other people are doing. Don’t recycle what you see on Vimeo. Think about what’s important to you. The best way to stand out in this industry is being an individual and really understanding what it is you bring to the table. What your special little offering is. Maybe you have the ability to bring something to life that no one else can. Figure out what that is and then you get to do what you love and do it in a way that you love every day, rather than trying to be cool or on-trend. Then you’re going to have to constantly catch up.
So what are the first steps in creating an equally representative industry?
Obviously women and men should be the paid the same, but I think this is more related to the question: who’s getting the bigger jobs and who’s getting the smaller jobs? I don’t think it’s so much about the same person doing the same job and not getting the same amount. I think it’s about giving women bigger responsibilities so that they can work with bigger budgets. Because as soon as you give a director a more sizable budget they immediately have access to more experienced creatives who elevate the whole work, because it’s such a collaborative process. You’re only as good as the crew you have around you and the creative that you’re seeing. I just feel it should just be equal and that the best person should get the job.
How can we improve the conversation for young female filmmakers?
Instead of telling young and impressionable people “Oh, it’s too hard, don’t do it, you’re a female director,” we need to make it a positive conversation. Hearing positive voices saying “we’re here and we want to work” is an amazing thing. It shouldn’t be a threat. Hearing “this is awesome, we need more of you” helps you to push forward and keep going. Because it’s actually really, really hard. For there to ever have been the notion that being a female director is too hard…is just bullshit. It’s not and you can do it.
Thanks, Madeline. Best of luck with everything.
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