Star of Dementia 13 and founder of new gender equity-focused
production company discusses her latest projects
Julia stars in Dementia 13 (a remake of the 1963 Francis Ford Coppola film) which opens today in the U.S. I recently interviewed her about her new company and how her acting ties in to her efforts to broaden the range of voices on screen and behind the camera.
Kyna Morgan: What was the impetus for you founding a production company?
Julia Campanelli: As a women I often feel under-represented in the film industry, both in front of and behind the camera. In film production, as well as in the films themselves, females can be altogether invisible. I feel as though women have been shut out of one of the most visible professions in the world. I knew that if I wanted to effect a change I had to start at ground level and create a company to give women more opportunities, on both sides of the camera.
KM: What are you goals for your company, and how do you see its role within the wider U.S. -- or even global -- film industry?
JC: The primary goals of Shelter Film are to give women a voice -- in writing, directing, producing, editing and creating projects with complex female protagonists, using female-majority crews. From a very young age, films cast spell on me, one from which I have yet to emerge. But because there were no visible female role models in film production, I didn’t feel it was a profession that I could work in. I became an actress instead.
KM: How would you assess the current state of women in the film industry and women's stories on screen, particularly in film, but also on television?
JC: There has been a groundswell of attention to gender disparity in the industry in the last two years, but I have yet to see the industry as a whole make a committed effort to achieve gender parity. Or racial parity. Even with more and more platforms of distribution of film and content, men still get the big jobs, the pay, the opportunities, which is why I think women need to make their own opportunities. Women have been pushing for jobs and equal pay for decades. We need to push harder, louder, longer if we want to see any effective change. We need to take our place at the table and stop waiting for someone to make room for us. Lean in? No, I say push in.
KM: What types of projects will your company be focused on bringing to screens, and will they be theatrical release-oriented or include other types of distribution and exhibition?
JC: Female-driven, with complex, female protagonists. I’m especially interested in doing historical films about women whose contributions changed the world in some way. There was nothing about women in history books I had in school. Making women visible in media is so important for children, so they have positive role models and see gender parity. I'd also like to create content for series, as this is the new gold standard for edgy, challenging material.
KM: As an actress, will your career and production company interface in any way? Apropos of your acting, can you briefly discuss your involvement with the Shelter Theatre Group?
JC: Definitely. Starting out as an actress I was never satisfied with the roles available to me, and that continues today. I created a project for myself in Shelter Film’s inaugural film, 116. As a woman over 40, it is common to feel invisible. The male gaze, which determines 93% of projects that get produced, is responsible for the dearth of roles for women over a certain age. For these men, a woman’s power is tied to her sexuality, which, if you are to believe the casting breakdowns, only exists for women between the ages of 18 and 39. For decades I have been held to that 18-39 standard. Imagine the difference between an 18-year-old girl and a 39-year-old woman! And yet female roles are so often cast with no more consideration than their age.
With 116 my goal is to show that women over 40 have a complex sexual life, without restrictions or judgement. Not invisible. Love is complicated at any age. It can be messy, intriguing, and obsessive, as well as fulfilling. It can also be unexpected. The woman in 116 is in the power position, and the struggle between the man and woman to maintain, gain, or surrender power comprises their relationship and the story. So many films have an older male star and a much younger female co-star. I wanted to show that women are no different than men in that respect. I recently started submitting 116 to festivals and am happy to say it is an official selection to the 2017 Mykonos Biennale Film Festival.
I founded Shelter Theatre Group in the early ‘90s because of my dissatisfaction with available female roles. STG's mission was to create plays by or about women. I have extended its mission to include all under-represented groups, through age-blind, color-blind, and gender-blind casting. With gender being so fluid now, it’s exciting to see men’s roles played by persons who don’t identify as male. It really opens the text up, especially the classics, that have been traditionally performed by all-male casts.
KM: Do you currently have any key alliances or enjoy collaborative relationships with specific producers or other production companies? How do you plan to grow your company?
JC: My acting/directing/writing/producing projects will create vertical and horizontal platforms on which to collaborate with other producers, writers, directors and production companies. Women almost have to be multi-hyphenates to succeed. While in post-production on 116, I landed a starring role in NBCUniversal’s remake of Francis Ford Coppola’s feature film Dementia 13, opening nation-wide in the US October 2017, that they produced with Pipeline Entertainment. They are great people and they have been helpful with my Shelter Film project. I look forward to future collaborations. Keep pushing!