I feel very honored to have caught up with the talented documentary filmmakers Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle. The two are partners in Sylvia Frances Films, a Los Angeles based documentary production company dedicated to crafting intimate, compelling, character-driven films and storytelling projects (Yes! Storytelling!) about people, histories and communities often ignored, misrepresented, and marginalized by popular media. They also provide consulting and training to assist non-profits and community organizations in documenting and sharing their own stories.
This March their brand new film "Ovarian Psycos" profiling the Boyle Heights based bicycling brigade and feminist empowerment group makes its world wide debut at the SXSW film festival in Austin. As I post this they have 14 days to go on their second Kickstarter campaign for the film in order to raise the final funds needed to finish the film and take everyone with them to Texas.
Update: The film successfully raised $22,000 of their $20,000 ask!
MB: I have to tell you that I cried just now watching the trailer for like the fourth time. The story jumps out and grabs you from the first images, and the first words in voice over by Xela De La X. How did you come across the Ovarian Psycos and decide you needed to make a film about this remarkable group of young women?
Kate: We love to hear that. We feel the same. We were compelled by the name, the work, and the politics of Ovarian Psycos from the first day we heard about them. I was working as a producer on another project, Renee Tajima-Peña’s PBS film, No Más Bebés, also an East Los Angeles story, and we were brainstorming outreach partners. Ovarian Psycos’ name came up. I was instantly hooked. I called Joanna – we were graduate school friends and had wanted to make a film together. She was just as enamored with the Ova’s after that first phone call. We poured over every image, article, slogan we could find about them online. Without knowing too much aside from their motto: Ovaries so big, we don’t need fucking balls,” and their monthly Luna Rides, we were convinced there was a story there. We sent them an email and cold called Xela. The rest was history.
MB: You've been working on this film now for four years. You're currently fundraising to finish the film and help pay the costs to take the team to Austin for its debut at the SXSW 2016 film festival in mid March. You've got 13 days to go and have raised almost $5,000 (at the time of posting this). Why did you choose kickstarter over say another fundraising platform that would allow you to keep money even if you don't reach your total goal of $20,000 goal? Building drama?
Joanna: When we first started production on this project we launched a small, but successful Kickstarter campaign raising over $10,000. Not only did we get funded, but we were able to build momentum, and an invested audience early on. We have a sense of responsibility to those folks, and keep them updated with photos and updates on the film via our Facebook. We’ve received emails from women all over the world interested in the work of the Ova's and the film. We’ve since received support from ITVS and Cal Humanities to cover the major costs of production, but we still have a big funding gap. Filmmaking is expensive and the festival brings its own set of costs we just don’t have the budget for. We turned to Kickstarter again because it’s all or nothing, and it’s a gamble. I think that “risk” has helped create a sense of urgency. Hey, it’s an urgency we also feel on our end. It’s also a go-to for lots of media and filmmakers we know. Lots of folks have found success on this platform.
MB: What are your hopes for this film and what do you envision can happen for the Ovarian Psycos because their story is being shared in such a compelling way?
Kate: What we think is both unique and universal about this story is that it’s about the daily challenges women face, specifically women of color in underserved, under-resourced communities. The Ova’s use cycling and the bike to call attention to a multitude of issues, and one of the main issues we focus on in our film is violence, both street violence and interpersonal violence. Women not feeling safe is a theme I think all women can relate to, and this film addresses how the Ova’s deal with that in the context of rape, immigration, misogyny and within their own families. It’s also a film about women’s relationships – mothers, daughters and sisters. Just like how the Ova’s do it, I think our film entices folks with the beautiful powerful imagery of cycling through the streets of LA, but at its heart, it’s a quiet film about women working to create a world and community that is safe and reflective of their own experiences.
MB: Where you both bicyclists before you started this film? If not, how has it changed your impression of what it means to ride a bike in Los Angeles and as a main means of transportation?
Joanna: We are not cyclists. In fact, on one of our shoots Kate and I rented bikes and we could barely keep up. Xela even asked, “Joanna, do you know how to ride a bike?” because I looked so clumsy on it. A lot of times we filmed the rides from our car. But we have had the opportunity to make a few rides and know this: riding in LA can be wonderful, but risky. Cars do not always respect folks on bikes and being a woman on the streets, you get catcalled or yelled at, especially if you are not an experienced rider. But when you’re riding with a group of women, just like Xela says in the film, you feel like you have back-up, and you feel protected.
MB: What's next for the two of you?
Kate: Joanna and I are in development on a new film about homelessness, with a particular focus on young women and mothers. We think it will be a departure from "Ovarian Psycos" in that we plan to work with our characters more collaboratively and think this will be a project of experimental documentary. You can keep up to date about our work on our website: http://www.sylviafrancesfilms.com/
Learn more about the Ovarian Psycos and support their upcoming film (and receive cool gifts) at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1743698310/ovarian-psycos-world-premiere-at-sxsw