The timing couldn’t have been better … or worse, depending on how you feel about well-placed irony.
On October 6, a large crowd worked its way into the East Hampton UA Cinema for the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) screening of “This Changes Everything,” a documentary by Tom Donahue that explores the issue of female discrimination in the film business — from the hyper-sexualized portrayal of women on the screen to the dearth of female directors, producers and writers in the credits.
At the very same moment, in Washington D.C. the U.S. Senate was working its way through the procedural maneuverings which, by days end, would see Brett Kavanaugh confirmed as the country’s newest Supreme Court Justice. Despite sexual assault allegations, rancor-filled testimony, a week-long FBI investigation and vocal protests, the Senate voted 51 to 48 to approve Mr. Kavanaugh — ensuring that for the rest of his life he will occupy a seat on the highest court in the land.
Though the battle of the sexes has heated up greatly since Donald Trump became president, Mr. Donahue actually began production on the documentary in 2015 — long before the 2016 election, sexual assault charges against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the birth of #MeToo and 50/50 by 2020 (a movement to achieve parity for women and minorities in the entertainment industry in two years time). But those topics are addressed in the film as well, providing a well-placed exclamation point on an issue that has long plagued many industries in this nation, not just Hollywood.
Ironically, Anita Hill, who testified about sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court hearing in 1991, is in the documentary. So are actresses Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Geena Davis who share stories of misogyny in their industry and ways in which they are working to change the role of women and girls, both behind the camera and on-screen.
Hollywood may be a long way from the South Fork, but efforts to bring about gender equality are also taking shape right here, right now through S.A.G.E. East End, a new non-profit organization founded by part-time Amagansett resident Denise Keane.
S.A.G.E. stands for Sustainable Actions for Gender Equality and its goal is to collaborate with the community in order to identify ways in which sustainable actions gender equality can be created. On Saturday afternoon, Ms. Keane, a well-known figure in the world of business and law and an advocate for inclusion and diversity, hosted a post-screening reception and panel discussion at her home with several producers and directors, including those involved in “This Changes Everything.”
This was the organization’s first major local event and it followed a mixer held at Haven’s Boutique in Sag Harbor on September 22. When asked to share her motivation behind the creation of S.A.G.E. East End, Ms. Keane pointed to the number of people locally who are doing amazing things.
“In New York, you can do anything and there are so many competing issues,” explained Ms. Keane. “But out here, if you can find a way to connect, you have an ability to channel energy in a far more efficient and productive way — and at the end of the day have an influence beyond the East End of Long Island.
“It’s not about building an empire, but how do we go about getting things done?”
The panelists taking part in the discussion make it their business to get things done. Among them was Kerianne Flynn, founder of New Plot Films and a producer of “This Changes Everything,” and Simone Pero, an executive producer of the film and a Stony Brook MFA in Film faculty member.
“In ‘This Changes Everything’ you see images of women and girls that we don’t think about until you see it played out,” said Ms. Pero. “I tend to work on stories of men and women and social change. For me, it’s about getting access to funding to make these films that are not the big box office success.”
Regina K. Scully, another executive producer on the film, leads Artemis Rising Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to developing media, education, and projects that transform culture. She was also an executive producer on “The Hunting Ground,” the widely discussed 2015 film documenting the hidden truth of sexual assault on college campuses.
She stressed that sometimes bad news is good news when it comes to raising awareness of important issues. While Ms. Scully expressed dismay at the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, ultimately, she finds a silver lining in the fact that the collective consciousness of the nation is now on high alert.
“That one incident in our culture — the nomination for the Supreme Court — would have taken me 100 other films to get the message across,” said Ms. Scully who credits streaming services like Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix with being instrumental in getting movies like hers seen. “So we gained in other ways.”
While one audience member at the HIFF screening felt it was ironic that a man had directed a documentary about the lack of women in key positions in Hollywood, those involved in the film and the movement stressed that having the support of men is the key to success.
“This is not a women’s issue, we need to get men to be our partners and so many of them want to do the right thing,” said Ms. Keane. “Kavanaugh reflects the polarization and we need to find a way to move forward. It was such a bruising process for everyone and all of us can decry aspects of it, but the bottom line is if we’re talking about cultural change, any of these events are moments in our evolution — we have to use them to fuel change.”
Part of that change involves calling attention to the lack of female representation at the top — in CEO offices and on corporate boards — and highlighting the valuable contributions women make when they are part of a team. S.A.G.E. East End, which began by quietly networking in July and August, is now ramping up and looking to connect with women through a series of events and engage with the community in identifying sustainable ways to achieve and maintain gender equality.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for women and men from different walks of life to bring about cultural change in our community,” noted Ms. Keane. “S.A.G.E. can help identify our best practices and make this community stand for a cultural revolution.
“This place is where things happen.”
Though the non-profit doesn’t have a brick and mortar presence, Tia Greene, who recently moved to Sag Harbor, is working closely with Ms. Keane as the publicist and producer of the group’s events.
“Being a new resident of Sag Harbor, I wanted to make a difference in this gem community by being part of a social movement … creating ways to increase awareness on multiple subject matter such as gender equality,” said Ms. Greene who met Ms. Keane at last year’s Hamptons International Film Festival. “We decided to launch S.A.G.E. East End to do just that. We will be hosting a series of events on a monthly basis with our partners to highlight successful women and their stories.”
To learn more about the organization and its events, visit the newly launched website sageeastend.com or email Tia Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.