Filmmaker Anna Andersen Talks Creating Female-Focused Documentaries

 Documentary filmmaker 

New York-based filmmaker and photographer Anna Andersen has an obvious passion for creation and timely concepts. Lately she's been spending a lot of time focusing on creating female-centered documentaries (as well as launching a production house,) so I reached out to hear more about her inspiration and intentions. We caught up about her current projects, creative process, and of course, supporting women. 

So how did you initially get into directing and filmmaking? 

 Documentary filmmaker

It was definitely a winding road that led me to directing. I’ve always been drawn to storytelling and film, but in order for me to get to where I am today, it took traveling around the world, learning a new language, switching my undergraduate major two times, and finally landing in the right class to learn about documentary filmmaking - which is where I found my calling.

From there I’ve honed my interests and skills to focus on female narratives and tangible social impact through media. I’ve always been drawn to the underdog, to the person who has the right story to tell but no way to tell it. For me, it’s important to take myself out of the film and allow it to be a space where marginalized or silent voices can speak up.

Is this your main job or a passion outside of work?

My main job is as a freelance videographer and photographer. I do a lot of events, portraits, and travel video and photo for clients, which helps pay for my passion: documentary filmmaking. However, I am working towards making documentary filmmaking my main profession, since my co-director and I just launched our very own female production house, Bronze Mirror, last week!

I currently support my art through my freelance gigs, but I am hoping my career will soon switch over to becoming more focused on supporting women in media through my new production house, Bronze Mirror.

Right now, I spend pretty much all my free time working on my documentary, “No Man’s Land.” For me it’s a pure passion project so it doesn’t feel like work. I find myself getting into a flow state working on various things for “No Man’s Land” that I’ll look at the clock and then check again and almost 6-8 hours have passed! It’s always such a surprise that I’d been working for so long without noticing. So when work and passion are combined, it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Do you have a team?

My team is my co-creator, director, and one of my best friends, Gabriella Canal. It’s just us right now, but we are looking to expand!

Why female-centered docs?

Female storytelling is on the rise with “Me too,” “Time’s Up,” and the Women’s March. With the success of female directors like Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, and Ava DuVernay, it feels as if times are changing. However, the numbers for female directors in narrative and documentary filmmaking are still abysmal. In 2016 the number of female directors in the top 250 grossing films plummeted down to only 7 percent. In addition, the roles for women and women of color on the screen also decreased. For a female filmmaker in documentary you have to prove yourself over and over again in a way that men do not have to do. The only way to change this is to hire more women and highlight more women. I became fed up with all these statistics that were stacked against me and my dreams, so I decided to take action and make a film about women by women.

What type of stories are you telling through these?

My whole mission statement is to highlight female voices. Most of my photography and video work is female-centric. Additionally, Bronze Mirror Productions will focus exclusively on stories that uplift women in front of and behind the lens. For me, I wanted to focus on this niche storytelling structure so we can hone it and become the “go-to” people for stories about women.

We have been approached to do stories on female surfers on their home turf, the LGBTQ community in Cuba, the indigenous women of the Sierra Nevadas in Colombia, and the historical tale of the Salome women in New York. I aim to tell stories that have been overlooked, underreported, and/or silenced throughout history and give women a platform to speak.

Tell me about your creation process.

Usually, it starts off with a simple handwritten idea that grows and evolves over time. I find that by the end of a project the idea has stayed true to its core but becomes so much more intricate and complex that the story itself takes on a new shape. From there, the rest comes down to editing. Getting in front of the computer and making the narrative cohesive and compelling is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

What if anything is challenging about this type of creation? 

I feel as if some days I am Sisyphus, pushing a huge boulder up a hill only to watch it roll down and have to start all over again. For my co-director and I, one of the most challenging parts of the making of “No Man’s Land” process has been the lack of funding. Female doc filmmakers have to prove themselves over and over again to investors, financiers, and backers in a way that male filmmakers do not. Making others believe that this story is worth telling and worth the time, effort, and money is always going to be the challenge for us, but we are up to the task and willing to take on the fight.

 Documentary filmmaker

Do you ever feel exposed during the process of releasing content?

All the time. My work is an extension of myself and of course, I want it to be well received. So far, the support and feedback for the current projects has been phenomenal, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get butterflies each time I show the trailer to someone or share my passion work with a critic. However, even negative feedback helps me grow and learn how to be more open and become a master of my craft.

What inspires you?

This is a hard question for me to answer, because often inspiration strikes so suddenly it is almost a feeling rather than something I can put into words. The best way I can describe the source of my inspiration is that in times of deep distress or darkness I find a light and follow the glow until it brightens enough to drown out the darkness. For example, after Trump was elected I started a photo series of women that highlighted their humanity by asking the question, “What makes you human?” There, I used photography as medium to empower women rather than commodify and sexualize their bodies. Through this project, I met incredible women, including Madame Gandhi, the woman who coined the term, “The Future is Female;” Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder of the blog Muslim Girl; and trans actress MJ Rodriguez, who is doing amazing work for the FX show POSE. This then led me to “No Man’s Land,” through which I've met all the incredible women I’ve worked with at Ciudad de las Mujeres (The City of Women.)

How quickly do you grow throughout the creation process?

Personally, I grow very quickly. It’s all about evolving with the process so as to not feel stagnant and stationary, which is a terrible feeling for a creative person. I always want to be on the move, evolving, and producing content that keeps myself and others engaged.

How do you know when a piece is done?

I am a total perfectionist so if I didn’t have a deadline nothing would ever be completely “done.” There is always one “last” thing I want to change. However, there comes a point when you have to let go and let the world see what you’ve created and let the work stand on its own.

What's next? 

The next thing for me is finishing “No Man’s Land!” We are in the process of raising money for the project and filming the rest of the communities around the world! I am also in the process of putting together the photo book for my all-female series, Women by Woman. You can find me at @annalouiseimagery or www.annalouiseimagery.com @women_by_woman and @nomansland_doc to follow our journey and the ups and downs of what it means to be a female filmmaker highlighting marginalized female voices today.