Director Sarah Moshman On Motherhood, Feminism & Tackling Sexual Harassment In Her New Film

Sarah with her daughter Bryce in 2018.

This is the third article in a new series we recently launched called Today’s Wonder Women – designed to celebrate the inspiring, impactful, empowering and extraordinary things ordinary women are doing every day. Over the coming months we will be sharing interviews, essays, articles and guest posts about women who are creating change. If you have a story to share and want to add your voice to the Today’s Wonder Women conversation, get in touch by emailing info@girltalkhq.com.


We’ve known award-winning filmmaker Sarah Moshman for a number of years and cannot say enough great things about her projects. When we talk about those who are creating change within Hollywood and working to disrupt an industry that has been unequal and male-dominated since its beginning, we’re talking about artists like Sarah whose work has been screened around the world, FILMED around the world, but is having a powerful impact on individuals in such a personal way.

With films like ‘Losing Sight of Shore’ following the journey of 4 women who rowed unassisted across the Pacific ocean from California to Australia record available on Netflix worldwide, The Empowerment Project showcasing pioneer women who are disrupting the status quo in a number of industries, and her latest project ‘Nevertheless’ tackling sexual harassment, there were so many things we wanted to talk about with Sarah! In addition to her film work, she is also a new mom, teaches filmmaking, speaks at events, and is often traveling around the US as well as the world.

Sarah’s ambitions and successes are a reminder that with persistence, authenticity and an ambition that is undeterred by the circumstances, anything is possible.

What is your earliest memory of wanting to be a filmmaker and make a career out of directing?

The first documentary I made was in high school for an English class, it was about unique family dynamics in my community. I enjoyed the process of taking an idea and using the camera to ask questions of others I might not have the courage to ask otherwise and then sharing the completed film with an audience. I think from then on I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker in some capacity as a career.

Tell us about your dad’s career and how that influenced your own career ambitions?

My Dad (Harvey Moshman) is a documentary filmmaker and TV Producer as well so his work and watching him make a career out of this has always been influential on me whether I knew it before or not. I appreciate that both of my parents never made me feel like my gender was a determining factor to my success and that a career path in the arts and in film wasn’t crazy. My Dad is the hardest working person I know, I’ve always appreciated his work ethic and try to emulate it in my work too.

Sarah filming ‘Losing Sight of Shore’

Taking that initial leap out into the unknown can be scary for so many people, especially women. How did you get the courage to do that with your career?

It is! I was working in reality television for my first 5 years out in Los Angeles, mainly for Dancing with the Stars I worked as a field producer on the show for 10 seasons. It was a great job but I wanted more out of my career and I was feeling this itch to create my own work and have more ownership of the work that I was doing. The quote that helped me around that time was: “Sometimes you climb the ladder of success to find it was on the wrong wall.”

It’s important to check in with yourself and ask what it is that you feel is success. It’s easy to get caught up in what other people define as success, and for me being able to create my own opportunities and shine a light on stories that had meaning to me and to the world was something I was hungry for and decided to take a leap of faith and start making documentaries full time. I had no idea if it would work out, but I had to at least see what I was capable of, and I’m so glad I did!

What made you decide you wanted to focus on creating films and content relating to women and their stories?

I started to really become aware of the way we treat women in the media around 2012 after working professionally in television for a handful of years. It was clear that women are over-sexualized, objectified, ignored, and not allowed to be fully complex, real and flawed characters in our stories. Women are not often the heroes, they are the sidekick. I was hungry for more content where women get to be front and center and they get to impart wisdom to other women and girls to grow.

In its simplest form I wanted to create more media that I wished I had seen when I was younger. That’s really how my first feature film ‘The Empowerment Project‘ came about – me and 4 other female filmmakers got in a minivan and drove across the US to interview inspirational women in all different career fields. It was a wonderfully profound experience and screening and sharing the film with audiences the past 4 years has been a dream come true.

How has feminism been woven into the choices you make as a director?

Feminism is interwoven in to my films in so many ways – and I think it’s important we acknowledge that women directors bring so much to the table based on their own stories and experiences. From the camera and lenses we use, to the questions I ask, to the way my films are edited together comes from a place of wanting women to be treated as equals in the world and for the audience to feel informed, inspired and empowered after watching one of my films. Feminism to me is about the freedom for women to follow any path they choose, and that is a reflection of the work I love to make – stories about strong female protagonists.

Sarah and Dana Michelle Cook holding their Emmy Award.

Tell us about winning an Emmy Award, and the film that made it happen?

Yes! Well for some context – my Dad has won 26 Emmy Awards, so when I was younger the Emmy was a symbol of excellence and I always dreamed of winning one someday. We won the Emmy Award for a short documentary entitled “Growing Up Strong: Girls on the Run” in 2013 at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chicago/Midwest Chapter Emmy Awards. It was a magical evening and more than anything a sign that I was on the right path and that I should keep going with this work. Awards are cool, but I see now that being able to create work that I feel passionately about and that can make real change in the world is the best reward.

Your film ‘Losing Sight of Shore’, which is on Netflix worldwide, follows the journey of 4 women as they row across the ocean unassisted. Tell us about the process of making this and why it is about SO much more than just rowing.

Losing Sight of Shore was truly one of the great adventures of my life, and a project I never thought I would ever make. I was introduced to the rowers, the Coxless Crew, less than 3 months before they were to set off across the Pacific Ocean, so I had barely any time to get ready for this unbelievable journey. I bought the rowers cameras, hard drives and microphones so they could tell their own story at sea and then I would meet them along the way on land and film them coming in from another boat with a drone or helicopter above!

The journey took 9 months in total and it was such a thrill to have a front row sea to this expedition and I knew people would want to watch this story unfold. I struggled so much to raise the money to finish the film, I invested a lot of my own money, brought on investors, I was awarded 4 grants (after countless rejections) and more! It was a true test for me as well even though I didn’t physically row the ocean, I too crossed a ‘Pacific.’

And Netflix was the best case scenario for the film, after 2 years of hard work we found the best possible home for the film so now people in 190 countries around the world can watch and be inspired by the record setting voyage of the Coxless Crew. The story was always so much more than rowing to me, it was about the power of the human spirit and what we are all capable of when we push ourselves to the limit. I am in awe of these heroines and I think anyone can be inspired by what they accomplished.

‘Losing Sight of Shore’ poster

There is a lot of awareness and discussion about the lack of the female gaze behind the camera. How do you go forward despite knowing about such inequality in the industry?

I do my part by mentoring other filmmakers and bringing aspiring female filmmakers on set with me for each of my shoots. There is so much we can learn from one another, so I also host camera, audio and lighting workshops in LA to inspire other women to pick up the camera and start to tell the stories that matter to them. Yes, there is a lot of inequality in the film industry but I choose to focus on the strengths that I bring to the table, and the lens from which I view the world. Film is my preferred form of activism, and storytelling can change the world – I’ve seen it firsthand! Some days are tough and discouraging but I think it’s important to find community you can lean on.

How has the role of a new mom shaped your role as a filmmaker and a woman in general?

Motherhood has changed so much for me, especially as a filmmaker I think it has made me an even more empathetic person and it has inspired me to want to shine a brighter light on the issues that women face in the workplace, as mothers, and more. I’m working on a film right now called ANGELINA which is about postpartum depression with a humorous twist.

This is a film I wouldn’t have made prior to motherhood, but now almost a year in to being a parent I see how important it is for mothers to speak the truth about our experiences so we can feel less alone. It’s really hard to make this all work and I don’t know if I ever feel “balanced” but working on films I care deeply about has helped me feel the most myself in a year that is otherwise filled with transition and uncertainty. Becoming a mother is such a massive identity shift, and I am in awe of other women more than ever before! This is not easy.

Sarah filming for ‘Nevertheless’ while 9 months pregnant.

Your current project, ‘Nevertheless’, is about sexual harassment in the workplace. As you are filming the interviews and finding stories across the country, what are some of the things you have learned about the issue from your characters?

I’ve done over 40 interviews now about sexual harassment for NEVERTHELESS and I’d say it’s clearer to me more than ever that this is such a systematic issue. We can’t look at one bad apple, or one company and expect them to fix the problem. We need to be thinking bigger and also smaller. Bigger in the sense that sexual harassment exists in a pyramid that’s foundation is built upon objectification and offensive remarks, and at the top of the pyramid is rape and assault.

We can’t talk about harassment without talking about all gender-based violence. We can’t “solve” sexual harassment without addressing the entire pyramid. The film examines the ways in which our legal system can fail victims, the way we socialize our girls and boys differently as well as the way the brain reacts to trauma and taking a look at the long term effects of these behaviors.

What I mean by thinking smaller is that in its simplest form, this is about respect and kindness. If we can encourage the people around us to stop making offensive remarks that dehumanize women, especially in the workplace – then little by little we do change the culture. And vowing to not be bystanders – if we see someone else being harassed then we have the power to step in as well. I’m also learning so much about great men in this space that are true allies and advocates and are encouraging other men in their circles to do the same, which is endlessly inspiring to me.

As you can tell I’ve learned so much and it is an exciting challenge to put it together in to a compelling film. The plan is to be complete by Fall of 2019 so stay tuned!



What do you think is the “secret ingredient” makes a successful documentary film?

I think when the filmmaker is personally invested in the subject, the topic or the story then that passion shines through.

If there was one thing you could tell every up-and-coming female filmmaker today, what would it be?

I would say – don’t want for this moment where you think you’re going to feel 100% ready or qualified to make a film. That day will never come. You are the only person you need to get permission from to get started. You are capable of more than you know! And also, I know I’m biased, but this is truly the coolest best career ever so what are you waiting for?!

Where do you see yourself 5 and 10 years from now both professionally and personally?

Let’s see – I’ll likely have 2 kids by then, continuing on with my work in documentary but I’d like to also be working in narrative film/episodic television directing within 5-10 years. I’d like to write a book, travel often and continue to meet and work with interesting people. I also dream of having some kind of mentoring program for female filmmakers – an organization that gives grants as well as provides hands on learning experiences. I love teaching and paying it forward.

What makes you a powerful woman?

I’m a powerful woman because first of all, I birthed a human. Woah.

I’m also a powerful woman because I create my own opportunities and I don’t want for others to pick me. To me, that is my true empowerment. And, I want to help as many women as I can along the way.


You can learn more about Sarah and her work by visiting her website. Read more stories of everyday female superheroes in our Today’s Wonder Women series.

Sarah teaching a camera and lighting workshop to female filmmakers.

 

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