Nobody ever said launching a film festival would be easy. But for LSA alumna Meredith Finch (A.B. ‘13), the reward is worth the work.
“Oh, I’ve still got a day job,” Finch says with a laugh. “I get up in the morning and work on the festival, doing emails and making phone calls, setting up local sponsorships, that kind of thing. And then, after I get home from work, I screen movies that have come in for consideration. It’s immensely gratifying.”
Finch works for film festivals, such as Tribeca and Sundance, throughout the year. She was in San Francisco working for the San Francisco International Film Festival last spring when she had the idea for Nevertheless.
“I was riding the bus,” Finch says, “and thinking about movies I had seen recently that handled women’s stories well and not so well. I was thinking about opportunity. And I had the idea for a film festival for women and female-identifying and non-binary filmmakers, and as soon as I had the idea, I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’”
Finch also knew where she wanted to do it.
“Ann Arbor is such a perfect place for people to try new things and take risks and bring a new pair of eyes to arts and culture and film,” Finch says. “It’s really open to embracing different ideas. There wasn’t even a question of anywhere else, once I had thought of it.”
Clap the Clapboard and Shout Action
A dedicated movie watcher and a cappella enthusiast, Finch discovered film studies at the end of her first year at U-M.
“As soon as I took the intro to film class, I was ready to sign up,” Finch says. “I was ready to just keep doing that kind of work forever. That introductory class really set the course for my entire life, in hindsight.”
After working the Ann Arbor Summer Festival for two summers, she’d found her calling. She enjoyed the high-pressure environments. And she liked working directly with artists and seeing the hard work she put into the festival received with tremendous enthusiasm by audiences.
These experiences, combined with her film studies background, led her to work for the Sundance Film Festival.
“It was my dream job,” Finch says. “Working for a film festival combines the things I love to work on most, films and events.
"It was an incredible opportunity, but it was also terrifying, Finch says. “I was scared, but I just went out and did it,” she says. “And it was amazing and led to other amazing opportunities afterwards.”
‘People Can Make Movies About Whatever They Want’
From her experiences on the film festival circuit and her friendships with fellow U-M alumnae Proma Khosla (A.B. ‘13), Emily Lyon (SMTD A.B. ‘13), and Radhika Menon (A.B. ‘13), Finch pulled together the group of people who would help launch this new festival. The all-women team includes filmmakers, writers, designers, and a veteran of the film distribution industry all working to provide a showcase for female-driven films.
What differentiates Nevertheless from other film festivals is the criteria. In order to apply to screen in the festival, a film must have 50 percent of its leadership positions filled by women.
“Sometimes, when people in festivals or in the industry talk about inclusivity, they’re talking about female directors,” Finch says. “And that’s important, but we’ve also got some films that are directed by men that have female producers, female directors of photography, or female composers. We really wanted to highlight that so many more people work on a movie than just the director.”
The festival—which takes its name from a one-time critique of Senator Elizabeth Warren that has since become an internet meme and protest slogan—launches as the film and entertainment industry is weighing the successes and opportunities of female filmmakers. There is the 4% Challenge, which asks people in the industry to commit to working with a female director on a feature film in the next 18 months. (That number refers to the fact that four percent of directors of the 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007-2018 were directed by women.) Public calls for increased diversity behind the camera by actresses Brie Larson and Frances McDormand and by director Ava DuVernay have also fueled public conversations about the importance of including women in all roles of film creation and production—not just at the very top – a shift that Finch sees reflected in the stories and performances as well.
“There’s an authenticity to the movies we’re showing that feature female protagonists that you don’t always get,” Finch says. “And that’s really cool to see.
“And, of course, there are plenty of stories about men and about animals and about all different things, because people can make movies about whatever they want. And we’re excited to show as much as we can of that.”
The Nevertheless Film Festival—which is put on with support from LSA's Department of Film, Television, and Media—will take place July 11-14 at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor.