Film maker and Greenwich resident Joni Steele Kimberlin has a new film premiering in New York City this evening at the Soho International Film Festival: "Get Real! Wise Women Speak." The film celebrates, in Kimberlin's words, "those extraordinary women who speak about their journey to the `wise women' years."
Kimberlin, who served as producer, director and writer on the film, is no newcomer to film making. She co-produced and wrote the script for the award-winning PBS documentary film, "Elizabeth Winthrop: All the Days of Her Life," which celebrates Elizabeth Feake, a woman who was very much a part of Greenwich's early history.
To learn more about Kimberlin's new film we posed a few questions.
How did the idea for this film originate?
I was growing increasingly disgusted with the crass and superficial way women are portrayed at any age by popular media, especially in so-called reality shows. What does that say of their value? Any woman of substance is fed up with how women are portrayed. At the same time I was aware of a widely-present and deeply-rooted negative attitude in our culture about the words "old woman" -- as if an old woman is somehow "less than." I was feeling a real disconnect from that common perception and how I perceive my own life, the lives of my friends and the women I look up to. For example, a women like oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who is fighting to save our planet, is one of my heroes. I also sensed that within older women there must exist the potential for a deep and powerful wisdom. I set out to find inspiration in the lives and wisdom of older women. After all, the ancient archetype of the wise woman exists in some form in almost every culture. So, here is my reality show.
How many women are featured in the film and what is the age range?
I interviewed 23 people and cut it down to 18. The women in my film range in age from 55-84. They include: Jane Fonda, Della Reese, Marianne Williamson, former Essence Magazine editor Susan L. Taylor, poet Nikki Giovanni, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Buddhist nun Tenzin Palmo, and Nobel Laureate Jody Williams. Also featured are Indigenous elders Agnes Baker Pilgrim and Floredemayo (both of the Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers), author Jean Shinoda Bolen, artist Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Stanford University expert on aging Laura Carstensen, anthropologist Angeles Arrien, ambassador Swanee Hunt, Linda Leitch, peacemaker Vivian Castleberry and Stamford dance teacher Roberta Pollard.
How long did the film take you to make? What roles did you perform, and what were the challenges?
Five years. My vision for the film was very strong from the beginning. I knew the themes that I wanted to address. I knew I wanted a polished look, a colorful mosaic that represented the richness of these women's lives. I envisioned a film that wove together ancient archetypes with modern-day stories. I wanted a lot of the visuals to be from nature, because aging is simply an aspect of nature's natural cycles. And I was very clear that I wanted world music with a Celtic flavor. This was all in the treatment I wrote.
It took a long time and was a tremendous amount of work, but I achieved my vision. I collaborated with some great people, and wouldn't have gotten it finished without them. I produced, wrote and directed the documentary. My script evolved from months of going through the footage and pulling out key points, honing it down. The documentary is structured as a conversation around universal themes, one of the major ones being that every woman takes a journey to the "wise woman" years. If she takes that journey in an aware, authentic manner, she will enjoy the third stage of her life that much more. It was complicated to work out a narrative arc with conversations with 18 women. The final cut was a product of me working one-on-one with an editor.
Who do you see as the audience for the film?
I've been amazed to see what a broad audience it may attract. On my Facebook page I've heard from 31,000 fans related to the film from more than 18 countries in more than 17 languages. The breakdown is interesting: 12 percent are men, and 28 percent of the women are between the ages of 35-44, 15 percent are from 25-34, and 33 percent are from 45-54. I knew there was a niche for the film but I didn't know there was a wider appreciation. I really hope to inspire younger woman -- to show them the fullness of a woman's life.
What other venues will the film be shown in?
So far we are screening in nine film festivals and there may be more. It's all happening over a six week period in April and May, from Los Angeles, to Atlanta, to Florida, to New York, to Newport Beach. Some of the champions of my film who pushed for it to be in their festivals have been men. We also plan on broadcasting the show.
Where did the film take you? And how have you managed to produce the film with three children, aged 10-23?
To India, to London, and across the U.S. As a mom I've burned a lot of midnight and weekend oil on the film. Three of my kids have been involved with the film. Genevieve worked as an assistant producer and she is in a dance sequence in the film. Chloe was an intern and a bit player and Tommy did a great job acting in a narrative scene. My husband Kevin can also be found in a re-enactment.
What is your next project?
I definitely want to explore the themes of the documentary more in depth. Each theme could make a whole other film. I am not finished with wise women! Women start to feel more powerful in their forties, but it's in their fifties when they really start to come into their "wise woman" years. The film is really a call to action to use your wisdom and experience.
Some women find it hard to transition from their more physically attractive younger version, to let it go. But, being an elder with so much to offer has incredible value -- and the world needs it. Women need to step up to the plate. I got a lot of inspiration from my mom -- a lot of wisdom. She died while I was working on the film. While I was missing my own wise woman, I found wisdom from these 23 other women.