Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines airs Monday, April 15 at 10pm (check local listings). We recently spoke with Kristy Guevara-Flanagan about her experiences making the film, a fun and warmly witty look at the fascinating evolution and legacy of Wonder Woman. From the birth of the comic book superheroine in the 1940s to the blockbusters of today, Wonder Women! looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
I think adults need to pay more attention to the images their children consume and the effects those images have on development. I want to bring awareness to the dearth of role models for women and girls in the media, teach media literacy, and encourage girls to make their own media. I also hope the film will engage broader and younger audience in a larger discussion on feminism, equality and female empowerment.
What led you to make this film?
In 2005 I read an article about Gail Simone, the first woman to regularly write the Wonder Woman series in comic book form. It struck me as slightly insane, that this figure of female empowerment had yet to be penned by a woman. I looked back at Wonder Woman’s creation and found a compelling heroine–ahead of her time in many ways–and throughout her legacy, I discovered a compelling journey that spoke to the way our culture feels about powerful women.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
Funding is always a HUGE challenge: it comes in fits and starts and makes the completion timeline that much longer. The other challenge was that the film spans many decades and features many subjects and themes. Tying this all together in a concise, informed way took a lot of time and energy in the edit room. There were some compelling female superheroes and action figures we had to leave out. The other challenge was how to make historical information come to life and resonate with audiences today.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
For this film we found that subjects really wanted to talk to us because they were so passionate about the subject matter. We did, however, have to do our homework and the film is heavily researched. Not being superhero “geeks” meant that we needed to bring ourselves up to speed with a lot of background information in order to have some street cred with the comic enthusiasts. We also spoke with a lot of pop cultural and gender studies theorists, so we had to bridge the gap between fan and academic.
What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
We have amazing segments on women in Asian martial arts films and slasher films that we just couldn’t fit in. We filmed a very remarkable woman who dresses as Wonder Woman both at comic conventions and charity events who we also couldn’t find space for. And finally, one of the shoots in which we had the most fun didn’t actually make the cut and that was when we interviewed Elizabeth Streb and filmed her dance company (Streb Action Lab) in New York. Our DVD, however, will feature these extras.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
Most people agree, and I would, too, that the moment that moves them the most is our interview and scene with the fourth grader, Katie Pineda. Katie really speaks to the heart of the matter of why heroes matter when she talks about being bullied at school. For her, superheroes let her that she can overcome these obstacles and provide powerful role models that help her in her daily life.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
We have had a great festival run and audiences have been very enthusiastic about the film. Many want to know how their daughter or son can watch the film or if it will be available to schools. Others want to let us know who their female heroes were or are. The main subjects of the film have all seen it. Our youngest subject, Katie, likes to remind us that she is forever immortalized as a fourth grader.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I am motivated by engaging with my audiences…which can be a challenge when a film like this takes years to make. Fortunately, there are opportunities along the way that allow for this engagement. We had two such amazing opportunities through our Kickstarter campaigns. For us, Kickstarter was a way to connect with fans and documentary buffs before the film was finished and to get audiences to actually support production and revved up for its completion.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Public television is a way for millions of homes and classrooms to connect to the film and its themes. For us, this free and accessible distribution is the best possible venue for our film.
What is one of the most commonly asked question by audiences?
People want to know who I think should play Wonder Woman, were a feature film to be made. I think there is no singular actress out there that I know of who can capture all the complexities of the iconic hero. She should as kick-ass as Michele Rodriguez, as sassy and witty as Ellen Page, and as commanding as Pam Grier.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
I would say find a topic you absolutely feel passionate about because you will be married to this concept for many years. I would also say don’t be afraid of quitting! I am not necessarily speaking about a film ideas, but ideas about the film you are hanging on to when other, better solutions might be staring you in the face. That is what I love about non-fiction filmmaking. You can’t author it ahead of time. Be open to the footage you get and flexible in veering off course from your original thesis.
What are your three favorite films?
The Gleaners and I, La Ciudad, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Hah. I didn’t get a lot of cooking and gardening done. In theory, two of my favorite pastimes.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Dark, dark chocolate.
Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines premieres on Monday, April 15 at 10pm (check local listings). Also, stay tuned for Wonder City, an interactive game inspired by the film, coming in May!