Maggie Mackay has worked as a freelance programmer and writer, script reader, Hollywood Assistant, on-set Production Coordinator, and Senior Coordinator of the Sundance Documentary Fund. She joined Film Independent in 2003, where she is Director of Nominations for the Film Independent Spirit Awards. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Film Studies from the University of Delaware, and a Master’s degree in Literature and Film Studies from Claremont Graduate University.
[Film industry events all] happen at 7.30 at night: the absolute worst time for any parent.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on right now?
I’m a film programmer and I work in arts non-profits, I’ve been in the field for around 15 years, starting at Sundance funding documentaries. Now I’m at Film Independent where, until recently, I was Senior Programmer of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF). Now I work on the Film Independent Spirit Awards full time as the Director of Nominations. I also take on freelance programming gigs throughout the year, this year I’ve worked on Sarasota Film Festival and a small festival in Hawaii.
I’m trying to be at home as much as I can right now. I’m better at home than I am at the office. I don’t muck around as much at home.
I’m trying to get mom filmmakers to talk to each other: a filmmaker friend told me she felt isolated not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a mother. She can’t be out networking and participating in panels and screenings all the time, because everything happens at 7.30pm at night: the absolute worst time for any parent. So I invited her over to meet other mom filmmakers, six women documentarians with kids of various ages.
It was really interesting: the conversation all night was about filmmaking (and just a little bit about babies). I think it really galvanised them: they all came prepared, having watched each others’ trailers. Now they’re all watching each other’s movies, which are really different. For the most part, their movies are not about being parents or mothers or women. It was a beautiful evening and an interesting experiment, and I want to do it more!
Do you think that being a parent has an impact on filmmakers’ careers?
I feel like I have more and more women friends shooting when they’re pregnant. Kasi Lemmons is one of my favourite human beings. Six or seven years ago, I had just gotten married and was at a filmmaker retreat for LAFF, where I was a programmer. I have this one movie I’ve always wanted to make, but have always felt it would be impossible. I said to Kasi, ‘I want to make the movie before I make a baby.’ And Kasi said, ‘I made both my films pregnant. You won’t get your films greenlit until you’re pregnant or have kids running around…’ She was joking of course, but I do think there’s something to having big personal life events collide with big professional events. And in our industry, what’s the difference? I’ve always remembered what Kasi said and on those rare occasions I think about that project and wonder how I could ever get it done, her words re-inspire me.
There’s a very stark difference between an industry that includes women and an industry that includes parents.
Do you feel you can make an intervention as a programmer?
I’m starting to notice that women filmmakers are only supported when they want to tell stories about women, and people of colour the same; unfortunately, that means they’re often working on well-trodden ground. They can have really above-average skills in every area, but they’re boxed in a bit, because to move to the next artistic level, they need to break out of the expected narratives. And it’s very hard, because unless something really dramatically changes with financing, I don’t know that’s going to change.
Film Independent has a clear mission to support diversity, and my mission as a programmer and supporter of filmmakers has always been focused on diversity in all its many forms. When women and people of colour don’t get the funding, and don’t have the support to tell the stories they want to tell, all the stories they want to tell, the entire art form suffers.
There are also two really interesting separate issues here: right now, any halfway decent film festival run by anyone with any level of integrity is making an effort to show films by women and people of colour; whether they’re being pressured to by the industry, or because they believe in it. But there’s a very stark difference between an industry that includes women and an industry that includes parents. There are men in filmmaking and non-profits who feel many of the same frustrations: they may be subject to the expectation that they can leave their families for weeks on end, or work late at the office without hesitation.
Is programming a good place to work for a parent?
Despite the low, non-profit, pay, it can be. I’ve often felt very torn between loving my work and making sacrifices at home to excel there, and feeling the need to spend more time parenting. But overall I’m doing better than most people in my industry when it comes to flexibility and time off. On the other hand, my husband, who is a freelancer, is as hands-on as I am, if not more. He works from home, so he can pick kids up when they’re sick or out of school early, that kind of thing. I do drop offs, he does pick-ups, he makes dinner, and he works late into the night to make up for it. What I provide is reliability and healthcare benefits.
I’m glad that there’s this exposé in Hollywood right now about women filmmakers, but right now it’s very focused on directors alone and that’s an issue, because really gender discrimination lives in every pocket of the industry. There are more women and mothers in high level positions on my side of the industry, but we get often get treated just as poorly as women in production, it’s just in different and more subtle ways. I hope the ACLU’s intervention is successful, I have my doubts, but I think even if it doesn’t create huge, tangible change, it’s enough of a spotlight to push people to make more thoughtful hiring choices, at least in production. I hope that eventually leads to broader changes for women across the industry.
The line between personal and professional in the arts is almost non-existent; that affects everyone whether they have kids or not. Everyone is entitled to a personal life.
There’s been some media attention recently to the way that female filmmakers are addressed in the industry; do you think that’s true for parents and carers as well?
A lot of my mom’s friends when I was growing up did not have children. In the 1970s and 80s, there was a huge stigma against women who chose not to have children: the conversations were shocking, even in the liberal arts communities where my mom worked. In the film industry, to some extent, there’s been a reversal of that stigma. Many years ago I was in a conversation that turned into an impromptu job interview, and a woman said to me, ‘You have a kid?’ I wanted to say, ‘You should see the look of disgust on your face.’ It’s very disheartening. And that’s in arts non-profits! I wasn’t pitching some old white, studio producer a $20 million movie.
Although there is more of a support system now, and that’s great, I think that women in the workplace need to support women, period. Women without children need to be more supportive of women who do and vice versa. I think that having kids is a super personal choice, and there’s a really broad spectrum of attitudes around that. The only way that women are going to move up in the industry is by being supportive of each other, regardless of whether they have children or not.
How do we get everyone to join in this conversation, and realise it affects them?
The line between personal and professional in the arts is almost non-existent; that affects everyone whether they have kids or not. Everyone is entitled to a personal life. Anything that forces people to talk about that blur is valuable. Just because you don’t have a kid doesn’t mean you don’t end up caring for people: for parents, or partners, or siblings. That burden really rings true with people who don’t have kids, because there’s often an expectation that if you don’t have kids, you’ll be able to take everything on in the workplace.
Look at Katharine Zaleski’s open letter in Fortune, written when she had children later in life, after having been very cruel to co-workers who were mothers when she was a senior editor at Huffington Post. She then founded a start-up, PowerToFly (with one of the co-workers she later apologised to) an online agency that enables flexible, distance working for women in tech. Her letter is half-manifesto and half-advocacy, arguing that women who have children have to be very focused, have to utilise time differently than those who don’t – making better use of their time, and, often, taking it more seriously. I’m not really that into the blogosphere, but I read that letter and cried.
It’s important for people on both sides to think inclusively, because I think it affects the kind of stories that you tell. Cinematic storytelling, and story telling in general, would be really strange without stories told by parents. Sometimes diversity is in your experience as well as your identity.