With Through Her Lens, the iconic French fashion house supports women behind the camera.
At New York’s Locanda Verde restaurant in late September, some of the film industry’s most influential women gathered for a Tuesday afternoon lunch—a stellar group that included “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins and Academy Award-nominated actress Annette Bening. They were there to kick off the eighth annual, three-day Through Her Lens: The Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program, which empowers ten emerging U.S.-based female filmmakers (writers, directors, and producers) through a series of master classes, mentorships, and $100,000 in funding for project development and production.
Conversations have increased in recent years about the presence of women behind the camera—as directors, writers, producers, and cinematographers—yet statistics indicate that parity in the industry is still a remote concept, with only 12 percent of the top 100 films in 2021 directed by women. That historic imbalance was the impetus for creating Through Her Lens, conceived eight years ago by CHANEL and Tribeca Enterprises, producer of the annual Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan.
More than 100 accomplished, talented women from the film industry routinely attend the Through Her Lens kickoff, but if this star-studded luncheon doesn’t spring to mind as other high-wattage events might, this is very much by design. “One of the elements that makes this event so unique is simply that CHANEL doesn’t advertise around it,” notes Paula Weinstein, chief content officer for Tribeca Enterprises. “We have a lot of terrific partners who use their voices and open doors in many ways, but CHANEL is just different. They keep it very separate and don’t look for a lot for themselves around the giving.”
Through Her Lens puts its primary emphasis on mentoring women seeking to produce their first short films. The kickoff luncheon is followed by three days of workshops, during which five pairs of women filmmakers—each pair consisting of a writer/director and a producer—present their scripts while taking part in master classes, peer networking, and one-on-one mentoring sessions. Bening was among this year’s mentors, while Jenkins taught a master class on directing and the challenges of being a woman in the film industry.
What advice does Jenkins have for women seeking to establish a foothold in the business? “Learn everything you can to be excellent, but also really believe in your voice,”she says. “It’s important to believe that your voice is a universal voice—it’s not an alternate or outside voice, it’s completely legit. You should be great and be able to back that up, but you also should have confidence and believe in yourself.”
If that also sounds like the woman who founded her own atelier in 1919, that’s no accident. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is widely recognized as a trailblazer during the early part of the 20th century, a designer who was seeking to free her fellow women from the restrictions of traditional dress and often looked to the details of men’s clothing to do so.
Her success soon attracted the attention of Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn, who famously lured Chanel to California to design costumes for his films, including 1931’s “Tonight or Never,” starring Gloria Swanson. Eight years later she would work with Jean Renoir on 1939’s “The Rules of the Game,” which touted “Robes de la Maison CHANEL” in its opening credits. Well into her 70s, Chanel continued to exert her influence in cinema, working with actresses like Jeanne Moreau while also mentoring directors like Franco Zeffirelli, whom she introduced to Roger Vadim, a moment integral to launching the former’s career.
It’s with this history in mind that CHANEL conceptualized Through Her Lens, and women in the industry today recognize both the program’s importance and the gravitas the French brand brings to the table. “When you look at CHANEL’s fashion, it’s strong but it’s classic, and it’s also edgy,” says actress and director Jennifer Morrison, who was among this year’s jurors, along with actress Thuso Mbedu (“The Woman King”). “When you combine those three elements, they’re exactly what you’d also find in a woman filmmaker. I just think CHANEL and the women of Tribeca are making really smart decisions.”
“When big companies like CHANEL, which have a lot of eyes on them, are able to highlight a program like this, it benefits everyone,” adds actress Zosia Mamet. “In a partnership with Tribeca, I also look at it as the most quintessential New York mashup. They’re continuing to double down to support this initiative, and it sends a message we continue to be reminded of, and it’s a good reminder.”
The winning duo at September’s event was Wendi Tang and Hongwei Wu, who were awarded full funding for their short film in development, “Fishtank”. “Our writing mentors gave thorough notes from the beginning and helped us see the blind spots in our script,” the pair said in a statement following the program. “We can’t imagine what our script would look like without the last three days of mentorship. It has evolved so much since the pitch process.” The four remaining duos also received grants to continue developing their projects, with CHANEL donating a total of $100,000 among the five projects.
Look for CHANEL to extend its efforts in mentoring and promoting women when the next edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, set to take place June 7-18, 2023, gets underway. The brand also hosts an annual luncheon during the festival that’s designed to create networking opportunities for all women, no matter your status as a filmmaker. Simply put, every woman whose project has been accepted at the festival is also invited to attend CHANEL’s June luncheon, where she’s able to network with everyone from Weinstein and Tribeca Enterprises cofounder and CEO Jane Rosenthal to powerhouse actresses like Lucy Boynton and Kyra Sedgwick, both of whom attended the 2022 event at New York’s The Odeon restaurant.
Rosenthal says she’s grateful for CHANEL’s recognition that mentoring women is vital. “You don’t find many companies that really want to take the time to mentor women filmmakers and see it through to fruition,” Rosenthal says. “If we can’t help each other and bring each other up, nobody else will. We’ve made meaningful progress, but there’s still so much work to do.”
Photo courtesy of CHANEL