THE POPCORN REEL WEEKEND: FIRST SATURDAY IN MARCH WITH JENNIFER FOX, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER
"I Mean, He Hired These Smart People.  Why Can't He Shut Up . . . Why Can't He Let Them Talk?"

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

March 11, 2008


Jennifer Fox, documentary filmmaker of "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman", which will be shown on the Sundance Channel in May.  "If I can help other women, I would really like to do that," she says.  (Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel)

Part 2 of 3

SAN FRANCISCO, California

The quoted words titling the second part of this three-part feature story belong to Jennifer Fox, the director of "Flying: Confessions of A Free Woman".  She has just been talking about an older male executive who brought three women employees with him to a meeting with the documentary filmmaker about the DVD rights for the film, which played here at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through last Sunday (March 9).  The film will be shown in May on the Sundance Channel in the U.S.

The quote reveals both a frustration and anger with men that Ms. Fox has -- the constant interruptions of women by men, complete with the talking over and shouting down of them.  As this interview continues, the director is troubled by this and other everyday male traits that are disdainful of and disrespectful to women.  Ms. Fox also decries what she characterizes as the societal objectification of woman as ornaments for sexual use and disposal, a chronic circumstance that she sincerely wants to explore in a future documentary while aiming to work on obliterating such an entrenched mindset pervasive among many men (and even some women).

Shattering centuries-old attitudes and mentalities provides a daunting challenge which she admits she doesn't know how she'll begin to tackle. 

And for the record, Ms. Fox doesn't hate men.  She is angry with them for some of the reasons stated above (and below).  And she isn't necessarily a feminist either.  Throughout this conversation she insists that she is no political expert.

Recalling the meeting with the male executive and his trio of female colleagues clearly vexes Ms. Fox.  "And he's -- of course he's a man who doesn't think of himself as being, you know, a chauvinist.  Of course he doesn't.  He thinks he's completely liberated.  And that's so common."

At this moment, the filmmaker's self-consciousness arises.  "That was a really long answer", she says, in response to a question about gender, which was asked about three minutes prior to her response, which was detailed.

Ms. Fox observes that as a youngster she played the role of daddy's little girl very well, doing whatever she wanted to, fueled by her father's sense of confidence in her as his daughter.  Choosing her father's way over her mother's meant "[pretending] that it wasn't dangerous to be a girl alone, you know, running around the world, which is what I was doing in my teens.  I was hitchhiking and traveling alone in foreign countries in my late teens and into my twenties and shooting a film in Beirut in a war and doing these things that were very male," Ms. Fox revealed. 

"And the only way to do that is to say, 'I'm not afraid.  There's nothing to be afraid of . . . It doesn't matter that I almost just got raped.  It doesn't matter that this guy just beat me up.  It doesn't matter. '  You just put your blinders on and you go on and I went on," continued Ms. Fox, who delivered these last few sentences in a sobering way, which only made the events she recounted more jarring.  

"In terms of, 'is it liberating to have the blinders (to gender) lifted off?', I think what I find is that I'm really pissed off."

She laughs, but perhaps this is more a laugh as an alleviation of the rising anger she clearly feels when talking about men.  Ms. Fox cites race as a parallel.  "I have no idea what it means to be black and a man in America, but I'm sure if you feel that you can get really angry.  So it's like me -- all of a sudden I'm really feeling it.  And I'm pissed off.  I find myself having really low tolerance."  Jennifer Fox readily admits that her personal feelings about men got in the way of her film, which is subtitled "Confessions Of A Free Woman", perhaps even hampering the film's focus: "In ["Flying"] I think there's a moment where I say I'm really angry at men.  I think as narration it's shitty narration.  You know, if I could rewrite and take it out -- it's way too gross.  In fact, we just did a cut for the BBC which is four hours versus six.  And we lifted some of the too-over-the-top narration from the film, which I'm happy with." 

Even as Ms. Fox talked about her feelings about men, she appeared to be reevaluating her expressions of those feelings as she described them.  And perhaps the globetrotting filmmaker was conflicted about them, dueling with herself as she spoke.  "So to say it like that -- 'I'm so angry at men', is really gross -- crass.  But the truth is, you can't even measure how angry I am.  You can't even measure it.  I'm just, it's -- ".

She pauses for a moment.

"You know, it's like years of taking it, and smiling and kissing ass and getting where you want to be and absorbing the flirtation and the innuendos and also the dangers and of course, I mean a lot of it started with the sexual abuse when I was a kid.  But now that I'm feeling it I really am angry."  She laughs again as she says this.

"I wish I knew what to do with that (anger)," she said.

In her office in New York City, Jennifer Fox has working for her a group of "very pretty . . . beautiful women that are very diverse -- and they're all between 20 and 30," and while she says that she that it is a good thing, it isn't a reflection of the real world, where they will be exposed to male work colleagues whose agendas run toward the sexual and by definition, inappropriate.  She mentioned some of the stories that the women in her office had shared.  "One of the woman working for me was saying this story that she was on the set in L.A. in a previous job and they actually asked her to leave the set because she was distracting the crew so badly.  I mean she was very pretty, very pretty.  She also graduated magna cum laude from college on a full scholarship.  I mean, this woman is a brain, also.  She's very talented.  She's very good at what she does, so you know that she was doing a good job.  And when I heard that story I just wanted to get a gun and kill somebody."
 
Citing a "blame the victim mentality", Ms. Fox went on to exemplify the sentiment that such mentalities bring.  "'You know, it's your fault you were raped, it's your fault you were abused -- what were you wearing?'  You know, it's the same thing."  One may not expect to hear the next statement from Ms. Fox's lips, although it sounds more like a sarcastic remark than anything else.

"I mean if she were ugly, I guess everything would have been fine."

Ms. Fox explodes into laughter.

"I remember that (story) and it makes me angry for women everywhere.  I just felt -- I just get really angry.  And that's in liberated America.  And of course those values exist everywhere in the world, in different forms."

Another pause.

"It's always our fault."

A few moments of silence transpire, enough for a deep breath or two to be taken.  After hearing the incredulous story of Ms. Fox's employee on the film set in Los Angeles a risky but valid question is asked: how is the anger that Jennifer Fox feels used in a constructive fashion?  

"I'm . . . really, really interested in understanding how to turn around sexual violence and abuse . . . I'm really interested in working towards somehow shifting those power balances that allow women to be seen as objects.  I mean, that's so huge.  And I don't really know quite how to do it.  And I think again, some of it is empowerment, some of it is inner strength, some of it is standing up for yourself, because a lot of women -- we don't even know how to stand up for ourselves," the documentary filmmaker said. 

Ms. Fox relays another story of one of her employees in her office.  "She was kind of followed on the subway, and she didn't actually know how to get rid of him.  Because she didn't know how to say basically, 'STOP!  GET AWAY FROM ME!  I DON'T WANNA TALK TO YOU!'  She didn't know how to do it . . . [we are] raised in this female way, which is girls have to be nice.  So we've all -- so many of us have got into really dangerous situations because we didn't know how to break out of this girls-must-be-sweet-and-nice-and-charming-and-funny and all that.  It's so institutionalized in ourselves that it often gets us into dangerous situations.  So I would also really hope that somehow talking about it will bring some light on it.  I'm also preparing a film down the road about sexual abuse, based on my sexual abuse, which is a very complex story.  But I'd like to use it to explore that whole issue -- kind of how it (sexual abuse) happens."


Coming in Part 3: Better a black man than a white woman in America?  Jennifer Fox nods in the affirmative. 

Part One


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