Meet Tracy Wares, documentarian

When did you decide you wanted to pursue directing? Was there an “ah ha” moment or was it just a growing inclination? Did you have a mentor or did you have to find your own path forward?

I came to documentary filmmaking through an anthropologist lens. While studying anthropology at UC Berkeley I took an ethnographic filmmaking course. I realized that my passion for understanding others’ cultures and experiences could be married with my passion for artistic expression and creativity. I directed my first film while in school and worked with a supportive team. I made my second documentary independently while studying abroad in India and had to teach myself how to perform each role, which was radically empowering.  Since I came to directing from outside of the film school/ industry route I didn’t receive any resistance to a woman holding the power to tell a story and lead a team.  It wasn’t until later, when I moved to Los Angeles and worked as a camerawoman and producer in the entertainment industry, that I came up against sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

What drove you to make “Political Animals”? What about the film was the most satisfying for you as a creative person? What surprised you about the journey of the film with audiences? 

Women have always held instrumental roles in social justice movements in our country.  However, most of them have been overlooked when the histories were written. When I heard that four trailblazing women were the first publically out gay politicians at the state level in California, and fought hard to secure equal rights for the LBGTQ community in our state, I knew it was a story that many others would also be eager to hear. Even in the gay community, the contributions of lesbians, bisexual and trans women have often been overlooked.

It was invigorating to be able to share the accomplishments of women who lived both “the personal is political” and “the political is personal”. They took huge risks by putting themselves out on the line and faced many personal attacks on the senate floor, but they persisted and eventually won. When we first started filming, marriage equality in America had not yet been guaranteed by the Supreme Court. As the film progressed we saw laws around the country begin to change and the momentum build. However, there is still much work to be done to secure LGBTQ rights both around the world and in the US. It’s still legal in many states in the US to discriminate in the workplace and housing because of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identification.  It’s gratifying to create a film that can inspire others, and women in particular, to create the change they want to see in the world. Screening the film for audiences at multiple festivals around the world has been incredibly rewarding. 

At the LA Film Fest, older women shared with me that they were elated to see women’s roles in the movement finally acknowledged. At Provincetown International Film Festival, a student from China approached me in tears to tell me she was inspired by the four women to make changes in her own country.  I spoke to audiences in Uganda via Skype before a screening at the Queer Kampala Film Festival and was in awe of their power and persistence- they literally have had screenings raided and have to keep locations secret because homosexuality is illegal there. At an Outfest screening an African-American woman approached me to say that the film finally helped her understand that the LGBTQ Rights movement is part of the larger fight for civil rights in the US. To witness the power of film to inspire, educate, and bring about greater understanding and connections is why I continue down this challenging path of documentary filmmaking.

How do you make a living as a director? What advice can you give to other women coming out of the doc world in terms of “making a living”? What do you love about your career? How do you deal with obstacles, setbacks, or “roadblocks”?

Its not easy making a living as a director, especially in documentaries. I have worked as a director and producer for television and digital productions to support my ‘habit’ of independent documentary storytelling.  Sometimes it’s a beautiful synchronicity, and at other times its felt soul sucking, but it has definitely strengthened my story-telling chops on a budget and deadline. I’ve also done branded work for the web, which is a great opportunity to tell a story with proper funding in place from the start of the project if your ideals line up. The more established I become, the more I get to pick and choose which stories I want to expend my time and creative energy on.  Filmmaking is a career path full of obstacles by definition. We say that production is about “putting out fires” or coming up with creative solutions when something inevitably goes wrong. Even though I’ve had setbacks that felt devastating in the moment, life really is about how your respond to the challenges that are put in front of you. 

What do you think women who direct need to do in order to have satisfying careers? What do you hope for in the future for women who direct?

I think that women who want to have satisfying directing careers have to be willing to buck the system and fight for their voice to be heard, but that could be said of women in multiple careers because we still have a long way to go to topple patriarchy, misogyny, discrimination, and racism in the workplace and society at large.  Today it’s inspiring to see women making alliances with each other after years of competing for the one seat at the table, supporting each other’s careers and hiring one another. When we find community, we learn how to nurture each other and create new paths to express leadership from a feminist perspective that is inclusive and non-exploitative. 

Tell us about your next project and where you are at with it! Where can we see your work?

Political Animals is now available on multiple online streaming platforms and on demand television. You can find out how to watch the film here: http://www.politicalanimalsdoc.com/watch-the-film

I also recently directed a 3-part documentary series called “Weather Warriors” highlighting individuals coming up with innovative solutions to natural disasters. You can see the work of the Puerto Rico Resilience Fund and co-founder Tara Rodriguez Besosa to rebuild local food production after Hurricane Maria and decolonize the island’s food systems here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0y54qxn1-Y

You can see more of my work at my website: www.tracywares.com

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