“The goal is to tell the most compelling and humanizing story as possible with what we’ve got.”
Annalise Ophelian is no stranger to the world of Star Wars and the fandom that follows it. The San Francisco native and director of the upcoming documentary “Looking for Leia” is a class of ’77 lifelong fan. Like most of us born in that era she was obsessed with not just the films but the culture that goes along with it. She consumed herself with action figures, storybooks and soundtracks and re-watched the original films over and over.
Through the decades she’s remained firmly on board and like all of us, sat through the special editions, prequels, TV shows and the rejuvenation of the franchise in 2015. In a lot of ways, and maybe in the most important ones, the Star Wars universe has influenced a large part of who she is and what she’s chosen to do with her life…
“I became a filmmaker in large part because of the magic I felt watching Star Wars. I became a documentarian in large part because I could not find my own stories of those I loved accurately portrayed on screen. “
“Looking for Leia” is Ophelian’s opus that explores the phenomena of the Star Wars universe from the unique perspective of girls and women who have each connected profoundly to this galaxy far, far away. Up until now, this has traditionally been thought of as a male dominated arena but Ophelian, through countless hours of interviews, is out to change that narrative. These girls, women and Annalise herself, speak to experiences that prove Star Wars female fans have been here for a long time and are a veritable army that continues to grow. She would say…
“I wasn’t surprised (by the number) but I was definitely validated. I would suggest that women in fandom not just for Star Wars but for all science fiction and fantasy have always been timeless; there’s always been an incredibly strong female force in fandom. “
As you can imagine this was an incredibly cathartic journey for Annalise who spends a lot of her time outside of filmmaking, helping others in her own community. This altruism has infected her work on this film as it focuses on ensuring marginalized communities and those that live at the intersection of multiple sorts of “otherness” are equally represented. There’s no doubt for some of these women, this is likely the first time they’ve been able to express what their fandom means to them in a safe and open atmosphere.
For many, even being asked for their opinion on something they care so deeply about is as emotionally satisfying an experience as one could imagine. It’s also validation and proof for some that a person’s self-worth isn’t measured by their genetic makeup, but the freedom to express who they really are.
Likely the most important thing Annalise is hoping to show us, something that she’s known all along, is that these female fans have a voice and they have something to say. They are strong and passionate and bold. And it extends beyond their love of Star Wars, it speaks to who they are as human beings and that they have found the courage to be their true selves in what can sometimes be a hostile environment. These affirmations and moments of ethos were not lost on Annalise. In fact, even she would get emotional at times, especially during the post production process…
“The gift of this project is that the women that I got the chance to talk to are all just so compelling and passionate and brilliant and so it’s a joy to listen to the stories. I tear up during editing and assembling all the time. I listen to them and I think it speaks to their power that just being seen has on the world because that representation isn’t just inspiration it’s very fundamentally permission to exist. And I think that’s something we can’t overstate the importance of.”
When it comes to filmmaking, Ophelian is no stranger to the how the process works and has been directing and producing documentaries since 2009. She loves the medium and how it’s able to provide a narrow focus and believes it’s a great way to expose a larger audience to a subject or group of people that are typically marginalized…
“I love documentaries about the social phenomena of film and fandom is a really easy expression of those social phenomena. So, for anybody that loves that topic you are our target audience. What we’re doing by focusing this on the experiences of women is that we’re shifting the lens. Traditionally the story of sci-fi and fantasy fandom, the story of Star Wars fandom, has been told by men. And that’s a little bit arbitrary because what we know from its conception that there have been a huge number of women not just in Star Wars fandom but contributing to Star Wars fandom.”
And speaking of her target audience, we discussed with all the recent news and events about the empowerment of women, how incredibly timely and important this subject is. With the world of social media and the internet providing a platform for all types of opinions on things, Annalise hasn’t been immune to that group of Star Wars fans that have been less welcoming of change. What’s important to her is that people see this film as not a political statement, but rather just a different perspective on a subject that hasn’t always been as inclusive as many would have liked…
“What’s interesting to me is that there’s a group of men who from the inception of the project approached me and said they loved the project and were willing to do whatever they could to help with the film. They have never once asked for recognition. There’s a different group of guys that only show up in my mentions on Twitter who’ve never introduced themselves to me and the only point of contact they have with me is to lecture me to make sure I don’t “lower” myself by bashing men in the is film about women in fandom.”
As much as this film is filled with personal human stories, it is also a film about our shared love of Star Wars and the rabid fan culture that accompanies it. Annalise realized quickly there are an endless number of women willing to share their tales and while her film only touches on a few of them, there are plenty of women who have equaling compelling stories to tell. Her hope is that this film encourages others to perhaps have a voice.
But these are deep waters and it is a business after all. Lucasfilm exists in an industry that is playing catch up and has led the way when it comes to hiring women both in front of the camera and behind. While they aren’t directly involved with this film, their presence can always be felt, and Annalise and her team were sure to make them aware of her project from the beginning…
“I certainly wanted to make Lucasfilm know what we were working on early in the process. It was important for us to be transparent as we were working on this project that has a random that is rooted in the most successful cinema franchise of all time. That intellectual property is something that we have a lot of respect for, so we are not licensed or affiliated with Lucasfilm in any way, but It was important to me that the producing be transparent to Lucasfilm and that they knew what we were working on. The actual story of Star Wars belongs to the story group; it belongs to the artists that are creating them. The story of fandom belongs to the fans.”
And fans they are. Just in the four-minute featurette she speaks with a whole host of female Star Wars fans from all walks of life. Some you might recognize from the world of Cosplay and others are sisters, mothers, grandmothers and daughters who all have a commonality, a shared purpose. It’s seems likely to be an emotional ride for some, even speaking with Annalise you could tell how important this was to her and the subjects of her film, who shared even more stories off camera.
While it’s a truism is that these events, whether it be a Star Wars Celebration, a Comicon or a FanExpo are generally an inclusive affair, certain demographics haven’t always felt that welcoming warm embrace. But things are changing, in fact you’re likely to see more women Cosplayers than anything else and that’s a reflection of the national averages. But the makeup of those women is also changing as we are seeing now more than ever across the board representation with WOC, immigrant women, Muslim women, LGBTQ women and all those who live at the crossroads of these experiences.
Annalise’s goal was finding out how “the experience of marginalization influences our methods of resilience” and to do that searched for women who work in STEM, women in the 501st, teachers, podcasters, authors, bloggers, cosplayers, artists, community leaders, multi-generational fans, scoundrels, bounty hunters and of course…rebels.
And after talking to all these audacious women, I asked Annalise if she could narrow it down to one moment or one person that stood out for her during the process. This was her answer…
“It’s impossible to choose just one, but I will say there is some commonality that has to do with creative ways of finding ourselves and finding others. Also, I think that women aren’t new to fandom in any way I do think we’re in this interesting moment where women are more vocal and more public and more present in fandom and they are that way because there are safe social media spaces now. There are social media spaces that are really geared towards women and are spaces where they feel comforted and supported. Hearing that over and over, hearing folks from my generation talk about being in the closet about their fandom for years and now waving that flag high fills me with a lot of joy.”
Look for the release of “Looking for Leia” later this year. In the meantime, for more information and to find out how you can help, go to: www.lookingforleia.com
Till next time…MTFBWY.