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Jody Lee

Reel Women talk gender, religion and film


The members of Boise-based filmmaking group Reel Women of the West fall into two basic categories--those who create and those who cheer them on. Jody Lee, one of the Reel Women's founding members, does both. An Emmy-nominated documentarian (2004's Rivers in the Desert) and former Idaho Public Television producer, Lee's work ranges from explorations of women's issues and white supremacy to examinations of summer wildfires. She spoke about Reel Women's recent i48 win, funding two local documentaries and the aggressive walking habits of men.


Tell me about Reel Women of the West. Are you appreciators or artists? 

We started this group years ago [in the fall of 2004], at first, to have a group of women in this area who wanted to make movies together. But the Reel Women of the West membership is in flux. There are movie buffs, people who want to know more about it. Then there are women, like me, who've been involved in it for 15 years. And there are hobbyists. I think the one unifying thing is that we want to encourage women who are filmmakers. The celluloid ceiling seems to be impermeable, and we really have to be advocates for each other. These gals are really dedicated to helping each other out, listening to each other's script ideas, coming up with projects and shooting them.


How do you support female filmmakers? 

We do like to help people with their projects, like [grant recipient] Meghan Underwood ... They come in and show us the work they've done with it, and we can offer advice about what interviews are needed or structure. We're going to help Cecilia Rinn with her belly dance film. She's going to go down to the L.A. area and needed funds for travel. Shoot, I'm going to apply for funds myself.

 Tell me about your work. You had a piece that was nominated for an Emmy? 

Rivers in the Desert premiered in 2004 at the Flicks but it was made specifically for public television. It ran on Idaho Public Television about six to 12 times that year. It was about what it's like to be Jewish in Idaho, primarily in Boise. We used the move of the synagogue from down at 11th and State Street all the way up to where it is now on Latah as a bookend to tell the story of Jews in the West, how they came to be here in this little isolated spot, and also the Aryan Nation and human rights issues surrounding Jews in Idaho.


Tell me about your new projects.

I did a grant proposal along with Irene Deely at Woman of Steel Gallery. She's going to be doing a big tour with the Liberty Let's Roll statue in the fall, and we're hoping to shoot that. People are so affected by that statue. The impact it has on women and children and immigrants is astonishing. I wanted to be part of that, help put it together. The other thing is a gender study that was shot last summer. I call it Give Way because that's the yield sign in the United Kingdom, and I'm a real anglophile. My pastor was the one who told me about this. If you walk in a crowded area and a man is walking directly toward a woman, the man will very often expect the woman to get out of the way. And when she doesn't, he will often walk right into her. If it's an older man, he will apologize. A younger man, younger than 30, may not even apologize. Sometimes they get very offended because women are expected to get out of their way. It's a dominance thing.


How did you capture this idea?  

We went down to Sixth and Main. We had all different ages and appearance of women and just had them out walking while we were shooting. Their shoulders were bruised by the end of the evening. They didn't veer. My instructions were to not veer away from anyone directly in their path. One young gal was only 15, and I thought somebody was going to punch her in the face because she didn't get out of their way. I've seen men get very offended. It says something to me about gender in our society at a very deep level.


In the film, do you talk with men?

No, we haven't done that, especially in the place where we were, after men have been drinking. I don't think it's necessary to talk to them. Let's observe, let's see what's happening and see what the women who are doing the experiment say. I know that it's a dominance thing because they would say there are some women who are like that, too, that are coming at you and get mad if you don't get out of the way. It's primarily males that are trained to think that way.


It's fascinating to provoke the question. 

It's a very deeply ingrained, unconscious sort of behavior. I've had some guys come up to me and say they weren't even aware of it. That's what fascinates me about film: It's this incredibly powerful medium and if you use it right, you're able to open up a little question in someone's mind. I wanted to make people think a bit. It's a wonderful experiment.