She, Who Dared is a proof-of-concept short about silent-era female director Lois Weber, a pioneer of cinema, who has been largely forgotten since she died in 1939. The film aims to remember one of the most notable lost “mothers of film” and her contributions to Hollywood, encouraging a reimagining of film history. The film stars Katie Killourhy as Lois Weber and Paul Noonan as her husband Phillip Smalley. The film is produced by Mark Meagher in collaboration with co-executive producers Lily Spencer, Erik J. Forrey and Deborah Del Negro.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR GABRIELLE ROSSON
What inspires you as a filmmaker?
For as long as I can remember, storytelling has been a part of my life. Whether it’s been in the form of a song, short story, or narrative film, I have always been compelled to write stories that explore relationships and the human condition. That’s why I started GR Films and feel so passionately about She, Who Dared, a film that highlights the incredible work of lost icon Lois Weber. I believe that writing and filmmaking are therapeutic art forms that can be used to empower as much as they are used to entertain. And it’s my mission to connect with others and build community–one story at a time.
Where did the idea of She, Who Dared come from?
I have often said that everyone has their own distinct reaction the first time they learn about Lois Weber. For some, it’s shock, others amusement, but for me it was bewilderment. I had spent nearly four years working as a woman in film and had never once learned that women were foundational to the industry. After a conversation with actress Katie Killourhy, who told me her dream role was to play a woman from history who had changed narratives and been forgotten, I knew immediately she was describing Lois Weber and began writing She, Who Dared, a short proof of concept that explores the end of Lois’s life as she writes her, now lost, memoir about her marriage to film partner Phillips Smalley and early days in Hollywood. It is time to reimagine a film history that includes her vast contributions.
What was the most challenging or unusual part about making this film?
She, Who Dared was not an easy film to write or film. Lois Weber had a film career that spanned more than three decades and her accomplishments were endless. The hardest part was deciding which part of her story to tell. She wrote, directed, and produced between 200-400 films in her lifetime, was the first woman to make a feature film, own a production company, and to be elected as mayor in the United States, and was the highest-paid director, man or woman, at the height of her career. She made films way ahead of her time using technologies that were ahead of the time. So finding a way to showcase that in around twenty minutes was hard. I chose to frame her life through the lens of her memoir, The End of the Circle, which was never published and later stolen. She wrote this book at the end of her life while battling what her family now believes was Crohn’s disease. Since the book is missing, it gave me a wonderful opportunity to speculate about what she might have written. Add to this we set the film in the years 1921-1939, so sourcing costumes, sets, and building a world that would visually tell the story was also a challenge.
Tell us about your creative process. What is unique or unusual about it?
When I create my art, I always consider the “why.” Like Lois, my films convey a message, and I needed to connect with her on a fundamental level so that I could remain authentic while telling her story. It was crucial to me to communicate Lois’s underlying motivations, especially since she tackled so many sensitive topics. Every day, I pondered why she did what she did and, ultimately, realized that like most of us who tell stories, Lois’s “why” was personal, as there are so many connections between her life and art. Because Lois Weber may arguably have been one of the first victims of cancel culture, I desperately wanted to humanize her and give her a voice. And in doing so, teach people about her amazing accomplishments.
Tell us about Lois Weber. What’s so fascinating about her? What was the research process like for you in rendering an accurate portrayal of this extraordinary woman?
Researching Lois was difficult in part because many of her films have been lost to time, and although there are many accounts of her, there are not many accounts from her. I didn’t want to make a documentary–I wanted to get inside her head–to show audiences how she felt, and to give insight into why she made the types of films she made. I spent a lot of time reading articles, hunting down books, and watching her films. The more I learned the more I wanted to know. She was always trying to help people with her art, and I think her memoir (which was lost or stolen in the 70s) would have given us so much insight into why.
Trick question: Have the conditions for women filmmakers, and women at large, improved since Lois Weber’s days? What is your take on feminism since the #Metoo movement?
I recently saw a Hollywood film about the silent film era. It was told from a man’s perspective and told a man’s story. It was called Babylon. While I enjoyed it very much, it completely sidesteps the contributions of women, and in my mind misses a huge opportunity to tell the real story of early Hollywood, which was in fact a time of equal opportunity for men and women. We’ve seen it happen time and time again, from space innovations to animation, the contributions of women are often erased or overlooked. This can easily be changed by correcting the record. My film She, Who Dared does that.
What’s next for you?
The next step is to write and produce the feature film version of She, Who Dared. There is so much more of her story I want to tell–from her childhood as a musical prodigy to her foray into film, and of course her incredible rise and fall in Hollywood–the world needs to see this part of film history from a woman’s perspective. Because not only did she pioneer in her field, she did so in a time that was truly difficult for women.