Hannah Peterson was glowing as she bounced up and down in the penthouse suite of New York’s Greenwich Hotel last night, waiting for her photograph to be snapped. The young writer and director had good reason to be excited. During the three-day Through Her Lens initiative, a project from Chanel and Tribeca Enterprises that supports female filmmakers, Peterson and producer Taylor Shung presented their short film, Champ, in front of a star-studded panel of judges. And she'd just learned that Champ, which she described as “a story for girls who love sports,” won the $80,000 top prize.
After four hours of deliberation, the Through Her Lens judges—Diane Kruger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Dede Gardner, and Paula Weinstein—gathered at an intimate cocktail fete to toast the big winners.
“This [program] is a huge help to new filmmakers—especially female filmmakers—because our voices are still not heard enough,” asserted Kruger after the announcement. “I think there’s a whole new generation that sees things differently having come out of the Me Too Movement, and it’s more pressing than ever to support them.”
Wearing a prim red Chanel tweed suit, Kruger reflected on how the film industry has changed in the wake of Me Too.
“It’s an exciting time,” she said. “The industry is taking notice. For example, nobody can do a casting call in a hotel room anymore—those are SAG rules now. People are being heard and taken seriously—there’s a space to say something, and that’s already huge.”
Kruger has recently come off making the spy thriller 355, her first film since the birth of her first child.
“It’s all women,” she said of the cast, which includes Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, and Jessica Chastain, who is also a producer. “We all have children and we made sure that we were able to bring our kids to set. There was a real sense of camaraderie. I’d never really worked with women—I’m always the girl in a movie—so it was a great experience. I wish every movie was like that."
She also has a film titled The Almond and the Seahorse in the works with Helena Bonham Carter, and will “most likely” do a Marlene Dietrich project next year.
“I think things are changing,” professed judge and The Morning Show actor Mbatha-Raw. “I’ve always worked with many female filmmakers and I hope to continue to. Women feel more empowered, and there’s a confidence and sense of solidarity that comes from that.”
Mbatha-Raw was wrapped in a gold-and-cream Chanel frock that she chose because it reminded her of her longtime idol, Cleopatra. “I’ve been obsessed with her since I was about 12. The power of her as this female leader is just so iconic. Cleopatra is my dream role, so any chance I get to wear something that feels Egyptian, I’m here for it.”
While she was channeling the Egyptian ruler’s confidence last night, Mbatha-Raw still empathized with the finalists and the uncertainty that comes with starting out in the entertainment biz.
“My first audition was for an open-air Shakespeare play in the U.K.—As You Like It. I got the job but I still had one term [of school left],” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, do I stay and finish my studies, or do I just go out into the world?’” She chose the latter. “That’s the best advice I can give when you’re starting out: if you get your chance, just do it.”
Set to come out next year, her latest film, Misbehavior, echoes many of the night’s themes. Set in 1970, it follows the rise of the first woman of color to become Miss World. “ was also the year that the women’s liberation movement stormed the [Miss World] ceremony, so it’s got that intersection of the birth of feminism alongside women of color suddenly being perceived as beautiful. And it’s by an amazing female director, Philippa Lowthorpe.”
Peterson, eyes a-twinkle, was in awe of the cinema titans involved with Through Her Lens. “You know that question of, ‘Who would be your fantasy dinner guest?’ Well, for me, it’s the people that were here tonight,” she said. “What struck me most is that every woman I met [here] has worked so hard. They’ve all had to be scrappy no matter who they are now,” she said. “Being scrappy really pays off.”