I Found My Voice Looking in Susan B. Anthony’s Mirror

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I was traveling the film festival circuit with my latest feature “Odd Brodsky”. Having just wrapped a successful showing in Chicago, my next stop was upstate New York to participate in a feminist festival that celebrates women filmmakers in leadership roles. Over the years, this particular festival had championed hundreds of creative women, and I was honored to be joining this inspiring group.

Although I arrived safely in Rochester, my luggage did not. I scurried to get to my hotel and check into the festival before the opening night film and party. Feeling a little discombobulated, I was intercepted by a festival volunteer named Laura, who selflessly offered to drive me to a clothing store where I could buy an outfit for the evening, since my suitcase would not arrive until the next day. When we missed the movie, Laura took me on a private tour of the city which featured a giant waterfall right in the middle of downtown! We ended at Sibley Station just in time for the party. The community was gathered in full force to support the festival, complete with gourmet delights like delicious hor d’oeuvres and chocolate strawberries, along with a photo booth and an old-timey band.

My second day began with a round-table discussion that allowed members of the community to meet the filmmakers. Aside from myself, the only other filmmakers present were two men. They were the director and producer of the festival’s “Spotlight” Film, which was about an iconic male musician. The Festival Director hosted the discussion, focusing on these men, singing their praises, explaining that she had personally curated their movie, encouraging everyone to see it, and even suggesting it would win the audience award and receive a second screening. I’ll admit I felt a bit shell-shocked.  At the end of the event I heard a little voice remind everyone to go see my film “Odd Brodsky”, as well.  To my surprise that voice was mine!  Speaking up for myself has never come easy, but if I didn’t say something, who would?  “Oh yes!” the Festival Director added, “And go see ‘Odd Brodsky’.”  Then she scooped the men into her car for a personal tour of the Eastman Kodak Museum.  I certainly didn’t expect to be the center of attention, but I also didn’t expect to feel invisible, standing in the shadows of men, especially at a “feminist” event.

In defiance, the next day I treated myself to a tour of that same museum, and even went inside the mansion where George Eastman used to live. It was a terrific piece of film history!  The fall weather felt fantastic and brought back childhood memories of growing up in New England.

little-2_2A few hours later it was time for my big event!  We were sharing the marquee with “Suffragette“, starring Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep, and to say I was excited would be an understatement. I’d seen that movie a few weeks earlier, and it’s visceral feel had an enormous impact on me.  It left me with a completely new-found appreciation of what was sacrificed for me and all women. I vowed I would vote in every election no matter what. Now my movie was playing in a venue with “Suffragette”, in a hometown of Susan B. Anthony herself, mother of the women’s suffrage movement, as I attended a feminist festival. Everything was in alignment.

My screening was lovely. The projection looked gorgeous, and a nice-sized crowd provided for a lively Q&A discussion. Basking in the afterglow of our film’s warm audience reception, I was looking forward to the Spotlight Film that evening. Since the movie centers around a famous male musician, and was created by men, I was curious to see how it fit into the female empowerment theme. During their filmmaker Q&A, seven men and one woman (an actress who played a supporting role) took the stage in front of a large projected image exclaiming “Celebrating Women in Film”. I had to wonder if the Universe was playing a joke on me. I still couldn’t figure out why this movie was included here, let alone as the highlight of the festival. But I smiled and pretended everything was fine at the party later, even though I was upset. I mean, who was I to rock the boat? And did this really matter?

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That night in my hotel room I did a bit of research.  I was hoping to find something to put my troubled mind to rest. I was thrilled to learn that the Spotlight Film had a female cinematographer. Well, that was something! I would have been more thrilled if the festival had mentioned her at some point, or included her name on the festival’s Spotlight Film webpage alongside the men’s names they listed for the film. I also discovered a photo of the festival’s Filmmaking Panel that was presented the day before. Only men appeared on the panel.

So here I was, a woman at a women’s festival, in the hometown of the greatest advocate of all women, being overshadowed by men. It seemed only fitting to take myself to the Susan B. Anthony House and Museum for my last day, and try to re-center myself.

As I wandered from room to room, I found myself literally walking in Susan’ B. Anthony’s footsteps, on the same paths where her feet touched the ground over a century before.  A guide told us personal stories, and I soaked it all in. I learned the difference between a Suffragist (women and men who peacefully promoted the right to vote) and a Suffragette (women who violently protested for the right to vote). I learned how Susan was taken from the front door of this very house –this doorway which I stepped through–and was beaten and imprisoned so that MY VOICE could be heard and counted. Her presence filled up the places in my spirit that had been left empty by my experience here at the festival.  And then it happened.

I looked into her mirror: the same mirror that had reflected Susan’s image back to her.  And I could see myself in her. We were one. In that moment I was changed. If this woman could do all she did, the very least I could do was speak up.

So I did. I reached out to the festival over social media and stopped censoring myself. I became the squeaky wheel I was always afraid of being. And I think I was heard. I have a feeling that my experience of the festival was a fluke, yet because of it, a much greater purpose for my visit was realized. Something in me changed forever in that historical town. In my 40’s, I finally became a woman.

I found my voice looking in Susan B. Anthony’s mirror.

Cindy Baer

About Cindy Baer

Cindy Baer is a filmmaker, actress and founder of Patron of the Arts, a California non-profit company whose mission is to help filmmakers create new works and connect to audiences.  She has directed and produced two features and five shorts that have appeared in almost 100 film festivals and garnered 40 Festival Awards. Her feature “Odd Brodsky”, a quirky comedy about following your dreams, is now available on iTunes.