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Spotlight: Exploring the Lives of Women in Male-Dominated Professions

By David Schonauer   Tuesday April 14, 2020


Gail Mooney was self-quarantined before COVID-19.

The New Jersey-based photographer and filmmaker (and occasional PPD contributor) has spent the past several months holed up finishing her latest film project, a documentary about women working in traditionally male-dominated professions.

“I really haven’t had to adapt to the new reality of the coronavirus,” she says with a laugh. “That’s sort of been my reality as I worked on the edit for the film.”

Mooney’s new film, called Like a Woman, profiles a number of women who have made their marks while defying stereotypes. Among them are racecar driver Simona DeSilvestro, who tells Mooney, “As a woman you have to prove yourself more than the boys. They’re always going to check where the girl finished at the end of the race.”

Also profiled is heavy-lift helicopter pilot Natalie Jones, who helps fights wildfires in California, and engineer-turned-car mechanic Patrice Banks, who in 2016 founded the Girls Auto Clinic, a Pennsylvania-based repair center staffed by women. “This is a great time to be a woman,” Banks notes in the film. (See the trailer below).

Another profile focuses on 84-year-old fine-art photographer and Montana rancher Barbara Van Cleve. “We saw a piece about her on CBS Sunday Morning, and I thought, wow, she’d be so great for my project,” Mooney says. “She’s still very busy, and full of wisdom.”

Mooney began working on the project five years ago, drawing on her long career in the male-dominated photo business. “It was completely self-initiated,” she says. “I’ve always picked personal projects that I’m really interested in, especially for a film, because they take so long to make and require so much effort.”

Mooney’s previous film project, made with her daughter eight years ago, was the one-hour documentary film Opening Our Eyes, which focused on nine people from around the globe making a positive difference in the world. It was shot in 99 days in 17 countries on 6 continents. “It’s taken me eight years to forget how much work it was,” she says.

Mooney made the new film with her business partner Tom Kelly. The project began as a collection of short video pieces about women, such as Judaline Cassidy, a plumber and founder of the non-profit Tools and Tiaras.

“A filmmaker friend suggested I flesh the stories out and make the project into a feature film, with the ultimate goal being to spin it off into a documentary series, because today it seems that from a demand perspective, that kind of content is where it’s at,” she says.

She found her subjects in a variety of ways, including recommendations from friends and a Facebook post asking for suggestions. Much of the work was done by a crew of two — herself and Kelly. “I tell people that filmmaking is a wonderful team effort, but you need a lot of money to have a team,” she says. She decided not to crowdfund the project. “It’s just too much work and then you don’t really know if a Kickstarter campaign will work,” she notes. She has entered the film in a couple of festival competitions, using the online submission platform FilmFreeway.


As a filmmaker, Mooney has also had to learn to adapt the ways she works as a commercial photographer. “The struggle I have is that it’s very difficult to break out of a certain mind set,” she says. “You have to think differently about storytelling transitions, when you’re cutting from one thing to another.”

Mooney made edits of her short pieces and then sent them to a film editor, who gave her suggestions on how to improve the work. “She had incredible ideas — when she said them, it was like, ‘Of course!’” Mooney says.

It helped, she says, that the editor was a woman. “Her suggestions were all about structure and driving the story — what fits in with your message,” Mooney says. “When I got suggestions about the shorts from male filmmakers, it was always very much about details — the audio not being right, or the color balance didn’t work. I found that difference very interesting.”

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