“You want to feel good about yourself. The industry doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, so I became my own advocate.” So says Nataki Rhodes, a Chicago waitress-turned-activist featured in Abby Ginzberg’s 2019 documentary Waging Change, which plays at this year’s Nevertheless Film Festival.
Rhodes’ description of her journey into activism echoes that of Nevertheless founder Meredith Finch. After working for several film festivals, Finch started Nevertheless because she wanted to see more women represented behind the camera. Now in its second year, the festival features films where women make up at least half of the leadership team (directors, writers, composers, and other off-screen creatives). Finch describes them as movies that are “made by women, for everyone.”
Waging Change follows the fight to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, who earn as little as $2.13 an hour ($3.67 in Michigan). Shot before Covid-19 hit the U.S., the documentary’s insistence on the importance of a fair wage is more relevant than ever. Ginzberg’s reminder that “10 percent of the entire U.S. workforce” is employed in restaurants is a grim statistic in light of Covid job losses.
This film, the first of Nevertheless’ lineup that I watched, was an immediate reminder of the importance of women’s stories in shaping a full narrative. Reflecting the gender makeup of the service industry, many of the film’s subjects are women. They’re plagued by sexual harassment, but their reliance on tips makes it hard to fight back against rude customers–another consequence of America’s wage inequality.
But Nevertheless isn’t a festival about women’s issues, per se, nor is it meant only for an audience of women. When I asked Finch what defines the program if not an orientation toward woman-centered topics, she put it simply: “they’re really good movies that happen to be directed by women.”
Another highlight of this year’s lineup is Asking For It, an immaculately detailed dark comedy about a young writer who is targeted by an online stalker. With fast-paced, blink-and-you-miss-it humor, directors Becky Scott and Amanda Lundquist explore the insidious ways in which faux feminism, celebrity obsession, and male entitlement coexist in our culture. As the film follows protagonist Jenny through encounters with her narcissistic boss, an apathetic policeman, and a creepy suitor, it examines the dangers of existing in the public eye and perfectly captures the hectic anxiety of millennial life.
This year’s program includes twenty-six films from eight countries; twelve directors are women of color and eleven are first-time filmmakers. These films are important, hilarious, mind-opening, and heart-wrenching, and they break out of the Hollywood mold, where (as of 2019) 85 percent of top films are still directed by men. In Waging Change multiple interviewees reminds us that, as consumers, we have the power to support businesses and organizations whose practices are worthy of our respect. Nevertheless has certainly earned mine.
Nevertheless Film Festival is available online July 9-12. Purchase tickets and see the full schedule at Nevertheless2020.eventive.org.