Amplify Her, a west-coast directed documentary film, graphic novel, and animated motion comic series, is coming to The Castro Theatre on Nov. 16. The documentary film, graphic novel and animated motion comic series explores the rise of female artists in the electronic music scene.
Imagined and brought to life by more than 21 female creators across North America – mainly from the West Coast – the 89-minute feature follows seven up-and-coming stars as they find their unique voices within a male-dominated realm. On the surface, it’s a story about women in the electronic music industry, but the film’s deeper message is the resurgence of “the feminine” in Western culture.
We spoke to Ian MacKenzie, one of the directors of the film, about what drew him to make this movie, why he feels that there is discrimination against females in music today, and what he hopes people will take away from it.
What was your motivation for making the film?
I had completed work on my previous film Occupy Love (directed by Velcrow Ripper) which looked at the global revolutions that swept much of the world in 2011. It featured an array of artists, activists, and elders from many diverse peoples. Afterward, I became compelled by the idea of making a documentary that focused almost exclusively on women.
In the summer of 2012, I heard a mix by the artist AppleCat and was immediately intrigued by the way she wove sound and story. Those two things collided: a film about women and the electronic music scene. Soon after my friend Nicole Sorochan came aboard to produce the project and later became the co-director.
My motivation came from both a curiosity of needing to understand the mystery and to amplify the true beauty and power of the feminine that is so necessary for our time.
What kind of discrimination do women DJs face in today’s electronic music industry?
Many of the women we interviewed reported similar challenges: from being taken seriously as an artist, to getting a fair shot at bookings, to unwanted sexual advances from other artists and promoters. It was also interesting to note, almost all figured these were isolated experiences particular to them. They couldn’t or were led to believe, that this wasn’t an industry-wide phenomenon.
In fact, I believe this is culture-wide: the systemic oppression of the qualities that could be understood as “feminine” — like intuition, emotional intelligence, and collaboration.
Humanity is collectively facing a choice: to come back into partnership or perish. As one poet shared during the occupy movement: the future belongs to the most compelling story. Amplify Her is our attempt to tell a damn fine story.
Who do you think is responsible for it?
It’s tempting to point the figure at the entire gender of “men” as the problem, though it’s much more complex. It would be more accurate to say the current structures of patriarchy are the problem — the enshrinement of “immature” masculinity and its capacity to dominate everyone else. This system is traumatizing for everyone involved, including men who are caught in it just the same.
The movie makes a strong distinction between DJ and Producer. Why is the distinction important?
Going into the film I actually didn’t realize there was a difference. It was only after speaking with the artists that I realize how strongly they made the distinction, partially to convey the work involved in crafting music from scratch as opposed to “merely” weaving the work of others. That said, the ability to perform to a live audience and authentically connect with the crowd is an incredible gift, also worthy of veneration.
What did you learn from making the documentary?
Many things. I learned that documentaries always take longer than you think. I learned that energy drinks eventually stop working when you’ve been up shooting at all night festivals. And I learned that magic happens when women are given the space and support to bring their gifts to the stage (and anywhere else for that matter).
Nicole shared her own revelations while making the film in her TedX talk in 2015 that can found HERE.
How did you decide which DJs to feature?
AppleCat was the initial inspiration for the film. I asked her to connect me with other artists in her network, and from there, Nicole and I followed the flow of luck and inspiration to see what we could gather. Eventually, certain artists emerged that had the combination of powerful stories and were equally compelling on camera (an important factor for a documentary).
From the reviews that I’ve read online, it seems like the documentary is not your average movie-going experience because the audience is invited to participate. What kind of audience participation would like to see when the movie comes to The Castro theater in San Francisco?
Women often feel isolated in their feelings. We encourage the audience to get rowdy! To cheer and clap at the parts that excite them. As well, the film is as much about the ideas/themes as it is about feeling the bass. We want the audience to experience what it’s like at festivals such as Sonic Bloom and Burning Man. It can’t fully be translated as an idea.
Amplify Her includes a seven-part motion comic and a graphic novel. Can you talk a little about that?
Nicole’s background is in transmedia. She recognized early on that the women bears a close resemblance to superheroes. They have colorful outfits or costumes, cool names, and the superpower of conducting the energy of an entire dance floor. Therefore, she came up with the idea to gather together female writers, illustrators, and animators to bring their stories to life in the mythic and science-fiction realm.
The result is seven gorgeous stories that go deep into the lives of these women, which we then wove back into the documentary. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before — a seamless story that includes both the directors’ and the subjects’ perspectives of themselves.
** Watch behind the scenes short on the process of making the graphic novel HERE.
What do you want people to take away most from this movie?
We want women (and all genders) to feel empowered by these women and their stories of struggle and creativity. The feminine is rising everywhere — and the next wave is about far more than “equality.” If equality is simply the chance for women to steer the levers of power that is ultimately careening our culture headlong toward catastrophe, then this is no true revolution.