Meet the Filmmakers: Jenny Mackenzie--'Kick Like A Girl'

Over the next week, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is nominated for IDA Documentary Awards in the Feature Documentaries and Short Documentaries categories. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films-the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to launch this series of conversations, here is Jenny Mackenzie, director/producer of Kick Like A Girl, which is nominated for Best Short Documentary.

Synopsis: Kick
Like A Girl
is the story of
what happens when The Mighty Cheetahs, an undefeated third grade girls soccer
team, compete in the boys division. As the girls get a taste of real
competition, the adults slowly recognize their complicity in planting the seeds
of sexism. Refreshing and triumphant, Kick
Like A Girl
reminds us all of the lessons learned in competitive athletics
and how sports has been one of the most effective instruments of social change
in our lifetime.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary

Jenny Mackenzie: I had
been a family therapist and nonprofit administrator for over 20 years doing
clinical work, research and program development, and I had always appreciated
the power of documentary film and its ability to create social change. I also had the good fortune of having a father
who is a television director and a mother who is a playwright, so I grew up
exposed to the power of good camera work, direction and strong story lines. In my
career as a social worker, I was always amazed by how many compelling and
inspirational life stories I would hear. These were ordinary people who were
really extraordinary heroes, and I always felt like these stories needed to be
told and shared with the world. So at the age of 42, I went back to film school
to pursue my longtime passion for documentary filmmaking.

What inspired you to make Kick Like A

JM: Playing
sports, being physically active and competing athletically have been important
parts of my life, and essential ingredients to becoming a strong, confident,
successful woman. As a mother, I knew I wanted to expose all three of my girls
to the life lessons we learn through sports. The story of Kick Like A Girl came to me as I was
coaching my youngest daughter's soccer team, and I was in my second year of
film school. My mother was visiting from New
York City. She is a writer and is always looking for a
good story with a strong dramatic arc and compelling characters. She came to
the second game we played against the boys and immediately felt the excitement
and tension and heard some of the sideline comments and bantering. She said,
"Jenny, you must start filming
these games; you have a great story right in front of you." And we did.

IDA: What were some of
the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome

JM: Being
the director of the film and a subject in the film as the Cheetahs' coach was
challenging. I was always wearing two hats as we filmed the games. I
was an involved coach and got really "into" each game the girls
played, which meant once the game was being played, I forgot about the cameras.
That often meant as a director thinking through shots ahead of time, and going
back to the field after the games to get the pick-up shots and
cutaways. It was also challenging having my own daughter Lizzie as a
central character. She is full of life, humor and energy, and the camera ate her
up. Since I also wanted to represent the voice of the other players, I tried to
strike a balance.

IDA: How did your vision
for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and
post-production processes?

JM: After we finished shooting, we realized that the voice of
the children that we had interviewed was so strong, fresh and honest. Our writer, Jennifer Jordan, helped us to
tighten our story from a 44-minute rough cut to a 25-minute fine cut.

decided to leave almost all of the adults out and tell the story from the POV
of the children. My producer, Geralyn Dreyfous, suggested that my daughter
Lizzie narrate the film. The kids are funny, charismatic, very real and easy to
watch; the camera really loved them, so I think it worked well.

As you've screened Kick Like A Girl-whether on the festival circuit, or in
screening rooms, or in living rooms-how have audiences reacted to the film? What
has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

JM: What has surprised me most is that
this film seems to touch everyone. We have screened it for so many diverse
audiences: people who are filmmakers or "in the business," corporate
executives, children, families and nonprofit groups. Everyone seems to connect
to the story. I think the idea of being the best you can be and having
possibilities that aren't limited by gender inspires our viewers. It also
reminds us that sports can be an incredible equalizer, and perhaps it is one of
the most significant instruments of social change in our lifetime.

What docs or docmakers have served as
inspirations for you?

JM: Although
there are many male documentary filmmakers I admire, I love to take every
chance I can to highlight the talented women in our field. I deeply admire the
work of Liz Garbus, Rory, Kennedy, Lauren Greenfeld and Zana Briski. I also
love the work of Adrienne Shelly, a narrative female director who directed Waitress. She was a brilliant
writer, director and actor, and if she had lived longer, she would have
directed a documentary; I know it.

The winning films in the Feature Documentary and Short Documentary categories will be announced at the IDA Awards on Friday, December 5, at the Directors Guild of America Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd.

They will also screened the next day, December 6, as part of DocuFest at the Eastman Kodak Screening Room, 6700 Santa Monica Blvd.

For more information about the IDA Awards, click here. For more information about DocuFest, click here.