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

By Tom White

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 filmmaking?

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.

IDA: What inspired you to make Kick Like A Girl?

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 them?

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. We 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.

IDA: 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.

IDA: 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.