Susan Sullivan has always loved sports. She once completed an Ironman and got her first real job in sports public relations.
In 2013, she began working in the film industry at the First Clue Project and made her own short film that she entered into various festivals.
But it wasn’t until last year when Sullivan, who lives San Francisco, figured out a way to combine her love of sports and film when she launched the Women Sport Film Festival, the first-ever film festival to celebrate both female filmmakers and athletes, held annually in Oakland, Calif.
The festival, which will take place Sept. 28-30 this year, drew nearly 500 film lovers in its inaugural year and screened 17 short and feature-length films, all on varying subjects within women’s sports. Some of the films featured at last year’s festival included “T-Rex: Her Fight For Gold” about two-time gold medal winning boxer Claressa Shields and “The Will to Fly” about Australian aerial ski jumper Lydia Lassila.
While Sullivan self-funded the festival last year, this year, she’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to rent theaters, pay filmmakers screening fees, bring athletes and filmmakers to the event and provide a day of free movies for local student-athletes. The campaign began June 20 and lasts until July 20th.
The Women’s Sports Film Festival is back in Oakland this fall! Last year’s inaugural event was amazing. Help here: https://t.co/z2KzSplyT1
— Michelle Smith (@macsmith413) June 27, 2017
“I’ve always had a passion and a love for storytelling,” Sullivan told Excelle Sports. “It’s always brought me great pleasure and satisfaction.”
Along with her passion for storytelling, Sullivan says she started the festival to help give female filmmakers and athletes alike more exposure in media.
“It was a real frustration that there were these inspiring films made by and about women that no one knew about,” said Sullivan. “I was so impacted by the experience of seeing these films. Someone had to pick up the ball and I saw an opportunity.”
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More than 50 films from around the world were submitted to the festival last year—Sullivan expects roughly the same number to be received this year. A screening committee then watches and decides which films are selected for the festival, based on the film’s themes and its timeliness to current events.
“[The festival] is more timely than ever,” Sullivan said. “It creates the opportunity to talk about a lot of different topics.”
According to Sullivan and festival co-founder, Jennifer Matt, the films shown at the festival aren’t just about women’s sports, but deal directly with the issues that actually affect female athletes both on and off the playing field.
“From pay equity to religious freedom, our films touch on many of the most urgent issues impacting women and girls today,” Matt told Excelle Sports.
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It’s not just about social issues, either. Sullivan says the festival also aims to highlight the stories of everyday athletes that have the ability to resonate with viewers from varying backgrounds.
“I want people to feel like their lives and stories are reflected in our films,” Sullivan said. “We want our films to connect with the audience because it’s very profoundly healing.”