Interview with Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly (Directors of The Girl With The Rivet Gun)

Hello Anne and Kirsten, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask if you could tell our readers what your film is about?

The Girl with the Rivet Gun is based on the adventures of three real-life “Rosie the Riveters” from World War II, women who entered the industrial workforce to replace men who went off to fight in the war. Focusing on three women from vastly different backgrounds – Esther Horne, Susan Taylor King and Mildred Crow Sargent – the film weaves together powerful moments from each of their journeys of transformation as they came of age in an America that was united by war but struggling deeply with divisions of gender, economics and race.  For Esther, a factory community that she loved was lost when she fought for equal pay. For Susan, when the factory doors were opened to Black women workers, learning to rivet meant earning more money than anyone else in her family. For Mildred, becoming a Rosie meant travel ‘up North’ – where she discovered Yankees weren’t so bad after all – and a chance to do her part for the war by making Hell Diver bombers – one rivet at a time.

What do you think was the significance of Rosie the Riveter for women during the 1940s?

Behind the iconic “We Can Do It” poster girl, there were literally millions of real-life women who shook the foundations of the American workplace in the 1940s – and changed their own lives forever.  For many women workers, this was the first time they were paid a living wage, making enough money to support themselves.  At the same time, their industrial contributions were absolutely essential in winning the war.  Their unexpected and deeply personal stories serve as an entry point to a rich, layered, and adventurous rewriting of history as herstory, providing new understanding of this pivotal time in the transformation of America.

Why did you choose to use animation in the making of this documentary?

We wanted to find a way to bring these women’s stories to life for a modern audience, and bring them front and center in schools and museums.  As fans of animation, we knew this art form could combine brilliantly with their filmed interviews from today, as an exciting and emotional way to bring pieces of their past to life.  When we first started exploring using animation to highlight the Rosie’s stories, we decided to hold a workshop and invited four very different women animators to help develop our ideas further.  Danielle Ash was one of the first animators recommended to us and we immediately fell in love with her unique style of constructed cardboard animation. Esther Horne, one of the Rosies featured in The Girl with the Rivet Gun, was able to attend the workshop in person and talk with Danielle and the other animators directly, which was amazing.  Coming out of that experience, we decided we wanted to create a short film using Danielle’s animation.  The rest, as they say, is history!

How representative do you think Esther, Susan and Mildred are of the real life Rosies? 

The experience of being a Rosie during WWII brought women together in the workplace in ways that had never happened before – across racial, economic, and cultural divides – and we knew we wanted to make a film that embraced that diversity of experience.  We interviewed 48 different women from all over the country, and felt these three women gave a good sense of the variety of experiences women had, but there are so many more stories!  Initially, we thought the entire piece would be animation, but discovered that including moments of the actual interview footage with the women was essential – and brought a deeper emotional connection –  to anchoring the stories together as a shared history.

Why do you think it is important to tell this story now?

We are – at long last – seeing a cultural shift where more complex women’s stories and experiences are more front and center in our larger society. Recognizing and more deeply understanding how pivotal this “Rosie” movement was in our history and what it did for women as a whole is quite powerful. And by putting the focus on real women who were Rosies – many of whom are now in their 90’s and even 100’s – we feel privileged to be capturing this meaningful history before it is lost.

Given that 2020 is a very political year because of the American Presidential Election, how much do you think has changed in the way women are seen in America now as compared to the 1940s?

This year feels politically significant not only because of the Presidential Election here in America, but also because of the global coronavirus pandemic.  Much like during wartime America during the 1940s, all levels of the society are being called upon to do their part in the fight, while at the same time there is a heightened awareness of the everyday workers that keep the society running – many of them women who are also managing child care, etc.  A lot of the more complex themes in The Girl with the Rivet Gun are things that we still really struggle with today, especially around gender pay equity and race relations.  Looking at government, women – and particularly women of color – are still far from having equal representation in positions of power, and while more women are working in non-traditional jobs, there are still a lot of fields where women are vastly underrepresented.  So while there have been huge strides made since the 1940s, we still have a long way to go.

What has the reception to the film been like?

It’s been such an amazing experience to watch this film begin to meet the world.  Audiences are delighted by Danielle Ash’s animation and the style in which we’ve told the story, and we’ve heard time and again that people never knew any of these details about Rosie. We’ve screened for ages from 5 years to 95 years and we’ve seen such joy in learning all of these details about real life Rosies, and people are falling in love with Esther, Susan and Millie.

How does this film compare to other films you’ve worked on?

It’s been really different for us.  We often work on more hard-hitting social justice stories, and our projects often take many years to complete, so it can be challenging emotionally to be immersed in some of those subjects for long periods of time. In contrast, working on The Girl With The Rivet Gun, was pure joy.  There are definitely serious themes in the film, but we spent so much of our time just being inspired by the stories of three amazing, funny, powerful and empowering women.  This was also our first attempt at making an animated documentary film, which required a very different approach the storytelling process.  Stop-motion animation is a particularly slow and detailed process – but these Rosies’ spirit always kept us going!

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

We hope to inspire audiences, especially young women and girls, to understand how important women have been to our collective history and empower girls and boys alike to see women’s power and worth in the world.  But we also believe that these stories are for all of us; there are so many people our larger society overlooks – especially elderly women – and they have so much to teach us about ourselves and our world.

What future projects have you got planned?

We are currently in production together for a feature documentary around men’s activism to help end violence against women that should premiere in 2021/2022.  And, after The Girl with the Rivet Gun, we plan to keep making short animated films that tell amazing, strong, unexpected and often unheard stories of women in the world!

With thanks to Anne and Kirsten. 

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