I am so inspired by endless amounts of women throughout history who have used their voice to stand up for themselves and others to make our world a better place. I am inspired by mothers who find a way to juggle parenthood with a career they love when that can feel near impossible most days.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Moshman
Sarah Moshman is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and TEDx speaker whose work has been featured worldwide on Netflix, PBS, Upworthy, Marie Claire, CNN, and Good Morning America. Sarah has directed and produced 3 feature-length documentaries: The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things (2014), Losing Sight of Shore (2017) and NEVERTHELESS (2020). She is dedicated to telling stories that uplift, inform and inspire as well as showcase strong female role models on screen.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
I grew up in the Chicago area in Evanston, IL and I have always wanted to be a filmmaker for as long as I can remember. I feel very fortunate to have a Dad who was always immersed in the television and film production world, so that certainly influenced me a ton. I was given my first video camera in high school, and I saw it as this incredible tool to capture stories in a way I never thought possible before. I made my first documentary when I was 16, and never looked back really! I went to film school at the University of Miami, moved out to Los Angeles after I graduated and got started working in television and then found my way back to documentaries in 2013 and I’ve been paving my own path in this realm ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
There have been so many interesting moments, I think that’s why I love filmmaking as a career! In January 2016 I was in Australia filming the big finale of my documentary Losing Sight of Shore as a team of rowers were coming in to Cairns as part of a record setting row they were completing. These women had rowed over 8,000 miles over the course of 9 months across the entire Pacific Ocean and today was the biggest day of their lives, my life, and the ending of the movie. Well, things did not go as planned to say the least and I found myself stranded on aboriginal land standing in shoulder deep water with my (rented) camera over my head trying to keep the gear dry and still capture this monumental moment of triumph. I couldn’t believe the position I found myself in and I started to cry feeling so overwhelmed as I watched my heroes row in to the shores of Australia and set two world records in the process. I knew I had the ending of my film, and I knew I would be forever changed witnessing this historic moment. I’ll never forget how empowering that moment felt.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
When I first moved out to Los Angeles I worked as a Field Producer on the hit ABC show Dancing with the Stars for 10 seasons. I was really operating as a one-woman band most days shooting and interviewing the celebrity/dancer couples as they rehearsed everyday in preparation for the live show. I worked with hundreds of celebrities, athletes, musicians, Olympians, and more, it was a wild time in life! My very first day of work on the show in 2008, I was 21 years old and fresh to LA, fresh to the TV business, and my first shoot was with the entire Kardashian family because Kim was a celebrity on the show that season. I remember being so nervous and thinking about how I couldn’t understand how I got there, impostor syndrome almost overtook me. But I got through it that day and the days that followed, and had so many great experiences working on that show. And Kim was lovely.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am working on the distribution and impact campaign of my latest film Nevertheless right now which has been different than I expected given covid-19, but really amazing and educational nonetheless. Taking a look behind the headlines of #MeToo and Time’s Up, Nevertheless follows the intimate stories of 7 individuals who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or school context. From a writer’s assistant on a top TV show to a Tech CEO and 911 dispatcher, the film shines a light on the ways in which we can shift our culture and rebuild. With the help of my innovative distributor Indieflix, we are working to get this film in to schools, groups, organizations and workplaces worldwide as part of a sexual harassment training program. I have been honored to take part in fascinating and eye-opening panel discussions and dialogues that take part after seeing the film and I am learning so much, even after 2 and a half years of making this film.
I am also writing a book about how to make a documentary from idea and development all the way through distribution and marketing. It has been a nice creative outlet during this pandemic to be able to share all that I’ve learned in the last 7 years or so making 3 feature-length documentaries. It’ll be available this Fall 2020.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am so inspired by endless amounts of women throughout history who have used their voice to stand up for themselves and others to make our world a better place. I am inspired by mothers who find a way to juggle parenthood with a career they love when that can feel near impossible most days. Right now I am so inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris who are lighting up the political landscape with their power and grace. We don’t have to look very far to find female role models even though our media doesn’t always reflect that.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
Social impact through documentary filmmaking is such an exciting way to not only spread activism but also storytelling. I think people feel deep empathy when they can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes in the form of watching a film. Over the course of my 3 documentaries, I shine a light on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and I work to make the world a more equal and safe place for women to thrive in by representing their stories, their triumphs and their struggles on screen. Nevertheless is my latest project dealing with the issue of sexual harassment and I know that the most impact will come from this film being seen in a workplace or school context where actual discussions can take place following the film instead of it being a passive viewing experience. Even in a few short months we have heard heartbreaking stories, we have seen resources shared, and we have heard encouragement about how people can come together and be in allyship with one another. It means so much to me to see a film I made be a catalyst for change. I believe in the power of cinema to change the world.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
In 2012, after working in reality television for 4 years or so, I started to feel stuck. I didn’t feel like I was really contributing to the world and that I was a tiny piece in a huge machine of television production. I wanted more out of my career and out of my life. I also recognized quickly that the phone was never going to ring with that perfect opportunity I was dreaming of. If I wanted to make feature documentaries about inspiring women, I was going to need to create those opportunities for myself. There’s something very empowering when you realize you don’t need anyone else’s permission but your own to get started pursuing your passion. So in 2013 I went for it, and for the past 7 years I have been on my own path, creating work I deeply care about and finding a way to make a living doing it. And no matter what happens from here, I have 3 films I am extremely proud to have my name on.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
In 2014, I was on a screening tour for The Empowerment Project all over the US with my producing partner at the time Dana Michelle Cook. We had just screened the film for 600 high school girls in Seattle on the very first day of our tour. A young woman nervously came up to us after the screening and said she had never seen a female astronaut before. (We feature the story of Astronaut Dr. Sandy Magnus in the film). And that after seeing the film, this young woman now wanted to become an Astronaut! It showed me how important it is for girls to see real female role models in the media they are consuming, and that just one representation or story can change the course of someone’s life. And we had many more moments like that with audiences around the world that kept us going.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Individuals that are storytellers can get out there and find a way to tell the stories that matter to them and that represent their point of view. We need you in this media landscape to make sure equality is reached for women and people of color. For society, people can certainly pay more attention to who is in front of and behind the camera on the shows they choose to watch. You have so much control with your remote, your dollar, and most importantly your vote to make this world a more inclusive place to live.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Save your money as much as you can — you never know when that dream project may come along that you want to pursue and it might not be a profitable endeavor at first. Savings can be freedom and power in your career. Also this is a good thing if you need get out of a toxic work environment.
- You have more power than you think — Hollywood likes to make us feel like we are replaceable and disposable, but your talents and your efforts are important and worthy. You matter.
- Be kind to everyone — you never know who is going to be your boss in 5 years, or who you are making an impression on that could come to help you down the road.
- If you know where you want to go, head in that direction — you will hear a lot of people in reality TV say they want to work in Scripted, and yet they keep taking jobs in reality because that’s the realm they are in. If you want to be in a different part of the industry, get started there as soon as you can, it won’t happen by accident.
- Negotiate for more money — chances are they are going to work you harder and longer than you think, negotiate for a higher rate for all those no overtime, no meals, no social life moments. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve. The worst that could happen is they say no.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell young people to consider how they can be in allyship to one another. That could be in the form of white individuals to people of color, men to women, cisgender people to transgender people, able-bodied to the disabled community, consider where your privileges are, and what you can do to uplift the people around you that don’t share those same privileges.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I am excited and open to collaborating with anyone who shares a similar ethos as I do and that is making positive change in the world!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” This is a big one in my life. My Dad said this to me when I was starting college and very homesick and having trouble adjusting to my new life. It stuck with me, and then when I was trying to come up with a title for my second feature film about the women who rowed the ocean, I saw this same quote on their website and I knew it was a sign. I named the film Losing Sight of Shore in honor of their journey and of this quote. I love it because it reminds me that there has to be a feeling of being lost in order to have that feeling of being found. I may never literally cross an ocean, but everyone crosses a ‘Pacific’ of some kind in their lives. In some ways each film I make is another ‘Pacific’ to cross.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website is http://sarahmoshman.com if you want to learn more and contact me
I’m on instgram @sarahmoshman
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!