SBIFF Women’s Panel

(L-R) Diane Warren, Karen Hartley-Thomas, Maite Alberdi, Laura Karpman, and Julie Zachary share their experiences in the film industry at the SBIFF Womens Panel.
(L-R) Diane Warren, Karen Hartley-Thomas, Maite Alberdi, Laura Karpman, and Julie Zachary share their experiences in the film industry at the SBIFF Women’s Panel.
Sienna Valentine

For many years, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has hosted a Women’s Panel, inviting Oscar-nominated women from within the film industry to discuss their experiences.

This year’s Women’s Panel, moderated by Madelyn Hammond, featured Oscar nominees Maite

Alberdi, Karen Hartley-Thomas, Laura Karpman, Diane Warren, and Julie Zachary.

Maite Alberdi speaks on her journey in making her documentary “The Eternal Memory”. (Sienna Valentine)

Alberdi, an author and filmmaker, is the first Chilean woman nominated for an Oscar, with her film, “The Eternal Memory,” up for Best Documentary Feature. Aside from its Oscar nomination, the film has also been awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and Best Hispano American Film at the 2024 Goya Awards.

The documentary follows the relationship between Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora and actress Paulina Uruttia as they navigate Augusto’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. At the time the documentary was filmed, the couple had been together for 23 years and Paulina had been caring for Augusto since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis 8 years prior. However, despite the struggles depicted in the film, Alberdi describes it as a romance rather than a tragedy.

“It’s the most romantic story I have ever seen in the context of Alzheimer’s,” Alberdi said. “Alzheimer’s is a talent and not a tragedy for this couple.”

At the SBIFF Women’s Panel, Alberdi described her own personal journey in understanding Alzheimer’s disease and how her perspective changed throughout the filming of the documentary.

“I was thinking that I was making a film about what you forget with Alzheimer’s, but in the end it’s about what you always remember,” Alberdi said.

Laura Karpman (right) shares a memorable moment. “The worst advice I ever got was from my grandma, and she said ‘don’t be too smart for the boys’,” Karpman said. (Sienna Valentine)

Another woman showcased on the Women’s Panel, Karpman, was composer of “American Fiction,” which she describes as a “biting satire” that is “a meta adventure and an important conversation.”

“American Fiction” is nominated under the Best Original Score category of the Oscars while simultaneously having received recognition at the Critics’ choice awards. It was also awarded Best Adaptive Screenplay at the 2023 British Academy Film Arts Awards.

10 years ago, Karpman, along with other female composers, founded the Alliance for Women Film Composers. During her education, she often felt out of place as one of the few women at the performing arts academy, Julliard. Later on in her career, she continued to feel isolated as one of the few women in the industry.

“We founded it because we have actual data on how many composers will work in the movie business, and in 2014, it was 2 percent of the top 250 box office films,” Karpman said. “Now, 10 years later, where I had hoped that we wouldn’t need this organization anymore, we have advanced and this year we have 14 percent of the 250 box office films.”

Karpman expressed difficulty processing her Oscar nomination.

“I literally, I still can’t believe it,” Karpman said. “I just never ever thought that would happen … it’s something I’ve dreamed of so long that I literally, I think, stopped myself from dreaming it.”

Diane Warren jokes that the secret behind her success is actually her cat.
“My sweet cat writes the songs … the secret is out,” Warren said. (Sienna Valentine )

An American songwriter, Warren received her 14th Oscar nomination under the Best Original Song category for The Fire Inside, a song from the 2023 movie “Flamin’ Hot.” “Flamin’ Hot” is based on the true story of Richard Montañez who created the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto as a janitor working in a Frito Lay factory.

“[Flamin’ Hot] is about someone who came from nothing, making something out of their life, with everything against them, and by sheer passion,” Warren said.

For Warren, the important part of creating a film is having the inspiration from the story.

“It’s not about the money for me, it never was,” Warren said. “If I feel like I can do something great for [a film], if I feel like I can get inspired by it … I do.”

Having received a large number of Oscar nominations, for Warren the feeling of being nominated never changes.

“I’ve been on a lot of times, but it never f-ing gets old,” Warren said. “There’s only five people chosen in their field … If you hear your name or your work or your song or your score or whatever it’s called, you have f-ing won … I feel like I win every time I get nominated.”

“As a head of a studio it’s really easy to say I’m an executive, but I’m not,” Zachary (right) said. “I’m a filmmaker, I want to tell stories. I want to tell authentic stories and I also want the voices of people around me to be heard.” (Sienna Valentine )

Film producer, animator, and visual effects expert, Zackary was nominated for her animated film “Nimona.” The film follows the story of a knight seeking help in clearing his name from a shapeshifting teen. But, despite its fantastical elements, Zackary feels as though the film’s message is far greater.

“Essentially, it’s a love letter to anybody who’s felt othered,” Zachary said. “It’s a story about accepting who you are and living in a world that might not accept who you are, and understanding how to bridge that gap.”

She explained that she and her team were very passionate about telling a realistic story that would make people feel heard and understood, and for them that meant including an LGBTQ+ character.

“[It] was very important to us to be authentic to a world we saw ourselves living in,” Zachary said.

According to Zachary, there was a lot of pushback about the inclusion of an LGBTQ+ character in the film, but she felt that the representation was integral to the meaning and purpose of the film.

“We have received many notes along the way to talk about the ‘gay thing’ or to really consider taking that part out, but … it was never an option. It was always going to be there,” Zachary said.

Karen Hartley-Thomas (center) speaks on her film “Gilda”. (Sienna Valentine )

Hair and makeup designer Hartley-Thomas was in charge of the makeup on the film set of “Golda.” This included the process of creating a prosthetic nose, eye bags, cheeks, and nicotine-stained teeth for Helen Mirren, the lead actress in the film.

“[Mirren] is such an iconic woman,” Hartley-Thomas said. “Golda Meir is an iconic woman. You never want to do it badly.”

“Golda” follows the story of Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister, through the Yom Kippur War. This movie discusses Meir’s personal relationships and fluctuating emotions during the stress of the war.

“‘Golda’ is set in Israel in 1973,” Hartley-Thomas said. “And it’s the story of Golda Meir through the Yom Kippur War as a prime minister and as a woman.”

This film received an Oscar nomination under the category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Hartley-Thomas explained detailed research she did to accurately portray Meir, including consulting with Meir’s grandchildren.

“That’s the best part of the job almost, the research and getting to look into things,” Hartley-Thomas said.

Harley-Thomas also expressed a great feeling of responsibility to accurately tell Meir’s story.

“It was such an important story for [Guy Nattiv] to tell … very personal to him, and for so many Israeli actors in it,” Hartley-Thomas said.

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