Interview with Sarah Moshman, Director of Losing Sight of Shore
Interview by Dawn Davis
Copy Edited and Posted by Jessica Gibbons
You started making documentaries as a teenager. What is it about the documentary form that attracts you vs. narrative storytelling?
I also like narrative storytelling, but in terms of documentaries, I love connecting with people, conducting interviews, and finding a unique way to tell stories that can speak to audiences. I love that being curious and being observant is part of the job. From a young age, it was clear to me that having a camera next to me gave me a courage I didn’t have in other parts of my life. As an introvert, turning to filmmaking was the perfect way to open up, discover new things, and connect with interesting people. I am still in awe of the process of putting together a documentary from start to finish. You think you know the film you are making, but it always ends up differently than you pictured—hopefully better. It’s truly the perfect career for me.
Who were the documentary filmmakers you were watching and learning from at that age? Who inspires you today? What was your favorite documentary from 2017?
I’ve always had one major role model in my career and that’s my dad Harvey Moshman. He has worked as a TV Producer and doc filmmaker since before I was born. It never seemed like a career that was inaccessible to me because the language, the equipment, and the stories were always around in my house, which I am increasingly grateful for. My dad is certainly still an inspiration to me now, but I also love the work of Ava DuVernay, Lucy Walker, Davis Guggenheim, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Sara Hirsh Bordo, Liz Garbus, and more. My favorite documentary from 2017 is one I saw at SXSW called The Work, which was an extremely powerful film about imprisoned men opening up emotionally, some for the first time. I was bawling by the end!
Your most recent documentary, Losing Sight of Shore, follows the first team of four—and the first all-female team—to row across the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia. During the long stretches of time when the Coxless Crew was at sea, what did you work on?
So, even though I wasn’t physically on the boat with the Coxless Crew, making a documentary is quite an involved and lengthy process with many stages and steps. When they were at sea, I would keep up with their blog, log footage from the previous leg, work to fundraise so I could keep the project going (applying for grants, crowdfunding, securing investments, etc.), and continue to build an audience for the project so that people would be excited when it came out. It was a lot of work but such an amazing adventure!
When a subject like rowing across the Pacific comes up, is it daunting to you? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the scope of the story you’re going to tell, or do you feel confident about how you want to proceed?
This project was and still is extremely daunting! I was overwhelmed from the start not being a rower or athlete myself, and having no idea how I would pull this off or if they would make it across the ocean. But something spoke to me that was louder than any of the other negative voices in my head. This was always a story of the power of the human spirit, and I held onto that throughout. With this documentary, and any documentary, you never really know what’s going to happen. That’s half the fun of the journey to make it! You feel confident some days, but more often than not you doubt yourself and question the process. My policy is to move my projects forward every day in some way. Some days that’s a huge leap forward and others it’s a tiny step, but before you know it, you look back and you can see how far you’ve come and the end is in sight. I truly love the entire process of making films, and I am working on enjoying the journey more than just the outcome.
Do you feel like you have an inkling of what the story is going to be at the start, or does it reveal itself to you along the way?
Without question it reveals itself to me along the way. With the Coxless Crew, the better I got to know them on land and through the footage they shot, the clearer each of their story arcs were for the film. Emma is a perfect example of this, as she was the resident rower of the team and her whole identity was wrapped up in rowing. So, when she falls out of love with it and struggles on the boat, it was clear to me that would be her story in the film. How do you cope when you don’t want to do the one thing you are known for? I love the curiosity that has to come with being a filmmaker. I try to embrace the uncertainty instead of getting frustrated by it.
I’m sure you related to all of the women on the Coxless Crew Doris, but was there one rower in particular you connected with most?
I connected with all six members of the Coxless Crew in different ways; these women are truly my heroes and sisters! Natalia Cohen and I got very close as she was my main liaison on the boat in terms of the cinematography. She and I would talk about story and camera angles and the process of making the film at length. She is a special soul!
How did you instruct the women to talk to the camera on the boat? I found a lot of what they had to say to be so incredibly moving, raw, and vulnerable.
I told them to think of the camera as the 5th member of the team, as their space to have privacy and unleash their inner thoughts. As you can imagine, there was virtually no privacy on the boat, so often times the camera served as this unbiased diary in a lot of ways. Also, the Coxless Crew would often address the camera as if it was me. So, they would say “Hey Sarah, so this is what I’ve been struggling with today…” I am grateful that we became so close every time I saw them on land, and so in turn they felt more open to talking on camera on the boat. Also, after nine months, they all became excellent filmmakers! The footage is exponentially better nearing Australia than it was near San Francisco. If you do anything for nine months, you will get pretty good at it! So, we did have the luxury of time as well.
Aside from having to turn back the first time the rowing crew left Santa Barbara, was there anything that went majorly wrong or was scary but that didn’t make it into the final cut?
With nine months of footage, there was so much left on the cutting room floor. The one thing I can say that didn’t make it into the final cut was the four-story waves they faced at sea; it was impossible to capture the scope of the waves they faced from the confines of the boat. And when we used the drone, it had to be clear weather in order for it to work. I wish the audience could have seen the full extent of the dangers they faced at sea, but it wasn’t always conducive to filming!
Do you keep a list or file of subjects you’d like to explore, or do your subjects find you?
I certainly have subjects I’d like to explore, but my guiding theme is showcasing strong female role models on screen. All of my projects have been and will continue to be in service of that goal. It is so important that we represent and portray real, complex, flawed, strong women in our media. My latest documentary, NEVERTHELESS, is about sexual harassment in the workplace, and so now I’m working to move in to enlightening and educating people as well as entertaining them when it comes to issues that affect women. Film is such a powerful medium when used properly!
How do you sustain a living as a documentary filmmaker?
I treat my films like starting a business, so I have been able to sustain my living as a doc filmmaker through the revenue of my projects. With my first feature The Empowerment Project, I have been earning money from that film since 2014. We screen the film in schools, groups, organizations, and corporations all over the world even to this day. We have secured sponsorships and partnerships, and done speaking engagements and screening tours all surrounding the subject of gender equality and empowerment for women. I now also have revenue coming in for Losing Sight of Shore after our sale to Netflix worldwide. I also work on other projects. I camera operate and teach to bring in extra money, but I’m proud to be a working doc filmmaker creating my own opportunities. It isn’t easy, and some months are better than others, but I wouldn’t have it any other way for my life right now.
What does a typical day look like for you when you’re not shooting a documentary?
I’m typically always working on one of my projects no matter what stage it’s in. Even when a film is done, you are still working on promoting and marketing it or leveraging it for new opportunities. I love that about filmmaking; it’s a lot like being an entrepreneur and launching a business. But I recently gave birth to my daughter, Bryce, so life has changed a bit since I was making Losing Sight of Shore! I am enjoying my journey into motherhood and finding a new normal every day. I also teach college classes in doc filmmaking, which is really rewarding.
What advice to do you have for women who would like to start making documentaries?
My best advice would be to not wait for permission to pursue your passion projects. Tell the stories that matter to you. There isn’t anyone that’s going to come in and save the day and pick you to direct your dream project. You have the power to decide you’re ready for that opportunity and to make it happen for yourself. We have all the tools we need to make films; you can do it. Get rid of the self-doubt; no one likes asking for money—no one. But if the project means enough to you, you will find a way. And I promise it will be one of the most valuable experiences of your life.
In Losing Sight of Shore, all of the women on the Coxless Crew had a message of endurance and their own unique approach to staying the course. What’s your message? How do you endure when something seems impossible?
I love that the tagline of the film is, “Everyone has a Pacific to cross.” That rings true for me, and making Losing Sight of Shore was my ‘Pacific’ at the time. My message is that women can do and be and achieve anything they want. We are more powerful than we will ever know. When something seems impossible, I look back on other times in my life when I thought I couldn’t get through something and I reflect to get me through tough times. One foot in front of the other, a thousand tiny choices each day, can lead to huge change and success as you define it.
Your next project is a documentary called NEVERTHELESS, which tackles sexual harassment in the workplace. Please tell us more about this film and why it’s so important at this point in time. You’ve also just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project; please explain what that campaign entails and how we can support you.
NEVERTHELESS examines the social, legal, historical, and masculine aspects of the sexual harassment crisis in America interwoven with personal stories and calls to action for change. It’s up to all of us to work towards solutions to this endemic problem. Nevertheless, we persist.
I started filming for this project in October of 2017 when I was 8 months pregnant. The impetus for getting it off the ground was my own experiences and struggle with sexual harassment. Certain moments when I didn’t stand up for myself came back to haunt me, even years later. Then when I found out I would be having a daughter, something ignited inside of me to really get going on this concept. The day after I started shooting, the Weinstein story broke, and this has been incredibly timely and at the forefront of the national conversation. My take on all of this is to look at how we got here as a society and look at actionable solutions and tools for all of us to move forward. I think men want to show up and be allies, but they don’t know how. I want to interview the thought leaders in this space and see what that looks like.
I am currently in early production on NEVERTHELESS and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $50,000 in 30 days. The money raised on Kickstarter will go towards production costs. It will fund equipment rentals, travel costs, studio rentals and crew in order to film several more interviews. We truly couldn’t do this without your help! We need to maximize on the timeliness of this issue. We will also be applying for grants and seeking private donors and corporate sponsors to raise the rest of the budget. We hope to complete production in 2018 and move on to post-production in 2019. Watch our trailer and join the fight to end sexual harassment by donating here.
Be sure to support this amazing film by donating to the Kickstarter campaign and sharing widely! You can find NEVERTHELESS on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can learn more about Losing Sight of Shore on the film’s website, and don’t forget to check out its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages as well. You can also view Sarah‘s profile, Dawn‘s profile, and Jessica‘s profile to learn more about them.