Rachel Kastner is a rising filmmaker who is committed to the advocation of women in film. As a young female in the industry, she looks to make meaningful documentaries and features to represent the next generation of movie makers. Her new documentary follows the story of her grandfather during the Holocaust.
BL: What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Where do you get inspiration from?
Rachel: I was an actress for many years, starting in my childhood, and I’ve always gravitated towards the arts. After my sophomore year in high school, I spent a summer in Virginia working on a (super) indie feature film. I fell in love with the collective act of filmmaking. It was exhausting, physically and mentally, but I was just so excited by the idea of everyone coming together with the combined goal of getting the project done and telling the meaningful story. It was addictive. I’ve found ways to be on set many times since that summer, whether as a performer, an assistant, or a producer.
I’ve seen a lot of plays and musicals that have impacted my life, opinions, and perspective. Each of these moving moments have inspired me to continue as a filmmaker and share stories that might not otherwise be told.
BL: What were some of the challenges and experiences you faced in your journey?
Rachel: There are many different challenges that face a filmmaker or producer, including finding the right partners and teammates, raising money, getting people to believe in your project, etc. There are also other challenges that one might face as a young female filmmaker. I’ve definitely encountered offhand remarks about my age or gender implying that I can’t do what I’m doing because of it. I try to surround myself with people who will support me in my projects to the fullest extent. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of supportive mentors, supervisors, bosses, colleagues, partners and friends.
BL:Who are some of your role models?
Rachel: I look up to a lot of different people in my life. I’ll start with an obvious one – I’d guess that many people look up to this person as well. Aside from filmmaking and entertainment, I am really passionate about politics. One of my role models from that arena is Ruth Bader Ginsburg (If you haven’t seen the documentary about her life, RBG, go see it ASAP!). If there is one woman who paved the way for the rest of us to be able to be equal in all settings in the US, it is her. Her work ethic, perseverance and intelligence knows no bounds!
I also have some wonderful personal role models and mentors. I worked closely with Maggie Gyllenhaal on the set of The Kindergarten Teacher. Maggie is an absolutely brilliant woman, producer and actress. She taught me a lot about storytelling, professionalism on set, how to choose the projects you want to be a part of, and how to be intentional about everything you do. I treasure our relationship.
Another woman I look up to is Arielle Gross. Arielle is the Business Lead of Global Business Marketing and Creative at Facebook. She is a powerhouse. Arielle and I met at an event for Women’s Day at Facebook, where she is on the women’s team. Arielle is extraordinarily busy, but yet makes time for young women like myself. She is at the top of her field, and makes sure to give back all the time. I am constantly in awe of her!
And of course, there is the inimitable Nancy Spielberg. Nancy was the first person to encourage me to make The Barn, and has been a guiding light. She is a force of nature – and an incredible filmmaker. I look up to her and her ability to tell the right stories at the right time.
There are so many other incredible role models and mentors who have been guiding me throughout my career – most of them powerhouse women. I am so grateful to them for every moment and I hope to pay it forward down the line!
BL: What is your favorite part of making a film?
Rachel: It is absolutely exhilarating to show your film to an audience, but I definitely think that my favorite part of the filmmaking process is early in the production process, when you’re on set. I forget that anything else is going on in my life other than that project, and I put 150% of myself into making it the best it can be. I love the collaborative nature of being on set, and working with different people -each with their own unique skill set- to tell a singular story. Whether I’m on set as a PA or as the producer of a project, doing coffee runs or watching on the monitor, I really feel that every task is extremely important to the process. I just really love the process of working hard to create something with collaborators!
BL: Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose to make your film, the Barn – did you have obstacles?
Rachel: I knew I had to make a documentary about my grandfather and his savior when I was 18, after returning from a trip to Poland, during which I met Paulina, the woman who saved him. It’s 2018- there are fewer and fewer survivors who are able to tell their stories every year. I felt an immediate responsibility to get this specific story on film before it was too late. That was definitely the impetus for the film.
There were obviously the logistical challenges. First, I had to find a team that supported the idea and wanted to make it with me. We had to raise a lot of money, and convince my grandfather to come on the trip. There were language barriers, delayed flights, and more. Aside from the logistical challenges, there were other, more sensitive issues. The story is obviously a delicate one. We were making a documentary about a sensitive subject matter and with elderly subjects so we had to be careful with the material.
BL: What advice would you give to aspiring female filmmakers?
Rachel: Start creating your own material! The best way to develop the skills you need to work in film is through practice. It’s so easy to make art- whether by writing short scripts or filming a video on a phone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other women in entertainment/in the film industry for advice or guidance. Film is truly a collaborative industry, so it is also extremely important to be able to develop relationships with the people around you! And lastly- watch a lot of movies, shows, plays, and TV. Find the voices and stories that speak the most to you. This will help you identify your voice and inform the kind of stories you want to tell!
BL: What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
Rachel: Don’t worry so much! Everything comes at the right time. Keep being friendly and saying YES to every opportunity.
BL: What are some of the things you wish would change in the film industry?
Rachel: That is a great big question.
I think a lot of the changes we all want to be seeing have been happening over the last year, as the industry begins to clean up and rid itself of the awful systematic treatment of women. I really hope that as the future rolls around, we start to see a more inclusive industry of all minorities, that there is a continued emphasis on diversifying the stories that are told.
BL: What are some of your proudest moments so far being a 22-year-old filmmaker?
Rachel: Absolutely one of my proudest moments was at the family and friends screening of The Barn, when my family, including my grandfather, was able to see the final product for the first time. Many of my closest friends and mentors were there, and it was really just a beautiful night. Literally years of hard work had led to that moment, and it was so wonderful to finally share this special family story with an audience.
Another, recent moment that comes to mind: A few weeks ago, I went to see The Kindergarten Teacher in theaters in NYC with some close friends. It was a really special moment to see that on screen, in front of an audience, after the countless hours and passion that the whole crew put into that project. It feels so good to see something you’ve worked on come to life.
Images from Rachel’s Documentary – The Barn