Money and Film: A Q&A with Ruth Ann Harnisch


A member since 2007, Ruth Ann joined forces with the Women Moving Millions’ CEO Jacki Zehner to create and co-chair the Film Circle to increase exposure and funding for women filmmakers. The Film Circle recently connected with Ruth Ann Harnisch for this Q&A:

(WMM): Funding priorities: Documentaries vs. Narratives?

(Ruth Ann Harnisch): I believe in the power of storytelling, from the childhood fairy tale to the latest virtual reality experience. I earned my living telling stories on the radio, in the newspaper, on television, even on records and in the movies. I love a true story well told, especially when it’s in service of social change and especially if it’s about women, by women, for women. These are usually documentaries. But, I am hearing a lot of attractive pitches for narratives based on true stories, which, if well told, might achieve a social change purpose. Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced the “I MUST BE A PART OF THIS!” feeling that would inspire me to invest in a narrative film, yet.

Plus, film isn’t just documentary vs. narrative – it’s about the distribution where completed films are brought to life, how they connect with an audience, and how they are positioned to move the needle on the social agenda. For example, I’m one of several WMM members investing in Trapped, a documentary about the legal fights over access to abortion. This was a story that needed to be told. We knew what was at stake AND we knew that storytelling could play a critical role in driving awareness, influencing the public conversation, and inspiring action around the legal battles.

Whether it’s a documentary or narrative, I want to continue to use the power of film to spark discussion in all communities, show how to take action for measurable results, and ultimately create a more just world.


(WMM): What’s in the pipeline?

(Ruth Ann Harnisch):  The rape case at Stanford University among countless others, show how the legal system is failing sexual assault survivors and the fight for reform is far from over. We’re giving visibility to the institutional failures that allow sexual assault to continue unpunished and unabated by investing in Roll Red Roll, the story of gang rape in a small town in Ohio where athletes are gods and Audrie & Daisy, a film about high school sexual assault in the age of social media. I’m one of many WMM members supporting these films as well as grassroots organizing groups like End Rape on Campus and technology solutions like Sexual Health Innovations that continue to need all of our support.

I’m also supporting professional coaching for storytellers like Women at Sundance Fellows and TED Fellows because it is an effective tool for developing leaders. We’re also developing a program called Funny Girls that teaches girls leadership skills through improv. We’re currently piloting this program in NYC schools! 

(WMM): One action we can take right now to advance women in film? 

(Ruth Ann Harnisch): Hire a woman for any and all roles from director to gopher, but especially consider women for leadership positions. Make diversity behind the camera a part of the criteria for the films that you invest in, whether you are a major donor or moviegoer choosing which film to see on Friday night. Even I forget sometimes that every choice I make is a vote, from the movies I pay to see to the books I buy to the bylines I click. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to make an economic case for gender parity.