Closeup of white woman with blond hair is on the left and photo of white woman with gray hair is on the right
In the Directors Guild of America women's program, film and television director Tessa Blake (left) will mentor Joan Stein Schimke, a writer, producer, director and professor of communications.

Communications Professor Joan Stein Schimke, is a writer, producer and director of films. Her spot in a competitive mentorship program will help advance her career, advance women in filmmaking and share her experiences with her students.

2023 was a milestone year for women in film. Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, was the highest-grossing film (more about Barbie below). And at Adelphi, Joan Stein Schimke, professor of communications and a director of short films, including the Oscar-nominated One Day Crossing, was selected for the 2023 Directors Guild of America’s competitive Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) Squad Mentorship Program. The prestigious program advances mid-career directors, like Schimke, by pairing them with well-established, experienced women directors.

The women choose their mentors, and Schimke chose film and television director Tessa Blake, whose directing credits include American Horror Story, A Million Little Things, and ABC’s Station 19, as her mentor. The mentorship program started in September 2023 and runs until May 2024.

“I’m very lucky,” said Schimke. “Tessa’s done everything—she’s directed television series, made feature and documentary films, mentored so many female directors and taught at the American Film Institute.”

Making Films, Teaching Film

Schimke has had a notable career herself. Her short, nonfeature-length narrative films cover diverse topics. The aforementioned One Day Crossing, which was her MFA thesis film at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, is about a Hungarian Jewish woman trying to save her family from the Nazis during World War II; Solidarity shows the destruction of  lifelong relationships at a birthday celebration in Poland during Communist times, and Saeed is about a boy and his mother trying to escape war-torn Syria to reunite with family on Long Island.

Her most recent film, Vacation Memories, the story of a mother and daughter’s experience while vacationing together, was screened this fall at the Centre Film Festival in State College, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey’s Lighthouse International Film Festival at Long Beach Island.

Schimke joined the faculty of Adelphi’s Department of Communications in 2004. “The classes I teach keep my directing muscles active and keep me up to date on new skills and technologies,” she said.

Her classes benefit students as well. Case in point: She put advanced film students to work on Saeed, a film that she and John Drew, associate professor of communications, created that was partially funded by an Adelphi faculty development grant. Some of the students were later hired for projects by the working production professionals whom she and Drew had brought in to work on the film.

She has also organized Adelphi’s student film festival for 20 years.

Building a Network of Women Filmmakers

One Day Crossing’s clutch of awards and hundreds of screenings at worldwide festivals helped Schimke break into a notoriously competitive industry. But advancing in the film industry is challenging for anyone, particularly moms like Schimke with full-time jobs. “Everything is step by very slow step,” she said. “If you’re not working on a show and not working full time in the industry, it’s a challenge. You’re an unknown in an industry that works with the same people over and over again. When I think of how I directed a Law & Order episode while I was teaching, I’m amazed that I was able to accomplish that.”

Schimke would like more opportunities in TV directing. “The program is about how to help get you to the next step in your career, and to help you build a network,” she explained.

Schimke talks regularly with Blake, who invited her to Los Angeles in January to shadow her on the set of ABC’s Station 19. “It was a fantastic experience,” Schimke recalled. I learned so much by watching Tessa work her on-set magic.”

In addition to one-on-one mentorships, the 13 members of the Class of 2023 meet together on a monthly Zoom to inspire and update one another and get advice from guest speakers who are working directors. “A great network of mentees and mentors is being developed,” Schimke said. “It’s pretty incredible.”

About Barbie and Oscar®…

As far as this year’s Academy Awards, when asked if she thought Barbie director Greta Gerwig was snubbed by the Academy, Schimke said she wondered if it’s because there were so many great films to be nominated. “And yet, Barbie was the highest-grossing film last year. Gerwig is a great director who knows how to tell an amazing story, so I’m really not sure why she wasn’t nominated.”

As for which of the films nominated for Best Picture Schimke finds the most memorable, she mentioned The Zone of Interest, which garnered nominations for sound, writing and directing. “I was struck by the sound design as well as the art and craft of the director, Jonathan Glazer. He has an uncanny ability to bring us deeply into a dark subject matter.”

We’ll have to wait until March 10 to see if the Academy agrees.

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