Roja and Julia

Roja Gashtili and Julia Lerman (a.k.a. Roja and Julia) are an LA-based filmmaking duo. They made their short film, Rita Mahtoubian Is Not A Terrorist, which premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, while serving as fellows at AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. Their work has previously received the Tribeca All-Access grant and was part of IFP's Emerging Storytellers Labs. Prior work includes content for NBC, Showtime, MTV, Refinery29, and Mattel. Their short film, The Last Shift, was part of the inaugural Through Her Lens: The Tribeca Chanel Women's Filmmaker Program, through which they presented their project to Julianne Moore, Patricia Clarkson, and Mynette Louie.

They participated in Film Independent's 2016 Directing Lab with their feature adaptation of Rita Mahtoubian Is Not A Terrorist. The feature was one of five narrative projects chosen for the 2015 Sundance Creative Producing Labs. They were also a part of the 2016 Fox Global Directors Initiative.

Roja and Julia’s latest short film, Pinky, was commissioned by Refinery29 for their upcoming Shatterbox Anthology series. In addition, they recently sold a half-hour comedy pilot to FX.

Jaclyn Bethany conversed with both women via email. 

Jaclyn Bethany: Where did you two meet and where are you both based now? 

Roja and Julia: We met in New York City and we're now based in L.A.

JB: How did you meet and what was your first film together? How do you think you complement each other as filmmakers? 

R & J : We met working at MTV. Our first film together was a $300 short shot in a day on a Brooklyn stoop. We bonded over our shared love of the high and low: literature, politics, and mall culture. We complement each other because we bring different strengths: big picture vs. the details, brashness vs. poetry, impulsiveness vs. thoughtfulness. And we try to remember to actually compliment each other every day. 

Still from Pinky

Still from Pinky

JB: As women and co-directors, do you ever face any kind of stigma within what remains a largely male-dominated industry? In what ways do you think this is changing? 

R & J: Of course there's still resistance to being female filmmakers but we always say you need to find your allies—and we've been lucky to find a few great ones. Even though the industry is changing, it still has a long way to go before us being two female directors isn't a topic of conversation.

Still from The Last Shift.

Still from The Last Shift.

JB: What was your favorite film of 2016?

R & J: Well one of us hasn't seen Moonlight and one of us has, so our favorite film that we saw this year (that was not made this year) was Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist. Special shout-out to Atlanta, which was not a film but caused a lot of conversation between us. 

JB: Tell me about your short film, Pinky, for Refinery29/Shatterbox Anthology.

R & J: Based on a true story, Pinky is about the grey space between girlhood and adulthood. [It’s] set at a pool party of teenage girls, [where] we witness the thrill and fear of female friendships at that age through a transgressive initiation into womanhood. 

JB: And what about The Last Shift: What was it like to be a part of the inaugural Tribeca Chanel Women's Filmmaker Program? Why do you think it's important that programs like this one exist? 

R & J: In The Last Shift, a young nurse grows obsessed with a locked door in the ward where she works as a revolution unfolds beyond the hospital walls in 1979 Iran. Unfortunately, because of the great inequality in our industry, programs like this are essential to support young filmmakers [like us] who don't always receive the chance to get our voices heard. And we need to be heard, because up until now, it's pretty much been exclusively straight white guys telling us what the world looks like.

JB: What advice would you give to other women who aspire to direct? 

R & J: Find the story you want to tell, find the people who can help you make it, and make it. Don't wait for anyone else's permission, because the guys certainly aren't. ★