As a first time director and producer, Shantel Hansen loves to identify and film subcultures that unwittingly impact the larger community. Hansen seeks to visually redefine subjects through storytelling that examines existing power structures and shakes up stereotypes reinforced by the media. Everybody has a story, and for Hansen, it’s finding an everyday person who is doing exceptional, groundbreaking work with humility and grit that you’d never otherwise hear about and telling their story.
When I conceived this project in 2014, I didn’t know any female referees or how they trained and were hired. I had to go out and find them. In 2015, I attended the National Sports Officiating Summit in St. Louis, MO, where I met conference directors, Referee Magazine staff, and several NFL, NBA and NCAA referees. But no matter how many people I spoke with, no one knew any female officials; in fact, I ended up finding Tangela Mitchell on LinkedIn.
While making this film, people often questioned my drive to document the stories of women referees. When I sought film rights, a football commissioner even laughed in my face saying nobody would care about the topic. That may have been the case a couple of years ago, but much has happened since. Culturally, we are now having deeper conversations about the difficult issues around gender and women’s empowerment. Unprecedented behind-the-scenes footage and interviews serve as the centerpiece to this documentary. Taking a fly-on-the-wall approach to provide an honest portrayal of events, Her Turf intentionally departs from the often sensationalized docudrama genre. The footage was captured from 2015-2018 in Denver, CO, Albany, GA, Atlanta, GA, Portland, OR, Houston, TX, San Francisco, CA, and New Orleans, LA. Her Turf was produced on an independent budget, using two- to four-person film crews.
I conducted several email and phone interviews to get a deeper understanding of the process of becoming an official, and how politically charged being a referee is at any level. I knew securing film rights would be tough, but didn’t realize how complicated and nuanced the system was. I worked with several different football conference directors and commissioners across the US as a total outsider. When I did get access, it was limited. I was granted only so much time in the locker room, on the field, and in some cases, had to wait outside until they were done with their crew meeting. Even as I identified and developed relationships with cultural brokers who helped open doors for us to film, access was often ultimately granted by one commissioner at the top of the food chain. Looking back at this experience, I feel profoundly fortunate to have captured the journey of these incredible women. As a first-time director and producer, and I didn’t have a big network backing my project or prestigious awards under my belt, and they still took a chance on me.