By: Audrey Larcher
Three hours away from Lincoln, Caitlin Ward is doing her job. Most Austinites do not consider rural Nebraska their work environment, and can only imagine traveling there for a gig at a state park. Young people in this city don’t typically spend weeks out of state with Nick Offerman, on the set of a fictional crime scene, doing what they love. But that’s what Caitlin Ward is doing — her job.
Ward is a creative of various mediums who found a home in film, and is establishing herself in both local and national scenes. A recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio-Television-Film program, Ward offers versatile skills to every set she steps foot on; she writes, directs, and (most often) designs. With tendrils in every part of the filmmaking process, Ward is a femme filmmaker to pay attention to.
Ward’s projects are diverse in plot, mood. But every film Ward contributes to is crisp with color. Watching Ward’s influence often feels like stepping inside a painter’s workshop, whole lives and stories brought into life with light and shape. She was initially interested in art forms other than film, which shines through in her work.
“I've always loved music and have been playing various instruments since I was six years old, but my favorite part of playing was making up stories in my head about what was happening in the song,” Ward illustrated. “I definitely think I felt an affinity toward visual art before film, I just didn't realize it because I've never been particularly good at drawing or painting. I also read all the time, and the same thing happens - I see all these little flashes of stories in my head. And once I realized I can take these things in my head that I don't have the talent to transfer to paper, and put it all physically in front of a camera, something clicked for me.”
These interconnecting relationships between different art forms is what makes Ward’s work so effective in a larger project. The various shades and schemes present in her work evoke different, unique emotions specific to a clear goal in every plot line. She understands when to complement, when to scream, when to laugh.
"Cardinal" is evidence of Ward’s manipulation of color in storytelling. The short film, depicting a child’s desire to explore femininity in a culture of suffocating masculinity, makes use out of deep and dramatic makeup. Closeup shots of lipstick and eyeshadow application transform what many consider a daily routine into an inspiring, personal process. The camera transforms blues and reds into a communication of majesty and confidence, engendering awe and admiration for the character. The narrative stems from some of Ward’s personal struggles with the gender binary.
“I hated being ‘lady-like’ as a kid. I resented having to wear dresses and being separated on sports teams and being given pink things and always expected to act a certain way because I was a ‘girl.’ Attending a private Catholic school made these behaviors even more rigidly enforced – I wasn't allowed to wear pants more than one day a week according to uniform. And despite resenting all those expectations and feeling out of place, I did, and still do, identify as female, so I can only imagine how hard it must be for children who do not identify with their biological gender. Having to learn and navigate the expectations of society while also discovering who you are as someone who does not fit those very expectations is an incredibly alienating experience, and that ended up being the story I wanted to tell.”
Ward may not always incorporate her experiences into story lines or production design, but her identity as a feminist filmmaker permeates her goals as an artist. As a woman in the film industry, she’s witnessed disparities between artists first hand and seeks to highlight experiences that don’t always grace the big screens. Just as her portfolio showcases a diversity of stories and styles, Ward values stepping into multiple perspectives to attack every angle of the creative process. Her studies in anthropology prompt her to look beyond immediate surroundings and consider different narratives within her films.
“I want to be an artist that uses my position in the world to amplify voices that have been unheard. And above all, I want to be relatable and accessible and avoid being aloof and pretentious at all costs. I'm ready for a more diverse group of storytellers to take over the film industry and I aim to be one of them.”