Film & Television

Crossing the Hollywood Gender Divide

Now the father of a 14-year-old daughter, Janko’s even more interested in the female journey, not to mention terribly concerned about gender inequality and age discrimination.

“I never want my child to feel the need to alter or hide who she is—whenever she is. Year by the Sea is very much about embracing every stage of life,” he adds. “And no one should ever feel they’ve outlived their usefulness.”

Amen, sis . . . I mean, brotha.

His movie centers largely on the friendship between Joan Anderson and the woman who became her mentor, Joan Erikson. She was the wife of Erik Erikson—a.k.a. Mr. Identity Crisis—who defined the eight psychosocial cycles of life. After Erik died, his widow, Joan, developed a new ninth stage, unveiling how people in the final cycle are still developing. Her book was published when she was in her 90s, just as Joan Anderson’s first memoir was being published in her 50s.

 “Erikson’s life cycles are woven into the screenplay because I wanted to represent every stage. And while men play important roles, they’re all supporting. My main characters are women, three of them over 60.”  (The film stars Karen Allen, Celia Imrie, and S. Epatha Merkerson in the main roles.)

Talk about aging in. . .

Yet it’s clear that Janko empathizes with the husband in the story (played by Michael Cristofer), who had stopped taking risks and was afraid of change. “After I left Hollywood, the door slammed shut,” says Janko. “It took me a few years to realize I’d walked out on a career that was beginning to peak. As a result, I was forced to ask myself some tough questions.

“It’s human nature to fear change,” he adds, “but I’ve also experienced the growth that occurs when one moves through it.”

It’s this philosophy, I realize—coupled with a desire to honor the women in his life—that compels him to birth this movie.

Finally, I’m beginning to understand.

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Hollywood studios aren’t always so understanding, however, and Janko was repeatedly told by many of them that his film was too small. Determined to make the film, he financed the movie independently through crowdfunding and equity investment, for an audience he feels is way underserved.

 “Women in the middle are often discarded,” Janko says, “just when they’re hitting their prime—both in their life roles as well as in entertainment. I fervently believe the world’s a better place when we’re in touch with our feminine energy. It is, after all, our creative source. As an artist, I feel I can understand this as much as any man possibly can.”

As Year By the Sea hits the festival circuit, audiences have enthusiastically embraced the film and its director. “So many women have been touched by Joan’s story,” Janko says. “Men, too. I think it’s because she grants us permission to relish ourselves and embrace our journeys.”


Year by the Sea, written, directed, and composed by Alexander Janko, is screening at the 2016 Newport Beach Film Festival starting on April 25.  For more information about the film and its screening schedule, visit

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. April 20, 2016 at 8:28 am

    I can certainly understand the impetus to ” “take a sabbatical to find herself. I think it’s something all women should have the chance to do, even if just for a weekend.” Where is my weekend?