Fiona Dawson is an award winning, director, producer and writer with more than 17 years of public speaking experience. She directed the Emmy®-nominated “Transgender, at War and in Love” commissioned by The New York Times and co-directed the feature length documentary “TransMilitary,” which premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018, won the Best Feature Documentary Audience Award, and had its TV debut on Logo November 15th, 2018. In 2015 Fiona was honored by The White House as an LGBT Artist Champion of Change. She was voted Houston's Female Grand Marshal for the 2009 LGBT Pride Parade, has served on the National Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign, the Board of Directors for NLGJA - The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and is an IFP Documentary Lab Fellow. Fiona lives in Brooklyn, NY where she is founder and director ofFree Lion Productions, which provides soft-skills facilitation, public speaking training & engagements, and media production.
My Goal of the Day: Productively and uneventfully arrive at the Napa Valley Film Festival, California.
My Thought of the Day: It’s Tuesday November 6th, 2018. Let’s manifest Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate today.
My Action of the Day: Vote.
My Deed of the Day:
Deed: Voted. Thankfully Erica texted to say she didn’t forget my ballot.
Good deed: I offered to pay for a woman’s breakfast at the airport when she realized they only took cards and she only had cash. She politely declined and went to get her travel buddy’s card, but I would have happily paid it because I owe a massive debt of “forwards” due to the generosity scores of others have given to me. I wouldn’t be at this film festival today with our documentary “TransMilitary" if it wasn’t for my filmmaking partners Gabe and Jamie or the long, long, list of people who’ve supported and championed me throughout my life. “Paying it Forward” should be a daily deed.
My Tip of the Day: Two Bloody Mary’s, an eye mask and a neck pillow on a six hour flight is the perfect combination for a decent power nap ahead of a formidable yet exhilarating 12 days of travel across the U.S. for a film festival, speaking engagement and team building activity.
My Pic of the Day: View from my hotel room in St. Helena, CA.
What do you love most about Your City?
My neighbors. I live near Prospect Park, Brooklyn and I love how welcomed I feel even though I’m a British, immigrant-transplant, and there are families who have lived here for decades or more. The craziness and opportunity of Manhattan is just a 30 minute subway ride away, but I love how I can walk within a two-block radius and reach everything I need without having to dodge people. And I can knock on my neighbor Jo’s door (whose family has lived in their same apartment for 60+ years) and pop in for a chat.
Last night in her living room Jo was straightening my hair (I’m useless with a flat-iron) and knowing our political views dramatically differ I asked her if she was going to vote the next day. She asked me where the polling station was. Although I was surprised and relieved she didn’t know, I truthfully told her “It’s across the street.” But realizing she’d cancel out my vote I jokingly said, “It’s okay, Jo. You just stay home tomorrow! You don’t need to go vote.” She playfully threw me a jab and adamantly said her and her sister were voting tomorrow. I groaned at the thought and we both laughed! As someone who travels a ton, I’m really grateful to have such a familial relationship with my neighbors next door; it makes me feel like I actually have a home. And I’m thankful that we’re able to love each other mutually, even if one of us is terrified of “the caravan” and the other is quite the opposite.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
I have a new favorite! Brunch at “Couleur Cafe” (7th & 15th, Brooklyn) last Sunday was DELICIOUS! I had the crepe filled with smoked salmon and a dill crème fraîche, served with a side of arugula. It was light on the crème fraîche and heavy on the salmon — just the right balance! Washed down with a mimosa, it was a perfect meal.
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – Having had a shower, I’m toning and moisturizing my face, listening to NPR and wondering how much the Uber ride will be to Newark airport this morning. I’m also hoping Democrats turn out to vote today and feeling very satisfied that my absentee ballot arrived yesterday in time to complete and leave with my roommate, Erica, to hand in to the Board of Elections, as I’ll be gone.
10:00 AM - I arrived at Newark airport in plenty of time, thank goodness, as I had to check a bag (with 12 days worth of clothes, shoes and toiletries — I won’t be home until November 17th) and the security line was insane; especially for 7:30am. Rather than pay twenty-something bucks for a breakfast sandwich, I ordered an “Egg and Cheese Boli” to go, promising myself not to eat all of that dough. I’d scrape out the egg and cheese and only eat the dough immediately surrounding. We boarded on time at 8:10am, but rather than taking off at the scheduled 9am we crawled in a line of 40 planes for an hour to reach the runway.
I made the most of still having connectivity by reading and responding to emails — for example, replying to a request to screen our feature documentary “TransMilitary,” with the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs; thanking a donor for their consideration of our latest grant proposal, but acknowledging that they said no; and sending the press release of “TransMilitary’s” TV debut on the Logo channel (Nov. 15th, 2018) to a journalist friend for potential coverage.
I also amused myself by texting with a few of my best friends — a Master Chief in the Navy who works on Command Climate/Sexual Assault Cases and significantly helped towards the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; a dynamic woman running a political campaign in Missouri, wondering if she’s successfully worked herself out of a job today; and a gay “brother-from-another-mother,” to whom I donated my eggs (yes, my biological, self-made eggs) back in 2009.
Over on Facebook, I posted my favorite “Don’t Boo. Vote” Obama gif along with my encouragement for everyone, regardless of political party, to vote today. I believe voting is a civic duty, a human right, and it’s the reason why I became an American citizen in 2008.
Almost at 10am on the dot, I switched my phone to airplane mode and looked out of the window to the pouring rain as our wheels went up, feeling happy to be on my way.
12:00 PM - Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
I’m now two hours into a six hour flight from New York to San Francisco. I was self-disciplined and cut off large chunks of the dough surrounding the egg and cheese in the Boli, and still feel satisfied. About an hour ago the flight attendants offered us in Economy Plus a complimentary hot breakfast. I’d forgotten United does that for this flight path and I immediately thought what a waste in buying a breakfast boli. But when I realized both options had meat and I’m a pescatarian (2011 vegetarian, 2013 vegan, 2014 pescatarian) I was pleased with my decision. Getting something meat-free and decent to eat on a plane is hard.
At some point I’ll have a Bloody Mary on this long flight— because I need the goodness of tomato juice, of course ;) Don’t worry, I’m sucking down the water too.
7:00 PM - So I’m now on Pacific time. It’s actually 10pm where I started off this morning in Brooklyn. I got to the hotel where the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) is putting me up, and I’m feeling incredibly lucky and privileged to be accommodated in such luxury. My colleagues Director Gabriel Silverman, Producer Jamie Coughlin, and I were one of a handful of filmmaking teams chosen for the NVFF Artists-in-Residence (AIR) program. Our film “TransMilitary" will screen three times and we will get to participate in mentorship/training Master Classes for two days of the festival.
As I get ready for the evening I have the news playing and it seems that Democrats have indeed won the House, but not the Senate. From a diversity perspective it’s great that so many women, LGBTQ and people of color have been elected into Congress.
I’m excited and eager to learn everything I can over the next week through the classes, and conversations with other filmmakers and industry executives. But right now I’m running out of the door wearing one of my favorite black cocktail dresses and a fabulous pair of shoes to schmooze at the “Meet the Artists Reception,” at Caldwell Snyder Gallery, St Helena, California.
11:00 PM - Ugh. 2am Eastern. I’m just getting to bed in this beautiful hotel. The reception was fun and it was great to meet up with my filmmaking buddies Gabe and Jamie, and meet others from the AIR program.
The best part of traveling East to West from a productivity perspective is that on day one I typically wake up bright and early no matter what time I went to bed the night before. Waking up three hours behind most of the people I communicate with has its pros and cons, but at least I know I’ll easily make the 9am class in the morning even if I’m behind on emails and news.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
I’m a coffee snob. I grind my beans and make a carafe (French Press) of coffee every morning. And yes, I drink the entire 12-cup carafe by 10am. Even this morning when I got up at 5:30am I used the beans I’d ground the night before (so as not to wake my roommates) and drank half as I was getting ready, and enjoyed the remainder in the Uber to the airport. That to-go mug will now have to travel with me for 12 days from NYC>San Francisco>Napa>San Francisco>LA>Minneapolis>DC>NYC. This is typical of my life.
Around noon I switch to a non-caffeinated hot tea such as chamomile, mint or mango as I need to stay hydrated but I find it much easier to drink a hot beverage than cold. I can’t stand ice in my drinks because of a) growing up in the U.K. and b) having particularly sensitive teeth. I’ll aim for three or more mugs of tea and then by 7pm I’m enjoying a gimlet (gin & lime), a Blue Moon beer, or a wine or two. Rose or white in the summer and a robust red in the cooler months.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Needs to be most used apps for me… Uber, Waze, Google Maps, United, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook. I’m constantly on the go and the travel apps make my life so much easier. Plus, my family and I love each other dearly, but are spread apart across the world. My Dad and sister are in the U.K., my brother is in New Zealand and I’m in the States. We all share a family thread on WhatsApp, which keeps us connected over the timezones and distance. I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually talked less if we were in the same countries.
Regarding social, I’m an old school Facebook person really, although it’s more of a glorified address book. However, being on the road can become lonely so sharing things, seeing what others are up to, and engaging in dialogue within that bubble/echo chamber adds to my day. But I’m realistic about what Facebook is not.
My IG is @fionajdawson and I enjoy sharing photos and checking in on others, but I don’t follow any account avidly enough to say I have a favorite. Btw, I really don’t like and I’m completely inept at Twitter. So embarrassing.
What should everyone try at least once?
Spending a day on a nudist beach. In 2017 I turned 40 years old and went to Sint Maarteen with two friends and my girlfriend at the time (I’m bisexual, btw). We four had a blast! On my actual birthday, July 31, we spent the day butt naked on a nudist beach. It was my first time and I found it incredibly liberating. My friend Jonathan and I swam out, naked, to a raft where I taught him how to dive. Naked. Not that I dive differently naked than with a bathing suit on, although I think Jonathan could have benefited from some speedos :).
We all mustered the courage to walk along the shoreline to the beach bar, naked. And ordered drinks, naked. We talked and made friends with other patrons, naked. A moment of hilarity came when we realized a woman we were chatting with was celebrating her birthday too. Now usually if I met someone on July 31 with a birthday like mine I’d give them a massive hug, but because we were both naked we enthusiastically shook hands instead.
That day, and turning 40, extraordinarily released a weight of body shame I’ve carried for so long and left me feeling confident and empowered to embrace the remainder of my decades ahead. It was spontaneous and just what I needed.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
On a plane with a pen and my journal. Writing significantly helps me process my feelings, and check-in with my head and my heart. I love a quality pen and paper — my current tools are a bright red moleskin notebook and a pen my Master Chief friend gave me from the White House. I just hope no-one reads what I write, lol!