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Girls Making Media That Matters Film Fest!

It is officially the last night of Making Media That Matters and I have arrived early to Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH Manoa to help set up. I love this place and am thrilled that Vera chose it for our final evening together. I greeted some of the staff and took my place at the registration table, where we were signing in guests! I met members of the board, who were each so gracious and willing to lend a helping hand. I sat down and got to work taking names and greeting our guests. The MMTM participants starting trickling in with caregivers, Mom, Dads, uncles and aunties; some with excitable little brothers or sisters in tow. I hugged each of them, already feeling sad that the end was near. Some of the students were excited, some were nervous, and some were calm as can be, like they show their own personal feature films on the daily. :)

As the space grew louder with more and more voices, some of our staff were interviewing the students about their experience. Popcorn had been placed at the entrance (I mean who watches movies without popcorn, right?!?!) and I happily munched alongside a few of our participants as I waited for the show to begin. Kaiwipuni (Punihei) Lipe, the HWF Vice-President of the board welcomed the audience giving a beautiful Oli and then provided us with a brief history of Kamakakūokalani. She spoke lovingly about the powerful mana present and told us that the Halau we were in has the name of the Hawaiian goddess and ancestor: Haumea. This brief historical and place-based introduction seemed so extremely fitting for our program. Next, Cindy Spencer, one of board directors, took the stage to give a hearty mahalo and acknowledgement to our donors - all of the foundations and nonprofits and in-kind donations that make Making Media That Matters possible. Tai-an Miao, the treasurer of the board, took the stage and spoke about our upcoming campaign (Please watch our video and donate HERE !) to raise funds for, and awareness about, our upcoming Summer Reel Camps for Girls*, then she introduced Vera.

Vera spoke about our Making Media That Matters program and how we each learned from one another, always with the intention of making media that is important to the participants, the audience, and the world. She said a special mahalo to each staff member and the work that they contributed, but her last statement was probably the truest and most simplistic: "This is ultimately not about me or the staff, however, but about the films and the students." Indeed.

From there we transitioned to viewing our first film! I couldn't wait to see the final products! Two of our film mentors, Elliana and Sam, came up to introduce the film Nameless, by CAPS Productions. Nameless is a film about a young homeless girl with big dreams that has a desire to be free. The first opening notes of the chosen film score echoed throughout the space, and the beginning shot was a close up of the little girl's eyes (the young girl in the movie was portrayed by one of our own students). I found myself suddenly completely overcome with emotion and my eyes welled up. My mind flashed back to the beginning of this program and how well I've gotten to know these amazing teenagers. I thought about how much planning, time, and effort they put into each film...and here it had finally come together. I kind of laughed inwardly to myself at my emotional response, but also thought about how lucky I am to be part of something that moves me in such a profound way. I was impressed with the composition of this film...the way the team used light, camera angles, and effects to draw the audience in. The film began with images of a young girl, happily talking about the dreams she has for herself. It showed her playing, swinging, and running freely. Then it abruptly cuts to "reality" and the little girl is homeless, crying and clearly in some trauma-induced state, being held by an older woman that is trying to help her. The filmmakers from CAPS Productions were called up to the stage after the movie aired, for a quick Q&A with the audience. Here were some of the questions asked and answered:

  • What inspired this particular theme? The director, Liti, answered that she has had a long-held a passion for children, and thinks that overcoming poverty is incredibly difficult. She wanted to show the audience that even homeless children have dreams.

  • How was it to act in the film? Our student actor, Bella, answered that she had fun, but that it took her awhile to feel comfortable. Our film mentor, Elliana, was also an actress in the film. She responded that because she is a filmmaker, she is much more comfortable behind a camera, but that she too loosened up and enjoyed herself.

  • What were the challenges to making this film? Imiloa, the DP and camerawoman, stated that the group had to move locations on the second day of shooting and start all over. This was frustrating because they lost so much footage from the first day.

  • What was it like to learn about and operate sound on a film? Siena, the sound person, answered that It was weird to hear everything super loud, "like a dog" (this gave the audience a good chuckle). She could even be completely across the street with the equipment and still hear the group loud and clear.

To watch Nameless, click here!

The next group was introduced by another one of our amazing film mentors, Talissa. This film was entitled Cutouts by Body Positive Productions, and is the story of a young girl that is struggling with body image and confidence problems. She is so haunted by her self-esteem issues that magazine cutouts actually "chase" her down the street. The film opened with a teenage girl, asleep in her bedroom with a magazine across her face. Cutouts of slim, airbrushed models line the wall above her bed. As she awakens and begins to get ready, she painfully looks in the mirror; pinching her hips, looking at herself disapprovingly, and applying loads of makeup before leaving. As she walks down the street, the magazine cutouts seem to "chase" her and haunt her to the point where she feels she cannot escape. The final scene portrays her drawing images and posting them next to the cutouts on her wall. I was impressed by the chances this group took in making their film...many difficult special effects were added to portray emotion and to set the tone of the film convincingly. When the film ended, the team was called to the stage for a Q&A with the audience. Some of the questions and answers were:

  • What was your inspiration for the film? The director, Kyung Ju, stated that because the group is made up of all girls, they have all experienced some form of negative self-image and unhealthy body image. She went on to state that because they could all relate to those feelings, they were all passionate about this project and wanted to make a film that portrayed it.

  • What was your inspiration for the scene that had different colored lights flashing? Kyung Ju answered that they used a projector to flash different colors. The idea was to convey a feeling of chaos. They wanted to represent what women go through, mentally. Kyung Ju artfully stated, "When you say, 'self-image issues,' it's not physically seeable, but it's still a very real, painful thing. We wanted to show how stressful it is."

  • As the only actress, did you feel pressure? The actress, Sequoia, answered that even though it was stressful at times, everyone got along really well and she just tried to do what she thought was best for the scene, and what the director told her to do. She stated that it was an experience she was glad to have.

  • What was it like to be a set designer and manager? The set manager, Maya, answered that she had to be extremely observant with the sets. She stated that figuring out how to make a bedroom in our film space was a challenge, and that she had to get creative to do so, like taking a stack of books to cover an outlet for a scene.

To watch Cutouts, click here!

We then had a brief intermission and some of the staff showed a "mockumentary" entitled Overqualified that they had filmed and created as a surprise for the staff and audience. The film hilariously showed some of our film mentors behaving completely inappropriately and acting disastrously inept at filmmaking. It was hysterical and such a surprise for all of us! :)

To watch Overqualified, click here! The 3rd group was introduced by our film mentors Carter and Noa. The film was called Superdead and was made by Mote Productions. It is a comedic spy movie about two friends that try to steal a thumb drive with what they suspect is incriminating evidence, but are surprised when they find what it actually contains. The film begins with two friends sipping on shakes or slurpees, when they are interrupted by a strange ("evil") girl that threatens them with the data she has on her thumb drive. The two friends decide to break into her house to steal it and hijinks ensue. They are shocked to discover that the thumb drive is actually a love note from the "evil" girl to the other girl and the whole plan was an elaborate ruse to ask her out. The girl is pleased and they make a date. There is a purposeful herky-jerky quality to the film that is charming and reminiscent of a comedic comic-book film. The film is witty and sarcastic and dialogue-heavy.

The group is called onstage for their Q&A. Before any questions are asked, the director quips, " We're really honored to be here presenting at Sundance..." and the audience erupts into laughter. :) There are only two students in this group, so the movie was co-wrote and each of them played many roles in the making of this film. Some of the questions asked and answered were:

  • What made you decide to make this film a comedy? The director, Audrey, explained that they poured their "essence" into this film. "If you want to know my sense of humor," she stated, "just watch this." She explained that they wanted to make it sarcastic and light, and throw some meta stuff in there, also. Diza, her partner, also answered that memes were a guiding source of comedy for their film.

  • How did you come up with this concept and how did you integrate the concept into the film? Audrey stated that because this program is about making media that matters, a lot of time was spent refining topics that the students care about. When it came down to choosing, they both picked "heteronormativity." She explained that they wanted to throw the plot twist into the end to bust through the heteronormative boundaries that rule most films. She also stated that because she is homosexual, she wanted to see herself represented in media. Diza added that most films that contain gay characters usually have sad or depressing story lines, or the story is all about their gayness, so they wanted to make something satirical and light to normalize it.

  • What was your favorite part of making the film? Audrey answered that it was amazing to watch everything they wrote being acted out, because she's wanted to make this film for a long time. Diza noted that when editing, she noticed many little editing mistakes that ended up "making" the film and actually making it funnier.

To watch Superdead, click here.

The 4th and final film was introduced by film mentors Lisette and Elliana. It is called Reflected and was produced by The Dudettes. It is a story about Taylor, a young girl that is struggling with having a positive body image. She finally decides to walk away from the negative influence of her peers and appreciate who she really is. The film shows a group of girls, crowded around a bathroom mirror, putting on makeup and talking about how they look. Each girl takes a turn saying something negative about her own body, while Taylor decides not to participate. She gets frustrated and leaves. Later, while walking down the street, she hears her friends' voices echoing in her mind and stops to look at her reflection in a store window. She then puts on her headphones and starts to dance in the street. She runs into her friends (from the bathroom scene) and they look at her like she's out of her mind because she's dancing. She dances away and goes home to write "I am beautiful" on a post-it. She places the post-it on her mirror. The group is called to the stage for their Q&A. Here are some of the questions and answers:

  • What inspired you to make this film? Kayla, the director, stated that she has witnessed firsthand how the negative messages from society can harm a teenage girl and put pressure on her to look or act a certain way. And if you don't look or act the way you're expected to, you won't be accepted. She she wanted to make a film that would show, "The best way to be accepted is to love yourself for who you are."

  • What was it like being the Assistant Director or Director of Photography? Sirena, the assistant director, answered that there were some challenges. For example, there was another group filming in the same space and they had to keep taking turns. Kauʻa, the director of photography, remarked that she learned you really need to have steady hands for camera work.

  • Where did Taylor find herself and what was that internal shift or character arc? Kayla answered that it began when Taylor was walking down the sidewalk and saw her reflection. She started to realize that she doesn't need a flatter stomach or skinnier neck to be happy. She thinks to herself, "I'm just gonna do me and dance in the middle of the street and eat some chips!" :)

  • What kind of audience are you hoping for? Sirena and Kauʻa answered, "Young girls, teenage girls, or other girls or guys that might struggle with these same issues."

To watch Reflected, click here! As the last crew left the stage, both Vera and Punihei thanked everyone for coming to view our amazing students films and for supporting us. Vera concluded with the story of the "Magic Feminist Wand." A few weeks ago, she asked the girls to write down what they would do if they had a magic feminist wand. She read the answers aloud: “put indigenous womenʻs voices at the forefront; Provide interned and educational resources to all; get rid of the gender wage gap; Make men and white people compassionate and more apt to listen to the struggles of women and people of color. And join us in the fight for equality! End trans hate; Right to their own bodies; Make happiness; Everyone takes feminist discussions seriously; STOP discouraging women + girls from doing jobs that are ʻtraditionally for guysʻ (#Film) trust me, WE CAN HANDLE!” and then concluded by telling the students that they do not need a magic wand, THEY are the magic wand. They can use media to wield their feminist wands and make the world a better place. "Learn more about films, make more films that matter, and show the world what you can actually do!" she exclaimed, and that was the end of our program. :)

I cannot thank you enough for following along with our journey this season. We so appreciate you reading and supporting our students and staff. I have had so much fun getting to know these kids and their incredible creativity, their passions, and their stories. Girls and women have MUCH to overcome, in media and in every corner of the world; but I am confident that with programs and youth like these, we're one step closer to equality and equity, and to hearing the ever-important stories that need to be told. Mahalo nui loa for being a part of the adventure.

2016 Spring Making Media That Matters program was organized by Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking and made possible thanks to the extremely generous support of NoVo Foundation, Atherton Family Foundation, Hawai‘i People’s Fund, and the in-kind donations of the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, ʻŌlelo Kaimuki Community Media Center, Hawaiʻi Camera, and Samurai, Inc.

*Since 2012, our Summer Reel Camps for Girls have worked towards redressing gender inequity in the film industry by increasing the number of girls (cis, trans, non-binary) behind the camera, and giving them the tools to create media from their perspectives.

During the camps, participants learn about media literacy and develop film and critical-thinking skills. The camps provide a platform for girls to tell their stories and be agents of social change through film. At the Basic Reel camp, the girls learn storytelling, camera, lighting, audio, and editing. Then, they break into small production teams with a mentor to create a short film. For the Advanced camp, each participant pitches an original story on the first day and four films are selected to be produced during the camp. In the 2D Animation camp, the girls develop stories and images through drawings. During the Stop Motion camp, they create animated films using paint, clay, puppets, objects or people.

To register to the camps, click here!

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