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Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking facilitates conversation with change makers

Industry magazine Variety published its “Top 10 Directors to Watch for in 2017,” and there’s no surprise that only one in five of those directors are women. And although the Celluloid Ceiling has reported a 2 percent increase in 2015 in women in the film industry, from directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers, there is still a lot of work to be done.

This month, Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking (HWF) took part of the Hawaiian Media Makers Conference to facilitate a conversation on current media practices that work to promote more women in media production. HWF Founder and Executive Director Vera Zambonelli moderated the panel “Changing the Narrative: Women in Media,” in which she and panelists discussed what is happening in the film industry that is producing this positive change and how it could be replicated. Guest panelists were Debra Zimmerman (Executive Director of Women Make Movies), Georgiana Lee (Assistant director of Vision Maker Media), and Wendy Levy (Executive Director of National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture).

As Vera said in her opening, the panel was not thought as a platform to focus on the negative. We all know that there is gender inequity in the film industry, but what can be done about it? In assembling the panel, the goal was to share the collective knowledge of what is currently working and what we would like to see more for women and girls in the industry.

“A lot of people are doing amazing work” said Vera, “and sometimes this work does not receive as much attention.” Then, she added, “Certainly more needs to be done, but a collective knowledge of who’s doing what may inspire someone else to reproduce that where they are, granted the local and place-based adjustments needed.”

Collaboration, mentorships and supporting one another and the desire to make change, was the consensus on what was working to move the industry forward.

Georgiana Lee emphasized networking and getting your name out.

“Collaboration is huge. Networking is huge. Plant the seeds sooner rather than later,” Georgiana said. “Surround yourself with mentors who understand your message.” She said that, as an aspiring filmmaker, you’ll face rejection many times, but that first acceptance will be amazing.

“Men oftentimes have a woman producer. She’s taking care of everything behind the scenes,” said Debra Zimmerman. “It is very rare that you see a man sitting at the table by himself as the producer/director. It is very frequent that you see a woman who is the producer and the director… We have to start believing that our projects are worthy. That we are worthy to have onboard as the producer to help us get our visions made if we’re a director. If you’re a producer, take your skills to help a woman director.”

But it is also very important to increase the numbers of women in the industry as a whole.

Wendy Levy said that although having more directors in Hollywood is important, that’s not the only thing. There is a whole ecosystem in the industry that needs to evolve. We have the statistics, Wendy points out that we need to look at those numbers and take it further. We need to create conditions where women’s stories can rise up. We need to make the ascent of women’s voices easier, she said.

“Not everybody wants to be a director in Hollywood and we need to make sure that those pathways are open to be able to tell stories independently, to be able to start your own artist collectives,” Wendy said.

Debra pointed out that there are several initiatives aside from Vision Maker Media, Women Make Movies and the NAMAC, are doing their part to help close the gender inequity gap. Sweden, in 2011, launched a five-year campaign to improve the conditions for women in media. Within three years, more women had received more jobs, funding and won more awards than men.

In Canada, the campaign “2xMore” was launched. Its goal is to double the number of Canadian women directing screen-based media on all platforms.

The Producers Guild of America and Women and Hollywood launched a new web site with solely female-driven content,

According to the web site, “The conundrum is that while women working on both sides of the camera are severely underrepresented, market data for movies and television dramatically supports the fact that female-driven content is profitable.”

Therefore, the web site consists of a toolkit for women to use as a resource to break into the industry.

Locally, the panelists praised HWF and our partner Pacific Islanders in Communications for our work in fostering aspiring filmmakers.

Among all the things that are happening, Debra believed that passion is so important; that passion is key to getting your project done. Having the passion will motivate you to make the connections and get the important mentorships.

“Who you think can help you, approach them, a funder who you really believe is the perfect funder, and then go for it,” Debra said.

For Wendy, she said she is excited for the rise of women in media. There are more women in top positions than before and she hopes that trend will continue.

“Let’s do more of that,” she said. “Let’s make sure women are always at the table and that we have a commitment and a conviction to mentor one another.”

If you’d like to watch the whole panel, you can access the Olelo broadcast here:

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