Serious about celluloid

Symposium educates women
on breaking into the world of film
Sunday, October 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Warehouse Theatre hasn’t seen anything quite like it before.

After a day of presentations, screenings and a workshop, the leaders and participants of Fem Film, Stephens College’s first women’s film symposium held Oct. 6 and 7, mill and converse in the center of the square building under a tangle of blue and white theater lights. A panel discussion has just wrapped up and another presentation is about to begin.

“All right everyone, if you guys could quiet down just a little bit, please,” says a poised Jessica Gonzalez as she is about to introduce the speaker. The dance and digital filmmaking sophomore at Stephens is responsible for much of what has taken place at Fem Film, which featured five women in film and seven events. Intended to become a yearly symposium, it is yet another concrete step as Stephens expands its education in film and television.

Gonzalez takes a red velour seat near the back, and the stage clears of directors, documentarians and Stephens students — leaving Jennifer Farmer, a script supervisor, director and a Stephens alumna, alone under the lights.

“If you break rules that have been established and succeed, you are innovative and you are fresh,” says Farmer about making it in Hollywood.

On the flip side, she notes that if you fail, people will say you didn’t know what you were doing.

Farmer, who was a script supervisor for a decade in film and network television before turning to film and TV directing, is one of many vocal contributors to the message of this year’s symposium: growing more female directors. As a living testament to the fact that women, even women from a “fly-over state” such as Missouri, can be successful in a business that has traditionally been run by men, the Midwesterner is in a prime position to offer helpful information to the next generation of female directors.

It is women like Farmer who have inspired Gonzalez. The 19-year-old switched first from broadcasting to digital filmmaking and then spent nearly a year putting together this symposium. She hopes to eventually combine her interests in dance and film, possibly through cultural documentarian work.

“I’m very interested in how dance is a part of life in other cultures,” Gonzalez says in a phone interview before the event. She later pointed out that dance often acts as cultural glue during times of hardship and war.

During her talk, Farmer hits on some of the inner struggles of working in film and TV.

“Your integrity — that’s what you bring with you to the business and that’s what you take with you when you leave,” she tells the audience of 30 to 40 people, almost all young women. “If you ever compromise it, it’s really hard to get it back.”

At that, Gonzalez nods. At a reception later, she reiterates how important it is for aspiring directors and filmmakers to hear from an accomplished director that you become successful by sticking to your ethics.

At the close of her talk, Farmer emphasizes the importance of calling “the person who loves you most in the world” and letting that person know you’re truly experiencing your passion.

As it happens, Gonzalez is sitting next to her mother, who later vouches for her daughter’s “time-of-my-life” phone calls home.

Following the “Surviving Success in Hollywood” chat, Farmer, Gonzalez and her mother and other participants cross Broadway and head to the reception in the penthouse of the Stephens library. There, students have the opportunity to talk with Farmer and the other guests informally.

“Things like this is how ‘it’ happens,” says Gonzalez, referring to getting more women into the filmmaking world. Last year, 12 percent of top 40 prime time drama and comedy TV series episodes were directed by women, according to the Directors Guild of America.

By giving young women the opportunity to make connections with working professionals, Gonzalez said she hopes women will have more of an opportunity to tell the stories unique to their experiences.

But they shouldn’t feel limited to telling only their own stories.

“As a woman filmmaker, your films don’t have to be about women’s issues,” says Gonzalez, perhaps thinking about herself. “If you have a dream or an idea, you can make it happen.”

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