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Stephens strives to get women working in film

October 3, 2013

Before the Citizen Jane Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, more than one reporter asked Director Paula Elias why we need a festival featuring all female filmmakers.
It’s simple. The entertainment industry is lagging behind other industries when it comes to gender equality. Of the top 250 domestic grossing films made in 2012, women accounted for 9 percent of all directors, according to a report from Celluloid Ceiling.
“This is an industry based on confidence, and women haven’t felt as confident because culturally they have no representation in the profession,” said Kerri Yost, director of programming.
Predominately male film schools and the notion that women could not handle elaborate equipment contributed to the problem, keeping many would-be female filmmakers away.
Enter Stephens College.
For nearly a decade, the Digital Filmmaking program at Stephens has been giving young women the chance to explore all aspects of the industry—the production, lighting, audio, editing and directing. The program culminates with seniors creating their own short films from start to finish.
So what do you get from a woman with a camera that you might not get from a man? An entirely new way of looking at things.
Assistant Professor Chase Thompson predicts moviegoers will start seeing those types of innovative ideas when more women are put in charge.
“We need a fresh perspective,” he said. “Everything we’re seeing now, they’re all remakes of the same old story told again and again from the same perspective. We need to get cameras in the hands of women.”  The digital filmmaking program at Stephens began in 2004, but it has deep roots on the Stephens campus. Women have been working in the two large Patricia Barry studios on campus for decades, previously as part of mass media and broadcast journalism programs.
Digital filmmaking was born out of the College’s goal to keep up with changing market trends and a desire to send more females into a growing industry that wields a lot of influence.
“Stephens is always focused on careers, and we’re small and nimble enough to adapt to changing times,” Yost said. “We started the digital filmmaking program strategically. We reaffirmed the women’s college mission, and there aren’t enough women in film. Our mission is to get more women in front of and behind the camera.”
Because the program was built for the times, Stephens was one of the early programs to adopt digital technologies.
“Others have tried to evolve with the industry, and some are now scrambling to get everything digitized,” Yost said. “We went digital early, and that was a smart decision.”
But while technology allows anyone to film from anywhere in the world, mid-Missouri isn’t exactly a mecca for moviemaking. That’s why Stephens launched the Citizen Jane Lecture Series alongside the major. The series brings women working in the film and television industry to campus, allowing students to see career potential and make connections in the field.
Again, Stephens proved to be ahead of her time: A study earlier this year from the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles found that mentorship is crucial if show business is going to achieve equity.
As an extension of the lecture program, Stephens in 2008 launched the Citizen Jane Film Festival, a three-day festival showcasing the works of female filmmakers from around the world. What started as a symposium has nearly doubled every year since and is now a full-blown festival, giving women a chance to screen and discuss their works.
“Citizen Jane Film Festival does a good job of championing the idea that women’s voices are powerful and need to be represented,” Thompson said. For students, here are people—women like them—doing what they want to do and showing them it’s not just a hobby.”

At Stephens, digital film faculty members don’t just teach filmmaking, they make films. Yost has directed several documentaries that have received national recognition. Thompson’s short film, “Threshold,” received a nod at an international film festival earlier this year—and he was back on set this summer with a new feature project. Assistant Professor Steph Borklund, the most recent addition to the team, spent the summer working on her new short film, “I Am One,” co-produced by Assistant Creative Writing Professor Kate Berneking Kogut.
“It is imperative for our digital film faculty to be working filmmakers,” Borklund said. “The digital filmmaking world changes so rapidly—new cameras, new codes, new recording formats. Being working filmmakers helps us relate to the students. We understand the stress and complications that go with making a film.”

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