USC’s new Feminist MEDIA Festival promotes representation and networking

The filmmaking industry has always been known as an “all-boys club,” but that nickname is something USC’s Women of Cinematic Arts is taking concrete steps to fix it. “Hollywood is often referred to as a ‘male-dominated industry,’ and that’s because the men in power hire their friends, who are also men,” said Sarah Jones, president of WCA.

This is the inaugural year of their Feminist Media Festival, a year-long event that will accept and judge student work, host workshops on a multitude of media-related topics and connect students to a wide network of filmmakers, professors and alumni.

“WCA has been around forever, and we’ve always kind of supported minorities in cinema,” Jones said. “The issue is, we found that we’d be meeting and talking about these issues, which is helpful to understand them, but nothing we did would actually solve them.”

An idea first envisioned last spring by WCA board member Neda Davarpanah, the Feminist Media Festival quickly became, according to Jones, a “collaborative effort” between both WCA’s alumni and student boards. Aided by former President Allison Begalman, Jones and her team worked through the summer to plan the festival.

For WCA, the festival’s emphasis on networking and community building is crucial in making tangible change. It is important to Jones that the festival is embedded “in the context of making content and encouraging people to network and actually [make] solid connections.” This networking mindset also factors into the types of media the festival will accept: Short films, up to eight minutes long, in genres ranging from documentary to narrative to experimental, as well as animated and interactive content. The festival does not, however, accept scripts, a deliberate choice, Jones said. Screenplays are oftentimes written by individuals, and the culture the festival wishes to promote a culture of teamwork and community.

Those who wish to submit projects must first register for the festival, which includes a $5 fee. All work is due by March 1. Half of the team must be female, and projects must encompass the festival’s theme of “Overcoming Adversity,” as well as pass the Bechdel test (i.e. feature two women who are shown discussing something that is not a man).

The workshop portion of the festival is something WCA hopes will focus on both creative and practical aspects of the industry, with topics on gender representation and also life after graduation for film students. Since the workshops will run through spring, WCA plans to structure them based on topic according to what Jones calls the “traditional production structure.” Fall semester will focus on workshops in development, casting and pre-production. As the year progresses, topics will veer toward production and eventually post-production and distribution, following the chronology of a film being made.

The festival is open to students of all genders and fields of study.

“Feminism is everyone’s issue. It’s not just a woman’s issue,” Jones said. “And it’s going to get solved by everyone coming together to address gender representation in media, whether that’s negative representation of women or unrealistic representation of men.”

The opening ceremonies for the Feminist Media Festival will be held on Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ray Stark Family Theater, located in the School of Cinematic Arts complex. The keynote speaker for the event is Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female director (known for WADJDA, 2012), and the night will conclude in a mixer where festival participants can network.