Transitioning into the Zoom era, USC’s Women of Cinematic Arts, a student organization for female and gender nonconforming students, hosted its fifth annual and first virtual Feminist Media Festival on Saturday. The club recognized the achievements of these gender minorities at USC and welcomed a variety of women in the entertainment industry to several panels, workshops and a private networking event.
The festival began with an opening ceremony featuring Ashley Strumwasser, vice president of film and television at Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine.
After an hour-long Q&A with guests, Strumwasser, a USC alumna, commented on how impressive the considerably new Feminist Media Festival is.
“This is so great that you guys are doing this, and you’re already farther along than I ever was when I was at USC,” she said. “I love seeing all the female empowerment, and that you guys are all working together in this way to do something bigger than just yourself, so thank you.”
A panel on breaking into the entertainment industry followed, featuring USC alumnae who have quickly built up extensive experience in diverse realms of the entertainment industry. Then, workshops followed with several established guests offering hands-on help to students focused on either comedy writing and producing or short film writing.
Mia Young, a sophomore majoring in cinema and media studies, attended the comedy writing workshop and met Shannon Hardy, an executive assistant at Fuzzy Door Entertainment.
“She gave us so much valuable information, and I’m just really lucky that I get to go to these kinds of events and hear from such talented and accomplished alumni,” Young said.
WCA’s second panel focused on women in underrepresented fields, which led to a conversation surrounding the amount of women on set, women in animation and a lack of on-screen representation. Then, an exclusive networking event gave students an opportunity to make connections with industry professionals in a casual environment. Next, a third panel began and focused on the writer’s room, with several USC alumnae sharing their experiences as women in the writer’s room in particular.
Panelist Alex Ovadia, a writer for “Tosh.0,” offered some advice to the writers in attendance.
“It’s important to just keep meeting people and then take initiative as much as you can, and just be cool,” she said. “Plenty of people work really hard, but have a bad attitude and don’t get asked to be on the next show, and plenty of people are awesome, and don’t work very hard, and also don’t get asked to the next show.”
Finally, all guests virtually reconvened for the screening of film submissions to the Feminist Media Festival. Script and game submissions were made accessible in advance, so guests could browse through those beforehand.
After the screening and a brief presentation from the Women of Cinematic Arts alumni group, the closing ceremony commenced. There were over 35 submissions to the Feminist Media Festival, which led to 10 film finalists and 10 other media finalists, which comprised screenplays and games. Cinema and Media Studies Professor Anikó Imre, Animation and Media Arts and Practice Professor Kathy Smith, Business of Cinematic Arts Assistant Dean Bonnie Chi and Director of USC Game Innovation Lab Tracy Fullerton acted as the official judges.
The event awarded eight artists of underrepresented genders through four categories: Other Media for Intersectionality award, Short Film for Intersectionality award, Best Other Media and Best Film.
The Other Media for Intersectionality award was taken home by Madison Lin, a junior majoring in film and television production, for her script “Red.”
The Intersectionality Award for Short Film was taken home by Ji Lee, a junior majoring in film and television production, for her film “On the Way To.”
“A Yemeni” by Alyssa Amer, a graduate student studying film and television production, won first prize for Best Other Media, while the game “Operator” by Jasmine Persephone Jupiter, a graduate student studying game and interactive media design, took second and “La Madre Monte” by Sara Boivin, a senior majoring in writing for screen and television, took third.
“Be Full By Apocalypse” by Kayla Cao, a junior majoring in film and television production, won Best Film, while “Cool Girl Music Video” by Destinee McCaster, a sophomore majoring in film and television production, came in second and “TO FEEL A BODY” by Justine Ellen Chen, a senior majoring in film and television production, came in third.
Festival coordinator Carina Williamson, a sophomore majoring in cinema and media studies, had been preparing for the Feminist Media Festival since May 2020.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started,” she said. “However, I was given the freedom and the reign to research my own guests. I reached out to so many incredible women, and the guests that we had come to our festival were really amazing.”
Although virtual festivals were never an anticipated element of the college experience, the Women of Cinematic Arts managed to curate an engaging day filled with important lessons for any gender minorities venturing into the entertainment industry.