Lights, Camera, Action

Female students learn the filmmaking industry in a safe haven.

©Valerie Narte

In her extended essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” English writer Virginia Woolf succinctly wrote that “all these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple and almost always depicted in their relation to men.”

In a 1985 Dykes to Watch For comic strip, cartoonist Alison Bechdel riffed on Woolf’s premise and introduced the not-so-subtle idea of male-dominated movies by criticizing that nearly every storyline, which involved two women in a conversation, would be centered around a man in their lives.

The Bechdel test, as it’s called today, would fail nearly every film, says Vera Zambonelli, founder and executive director of Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking (HWF). Although there have been improvements from movies 20 years ago, sexism still exists.

“There’s the notion of visibility that’s not there,” says Zambonelli, referring to the lack of women filmmakers and storylines that highlight females in a non-stereotypical setting. “It’s all about changing the narrative and focusing on what’s currently working rather than what’s not. Because when you look at the numbers and you look at the statistics, it can be kind of depressing. But you can’t focus on that because what good is that going to do?”

Aspiring you female filmmakers receive practical experience. ©Valerie Narte

Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking is helping to change the narrative of gender dialogues in the arts by sharing many of their initiatives with the public. Zambonelli can list many programs that HWF has initiated to help create a meaningful conversation.

“We organize monthly gatherings for people to share their experiences and expertise in the film industry,” Zambonelli says. “We also run progress screenings; we just received a grant to host the Women of Wonders Film Festival at the Doris Duke Theatre. We have special guests come to share their work with us when they’re in town. It’s just fantastic.”

Although all the initiatives of HWF help challenge the gender role stereotypes of women in the film industry, Zambonelli especially lights up when she talks about teaching future filmmakers.

“We organize filmmaking programs for girls,” says Zambonelli with a smile. “We have the Reel Camps, which are one- week intensive courses of filmmaking. We have an afterschool program called Media that Matters, which helps them talk about social justice and civil engagement and enables them to bring up their own topics to talk about. It’s all really good because they’re learning and creating skills at the same time.” 

As the girls gain more experience, they start to critique their work on a professional level and notice things that they can do differently next time. This is something that Zambonelli is proud to point out about her students because they’re able to do so within a safe environment that HWF has created for them.   

“When I go into the room and I see our girls light up,” Zambonelli beams. “I feel better knowing that this is the next generation to carry on.”

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