How Reel Stories is Changing the Game For Young Women in Film
Camp Reel Stories, a nonprofit organization, provides young women the opportunity to build technical skills, increase their media literacy, and grow their confidence and voice to tell their stories through film. They advocate that better representation behind the camera means better representation in front of the camera.
To highlight their May fundraiser goal of $50K, Storyhunter CEO/Founder Jaron Gilinsky spoke with Esther Pearl, the organization’s Founder/Executive Director. They discussed how the space is changing for young women and non-conforming people, the incredible work they’ve helped produce, and the ways to get involved.
Jaron: Can you tell us a little about yourself ?
Esther: I’m a filmmaker, community builder, mom, and lover of stories, not necessarily in that order. I grew up in a communal household in Santa Cruz with no television so of course, I went into a career in the film industry. I worked in Visual FX for several years and then was at Pixar for 10 years. I started Reel Stories after getting my MBA in social sustainability at the Presidio.
Jaron: What is Reel Stories ?
Esther: Reel Stories is a film program for girls and gender non-conforming folks.
At Reel Stories we believe that when women and girls are better represented behind the scenes in the media, they will be better reflected on the screen. Reel Stories empowers young women with the skills to create their own films, to view current media critically and thoughtfully, and to aspire to leadership.
Reel Stories creates a path for young women and gender non-conforming youth to make their own content and enter media careers. Reel Stories empowers our participants with the skills, experience, and connections to succeed in the industry and aspire to leadership in their field. We are the only film program for girls in the country that is led by professionals in the industry. To achieve our mission, we’ve created a pipeline for girls to go from no experience, to professional experience in the film industry.
Jaron: When was Reel Stories founded?
Esther: I started Reel Stories in 2013. We had 30 girls who wrote, shot and edited 6 films in 5 days. We had 60 film industry professionals who agreed to volunteer. This past year we served 300 girls and they have made over 100 films. We now offer weekend workshops, pre-professional trainings, screenings, after school programs along with summer programs.
Jaron: Why did you found it ?
Esther: It’s no secret that the film, television and media industries have a serious gender imbalance. I love working in film and have had a great career, but I was often the only woman in the room. I wanted to create opportunities for young women and gender non-conforming folks to get the opportunity make media that reflects their unique point of view. Our participants learn filmmaking and content creation from professionals so they also get exposed to the plethora of career options in the media. In a day and age where women’s voices are being silenced and erased I am very proud that I created an organization to amplify their stories.
Esther: It’s not so much what I believe, but what statistically we know. For every girl you see on screen, you see two boys, which is progress from a few years ago when it was four boys to every one girl. And only eight films in 2016 had a young woman as a lead. All of this data comes from the most recent report from Stacy Smith at the USC Annenburg Institute examining the prevalence and portrayal of girls and teens in popular movies.
What we do see, is that often young woman are derailing their hopes, dreams, and aspirations to the limiting roles that they see themselves portrayed in the media. This is troubling since we are still in a time when women’s voices are being diminished or erased. As we know, the media is powerful, influential, and persuasive and we know that it’s really hard for young women to be something they can’t see. By fostering a more diverse group of media creators we know we can create media that will be more inclusive and frankly more interesting.
There is also a huge disconnect from how young folks are being portrayed in fiction and how they actually are in the world. The past few years have really shown us that teenagers should no longer be underestimated. From climate change initiatives to the March for Our Lives we see young people organizing to create a better world for us all. I am so pleased that we have been able to create a growing community of young women that want to change the demographics in the film industry
Jaron: I’m a huge fan of Pixar, like most people, and animated films in general. A lot of folks bash Disney for historically playing into gender stereotypes — but with the release of the film Frozen, with a strong female protagonist, they kind-of reversed course. Would you agree with that?
Esther: You can’t look at one film as changing a system. I loved Frozen, though I don’t need to hear, “Let it go” ever again. Brave also had a very empowered female protagonist. But the problem with the princess trope is it is not an actual career you can aspire to, and yet, it is still an overwhelming part of our cultural narrative. I don’t think the trope of Prince is any better, for the record.
We are at almost golden era of media with the advent of Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc, and at Reel Stories we want women and girls to see that they can be content creators and drive narratives that have more complicated and multi-dimensional characters
Jaron: You’re doing a fundraiser now, what is the money going towards exactly?
Esther: The money we are raising goes to pay for our summer program. 40% of our attendees receive financial aid and we have never turned anyone away for a lack of funds. This fundraiser funds our financial aid program, allows us to upgrade our equipment, pays for the fees associated with the program and our film festival at the end of the program, and enter our films into festivals. This really is a labor of love with the majority of our team volunteering.
Jaron: Are there other ways for our filmmaker community to help out/contribute/learn more?
Esther: Absolutely. The filmmaking community has been a huge support for the past six years and we love to grow that. Ways you can be involved:
- Please donate or have your organization sponsor a girl to attend.
- You can volunteer at our program or teach a workshop year round
- Offer job shadowing or tours to out attendees
- In-kind donations of equipment are super valuable
Donate to the Camp Reel Storie fundraiser here.
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By Jordan M. Rapaport, Storyhunter Writer