Carolyn Combs Discusses the Women in Film and Television Festival

Film festivals offer opportunities for new filmmakers and also career filmmakers to showcase their latest films, documentaries and animations.  The diversity is truly remarkable when submissions arrive from International countries. The films are stories that will fascinate, teach and sometimes horrify us. Films can be used as a platform to invoke change or to make us laugh and sometimes cry. No matter the filmmakers purpose, the film festival is intended to promote your passion for film, documentaries and storytelling. Some festivals are better suited for specific films and genres, while some are intended to celebrate a specific filmmaker. The Women in Film and Television organization created the festival to embrace the great women in the industry.

In an industry dominated by men, this film festival shines a light on the many women in the world producing films that have earned their place on the screen. In a time when women are not recognized enough for their contributions to the industry due to gender parity, this festival presents an opportunity to demonstrate the caliber of films created by females with unique vision and a clear message. Carolyn Combs is an Executive Director of the festival with a front seat to all the action. She was very generous for finding the time to talk to us about her role in the organization and what the festival represents.


“This is a unique festival in nature especially since a movement has begun with women in the industry coming forward with stories of inequality. It’s great to see a festival like this one, showcasing films made by women. When did you begin to accept submissions and is the festival open to all genres?”

“We began accepting submissions from May to October. This year we’ve had 800 films received from countries around the world. Our mandate is to celebrate the advancement of the careers of women working in film, television and media. This festival is another department of our organization and we do a number of things throughout the year. We are open to all genres and all countries. We’re always surprised to see which countries participate. For instance, last year we had many Middle Eastern films but very few this year. We also have 3 films from Germany this year.


“What is the elimination process like?”

“The selections and decisions for the festival are chosen by a committee and the committee changes every year. They consist of volunteers that have time to watch the films and are committed to attending meetings. If the volunteers only have time to evaluate films and not attend the committee meetings, we will still accept their help. The film evaluation team is made up of men and women.”


They are 9 feature films and documentaries amongst the many short films screening at this years festival.


“How does a film qualify to be included in the Women in Film Festival?”

“In order to qualify for a submission, the films must have 3 of 7 key creative roles filled by women. Those key roles would be writer, director, producer, cinematographer, lead performer, editor or composer. We’ve added composer to the list this year because they’re very few female composers out there.”


This festival is not excluding men in the festival but it is geared toward supporting and promoting women filmmakers because of the systemic bias in the industry toward women. They don’t have the same opportunities as men and they want their voices to be heard. They also recognize the issue of gender parity in funding and they want to help change that by bringing attention to it. They see it as the root cause for sexual harassment. There are not enough women working in film and television. In order to fix it they need women to be making films as the same degree as men. When they look at Canadian funding for film, there is a real bias toward projects led by men. They’re trying to change that and have had some degree of success. Funding organizations are recognizing the problem and are starting to create policies to address it. The issue will be discussing it at the Gender Parity panel on March 8. The chair of their advocate committee Sharon McGowan has been working directly with the funders for years. It’s great to see change happening and they hope to see results over the next few years. They will be monitoring the progress to ensure it does . When looking at the numbers, only 6 % of film funding goes to women. Currently they are seeing change in low budget projects but they want to see it happening in higher budgets as well.


“Where is the venue being held?”

“The festival is 6 days in length and runs from March 6th to the 11th at Vancity.   One great thing about this festival is that it’s all at one location. Vancity Theatre. There will be new young filmmakers as well as established filmmakers with so many opportunities to connect with each other. They find inspiration, they find collaborators and they find a community, all the things they need to help them move forward.”


Incidentally, on International Women’s Day of March 8th, the panels being presented that day will be free to commemorate the day. The festival will consist of a pitch session, workshops, artist talks, panel discussions, and many films with most followed by a Q&A after each screening. Although it isn’t in the budget to fly International filmmakers into the festival, there are two flying in from Germany with their films, Dark Blue Girl (opening night) and Shade of the Apple Tree. A Q&A with other filmmakers will include local and others crossing International borders.  Some of those attending will represent feature films and documentaries, River of Silence, Anissa 2002 (Friday) and Prodigals. Most of the short films will have filmmakers in attendance.


“How many awards are there?”

“There are 12 awards. All of the films are eligible to win with exception to the cinematography award going to a woman. There will also be a best screenplay award as well as a Matrix award that will go to the top 3 BC films.   The composer award is a new addition this year. Other awards include Woman of the Year award, Artistic Achievement award, Innovation award and Iris award. Men are also eligible for some categories.”


The full list of films, schedules and festival passes can be found on the website, www.womeninfilm.ca

The festival is sponsored by Creative BC and with the assistance of seventeen more organizations.

I highly recommend attending this festival. Women in film deserve to be recognized and represented in more festivals like this. Please show your support and prepare to be impressed.

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