Editor’s note: It’s not often that we get movies with feminist themes like the new Suffragette movie — but there’s always a solution: encourage girls to make their own movies.
From Snow Whites to sexpot preteens, there’s no shortage of images on the silver screen that make girls and their advocates groan. On top of that, there’s Hollywood’s seeming addiction to churning out mindless macho thrillers. “Ever go to a movie and leave wondering who on earth that film was made for–because it certainly wasn’t YOU?” wonders Allison Anders, who has directed Gas Food Lodging and other films.
One effective, fun solution: Put girls themselves behind the camera. More girls are doing just that, spurred by factors such as a desire to create alternative images and stories, technological advances that make equipment easier to use and more affordable, a surge in classes, youth film festivals, and other girl-friendly resources, as well as an increase in parental interest in girls making movies.
There’s a delightful side effect, too. “When girls begin using media-making tools themselves, they get much better at being able to see the problems with popular media images,” says Mary Celeste Kearney, professor of feminist media studies at the University of Texas and author of Producing Girls: Female Youth and Media Production.
Girls will take off running once they have access to the equipment, notes Kearney, who also founded Cinemakids, which annually hosts an international kids’ film festival and production workshops. “Often, the impetus comes from parents who believe in the importance of girl-created media, who will search out resources,” she notes.
Parents may find resources readily in some cities, such as the Reelgrrls trainings in Portland, Oregon. Sometimes they’ll need to beat the bushes a bit. “Be sure to ask around at the local schools, community groups, or libraries,” says Kearney. “They may have some equipment available for use, and space to have an informal class.”
Solo movie-making is a smart first step, with a do-it-yourself movie-making book such as Andrea Richards’ Girl Director. This engaging, girl-friendly guide covers the waterfront. Equipment can be cheap—a used Super 8 camera at a yard sale, or video cameras at deep discount through the Internet—or even free, if beginning filmmakers can talk someone into a loaner.
Richards includes lots of advice on idea generation and creative techniques, as well as information on handling publicity, film festivals, and distribution. Fascinating bits of women’s filmmaking history, interviews with contemporary female filmmakers, and plenty of resources provide further inspiration and motivation.
As girls ponder the possibilities, it’s important to show them other movies made by kids. A reasonable first-time effort is a two- to five-minute short, not a full-length feature film. Youth film festivals are growing, so watchful parents might find one in a nearby locale. TV also provides a forum for watchable kid videos, on programs like the PBS show Zoom.
While it’s great to also show girls women-made or women-friendly films, remind them that every filmmaker starts out with modest, imperfect results. “As girls get to the tween and teen ages, they can get too self-conscious about turning out something that isn’t perfect,” says Kearney. “Boys more often tend to be satisfied with a first effort.”
Another gender caution: If your daughter attends a co-ed film class, urge her to be assertive about getting her fair share of attention and access. “Boys are often more comfortable with technology and just picking something up and using it,” observes Kearney. “Girls are still socialized to let the boys take over.”
Don’t hesitate to start early. Even 7-year-olds can handle a camera, and they certainly have no lack of imagination. “It’s a real thrill to see these small girls making their own movies,” says Kearney. “When they start early and feel comfortable doing it, they’re much more likely to stick with it.”
And parents who own any kind of family movie-making equipment can start today. “Next time there’s a birthday or other event, let your daughter do the filming,” suggests Kearney. “Doing a specific, requested project is a great way to get started.”
Helen Cordes is an Austin, Texas-based writer and the executive editor of New Moon Girls magazine.