Out of the top 100 grossing films of 2018, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film calculated that women only represented four percent of the directors, 15 percent of writers, three percent of cinematographers, 18 percent of producers, 18 percent of executive producers and 14 percent of editors.
The persistent marginalization and underrepresentation of women in the film industry are just one of the reasons Phuong Nguyen is the executive director and co-founder of The Women’s Film Festival.
Heading into its fifth year beginning March 14-23, The Women’s Film Festival has curated over 70 films, playing at a handful of theaters throughout the city.
“I would describe our film festival as being the biggest cheerleader for women and up and coming women artists; just giving them that extra bit of support or encouragement that they would need to keep going,” said Nguyen, who is currently producing three full length documentaries, including The Hallyu Wave, Dog Feed Dog, and Invisible Dog. “We need to keep encouraging women because our voices are getting silence and we’re getting discouraged.”
A past festival director for the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival and a current board member of the Philadelphia Women in Film and Television (PWIFT), Nguyen loves to sit in the audience during The Women’s Film Festival and observe people’s reactions to the selected films. This year, she is particularly excited for the opening night’s screening of Tom Donahue’s documentary, This Changes Everything, playing in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center.
The documentary takes a deep dive into the systemic roots of gender discrimination and disparity in today’s culture and entertainment industry. Told by powerhouse actresses, This Changes Everything features Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Oh, Rosario Dawson, Shonda Rhimes and more. After the screening, there will be a Q&A with Simone Pero, executive producer of the film and president of the board of the New York Women Film & Television.
Also playing on opening night is a short feature, Turkey’s Done, made by four women from Greater Philadelphia: Monique Impagliazzo, Jennifer Tini, Krystal Tini and Cheri Oteri. Most notably is Oteri, a Saturday Night Live cast member from 1995 to 2000. Oteri is a writer, producer and leading actress of the short that centers on a loud-mouth housewife who welcomes her husband home from ten years in prison with a Thanksgiving dinner. Oteri, Impagliazzo and Tini will also have a Q&A session.
Suzi Nash, the programming director of The Women’s Film Festival, said she is looking forward to the short comedy, Call Me Daddy. The film, scheduled to have it East Coast premiere at the festival on March 16, is about a mother who wants to ensure her gay son has a standup boyfriend. Nash remembered receiving a letter from Amanda de Souza, who made her directorial debut with the film, about attending The Women’s Film Festival in 2015.
Nash explained that as opposed to male-dominated film festivals, The Women’s Film Festival is about providing a welcoming platform for films “by or about women.” It is also about providing a learning experience for audiences and artists with networking events and mixers to promote additional discourse.
A past judge and programmer for the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Qfest and qFLIX Philadelphia, Nash explained that films need to be cherished as an avenue for empathy.
“It’s important for us to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes through the lens of a camera, especially in this day and age where all around the world people seem to be so divided,” said Nash, a producer, director, musician and columnist. “I think when you learn about other people through these movies, you learn two things. One, you might learn how good you have it. Also, you learn empathy we learn more of what other people’s lives are like.”
The Women’s Film Festival | March 14-23. Prices and locations vary. thewomensfilmfestival.org/filmfestival/