Women of Cinematic Arts held its inaugural film festival on February 5 at the Ray Stark Family Theatre at the University of Southern California. The festival featured new and upcoming filmmakers with a screening of shorts followed by an awards ceremony. The requirement for entry into the film festival was that a woman had to be a key player in the making of the movie. Although not every movie focused on female characters, most of the movies were written and directed by a woman. After the shorts screening and awards, there was a reception followed by the screening of On The Ice with producer Lynette Howell (Half Nelson, Blue Valentine.)
The festival showcased eight diverse shorts. A Crossroad Called Manzanar and The Mischievous Case of Cordelia Botkin were period films based on real people and historical events. Films like Procession and Follow Me dealt with death, while It Was Like That dealt with sexual identity. A story about vampires even made its way into the festival with Threnody followed by the heartwarming documentary Homeless Karaoke. In addition, Pitstop should be noted for its stunning cinematography and captivating performance by the young Shawnna Youngquist. This 16mm film explores a child's need to be seen by adults.
The highlight of the festival was the Q&A with Lynette Howell. On the Ice is a story about two boys from an Inuit tribe in Alaska who find themselves faced with a moral dilemma after their friend is accidentally killed on the way to a hunting trip. Howell originally worked with On the Ice as a mentor through the Producers' Initiative at Sundance, and by the time production began for the movie she was so passionate about the film that she couldn't help but get involved. One thing she discussed is how she never takes a sole credit as a producer. She made it clear that being on a team of producers is the only way she can work and succeed as she has.
She started her career in theatre and moved to LA to produce Broadway shows in the West End. Although she had no film experience, Howell knew how to raise money and raised $50,000 to make a short.
But she got her real start with Half Nelson. No one wanted to touch the script when she got a hold of it. When asked what makes her choose scripts, Howell says she is always drawn to unique stories with characters that she is passionate about. She says she couldn't have made such a successful film without the support of her executive producers, who refused let her fail. When asked about her experience as a woman filmmaker, Howell says she finds herself lucky and grateful to the women who have struggled before her, but she has never found gender to be an issue. “I would never let my gender be a reason for failure.”
The Women of Cinematic Arts film festival was created by USC film school alumni and WCA co-chairs, producer Susan Havens and actress Genevieve Farrell who aimed to showcase the exceptionally gifted female filmmakers at USC and to create opportunities for women in all areas of filmmaking. The University of Southern California is unquestionably one of the best film schools in the country, but the women who graduated from USC have struggled like any other woman in Hollywood for the top creative roles in film and television. Women of Cinematic Arts is one of the many networking organization in Los Angeles devoted to creating opportunities for women filmmakers and most of their events are open to the public. To find out about upcoming WCA events, check out their website and join their Facebook group.