By Mary Erickson Guest Editor
Photos by Tony Evans
POWGirls is a filmmaking workshop for girls ages 15-18. Organized as an educational offshoot of POWFest, the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival, POWGirls is committed to “helping girls realize their power, creativity and voice in media production and encourage them to explore opportunities as future filmmakers.” Two teams of girls produced and edited two films, Great Expectations and Words of Wisdom, both of which screened at POWFest on Sunday, March 15, at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre. I talked with Tara Johnson-Medinger, executive director of POWFest and POWGirls, about this year’s POWGirls workshop.
Mary Erickson: Tell me about the inspiration for POWGirls and how it started.
Tara Johnson-Medinger: Every year since POWFest started, we’ve been committed to showcasing work of young directors (youth 18 and under). We’ve always had a free submission selection process for them and we always do a collection of their work to showcase that during the festival.
We’ve been committed to making sure there is a platform for students to showcase their work, especially young girls. We’ve received entries from all over the country—actually all over the world, now—from youth-based media programs. It’s pretty dynamic, the amount of youth-created media out there.
As we were looking at the future of POWFest, we wanted to bring in the component of growing our next generation of filmmakers. We wanted to go beyond just showcasing their work and include an education program where youth could learn how to control media and create their own stories, and also get their hands on top-notch gear in the process.
Kids have iPhones that they can use to be a moviemaker instantly. POWGirls adds the extra element of crafting the story, a level of media criticism in terms of how aesthetically you’re approaching your piece and the connotations of certain shots. We want to get a little deeper into the effect of the media that they’re putting forward. There’s this opportunity to put the power of story and leadership into their hands.
ME: How did the first POWGirls workshop go?
TJM: We ran our first iteration of POWGirls in March 2014. We did a beta test because we wanted to make sure that the program could function properly. We wanted to make sure that young girls were interested, and that we could find the right team to run it.
We made some really strong partnerships in the community. We partnered with Portland Community Media last year, and they gave us the use of their space and equipment, which was a huge relief. We hand-selected six girls last year, put them through the process, and really took to heart their evaluations at the end of the workshop. Those six girls in 2014 participated in the program for free. We were able to work through some of our own kinks and get their feedback.
They made a movie over the course of the weekend of our film festival and showed it on Sunday afternoon. It was really intense. They did not have a lot of time to create their film, but they got it to screen. It was super exciting. The girls were changed. They were so articulate and proud of their work and up on stage commanding that audience. It was exciting to see that happen in front of us. We wanted to continue that program and grow it.
ME: The 2015 POWGirls workshop just finished. Tell me about how it went.
TJM: POWFest’s education manager Barb Myers, who was a mentor last year with POWGirls, really fostered the program, and we were able to grow to accommodate 14 girls. We initially said 12 but we had such a positive response that we opened it up to accommodate two more girls.
The girls came from high schools all over, even one from an online high school program and one who is homeschooled. It was fairly racially mixed. That’s something we need to continue to work on. We want to reach communities that may not get these opportunities as often. We want to make it equitable. We charged $200 per girl, but 50 percent of the girls were on some sort of scholarship, either half or full scholarship. If it was asked for, it was given. We want to be really inclusive with this program and I think we really accommodated those needs.
We partnered with MetroEast Community Media in Gresham, Oregon. They came forward with amazing gear. These girls got to use new 4K cameras. It was incredible to be able to say, not only are you going to get all this instruction on craft and stories, but you’re going to be working with top gear that a lot of working filmmakers work with. That’s a really exciting component of POWGirls this year.
Jennifer Dynes at MetroEast is really committed to what they’re doing in community media. These girls now have the ability to come back and use MetroEast as a facility.
It opened a door to a whole new world to these girls. You could really see a tremendous amount of transformation throughout the weekend. They crafted the story, executed it in production, got through the editing process, and came out with a final product.
I’m excited and proud of this program. I feel like we just said we need to do this, and we figured out a way to make it happen. The response was tremendous. Every single girl in our exit survey said they wanted to participate in an advanced class. We want to give these girls the opportunity to create their own stories.
ME: What are you planning next for POWGirls?
TJM: We’re working towards doing an advanced program in the summer. Girls who participated in our initial POWGirls can come back. We want to work specifically with a designated client and we can match them with mentors and take them through a project-based image piece for a nonprofit. The goal is to give them more project management skills and bring the professional level to them and to continue the experience.
The biggest hurdle that we have in growing the program is funding for our program. That’s what we’re strategically looking at. How do we continue to sustain this program? We need sponsors and funders to step forward with financial contributions so we can sustain this important program year-round.
For more information, visit www.powfest.com/powgirls.