With projects in the works that include a roller-derby horror film, Westerns and sci-fis with strong female roles, commercials, music videos and comedies, the Utah Women in Film boast a strong membership of talented women, including directors, actresses, costume and makeup artists, photographers and more, all with tenacious creative vision. What started three years ago as a support network for female filmmakers in Utah has grown into a solidified non-profit that connects women to resources and mentorship, providing a wide range of expertise along the way.
The UWIF holds monthly “schmoozes”—meet-and-greet events to introduce members to people with similar artistic visions—along with hosting classes, seminars and workshops throughout each month. While membership is focused on being female-only, anyone is welcome to attend the schmoozes or classes. According to Valerie Cameron-Walker, a board member responsible for marketing and branding, “The cool thing about Utah Women in Film is that it fills the void of that mentorship, the classes, of people that are wanting to come in and learn, and they don’t have to feel like they don’t know enough—they’re welcomed by everyone.” Women often go under-represented not only in film, but on the crews as well. As Jenny Krompel, Director of Resources and voice-over artist, says, “We’re working in a very male-dominated industry, and sometimes it’s nice to be able to network and connect with other filmmakers who are going through some of these circumstances that you face.” But that shouldn’t deter the guys from going. As Emily Ann Roth, photographer and networking extraordinaire (currently serving on the marketing team) says, “Even guys can get a little intimidated and feel like they’re not invited, but they’re always invited—we’re always reminding them.” Excuses for not being a part of a group of strong female voices are officially obsolete.
Utah Women in Film have three tiers of membership: student, or novice members, general members and professional members (people currently working in the industry). If you’re curious, the group recommends joining the Facebook page and attending the schmoozes before deciding to become a member. The hesitations for being a part of UWIF are common, and, what I imagine, shared among many women. Actor, writer and director Shelly Brandon, a new member, says, “I kind of watched them for about six months before [I joined] because I wasn’t really sure if it was for someone of my skill level because I consider myself very new … I found out that they were doing really excellent workshops and that it was for anyone, at any skill level, to come and get questions answered and seek mentorship, so I joined and I’ve been going to as many workshops as I can get to. I find them very valuable.”
Aside from feeling too novice to join, many women may feel a competitive edge with other women in the film industry. Cameron-Walker says, “I was a little bit hesitant to come to the group because I’ve actually had bad experiences working with women and better experiences working with men. For me, and a lot of other women that come into this field, we’re treated like one of the guys at some point. When you get into the entertainment business as women, we almost are taught to see each other as automatically conflicting because we are competing for that one spot that the women is going to get on the set … for us to share those stories has really helped because now, we don’t have to be in competition with each other. We can help each other get onto the set.”
The biggest task is increasing the visibility of female crew members who are willing and able to work in Utah. As Utah grows in the film industry, more and more people are coming here to shoot and find people to work with, and UWIF wants to be a resource that connects available talent to appropriate projects. Brandon says, “Women are so underrepresented in film in general, just having a woman in film (or on set) makes me go, ‘Oh, that’s where the women are!’ Because when I talk to men, they’re not opposed to working with women—they just don’t know how to find us.”
As UWIF grows, members and board members hope to be able to not only connect women to each other in Utah, but want to be able to offer benefits on par with other Women in Film groups throughout the nation. “My hope for the group is to continue that forward momentum, growing in members and firming up as an established non-profit. We’ve gone through some growing pains, and now that the board is really solidifying, they’re really movers and shakers, and that’s what it’s going to take to get this from a grassroots, small-time non-profit to something where we will hopefully be able to offer grants and scholarships for filmmakers to make features and to do documentaries. I’m excited for that,” Krompel says. Currently, members can reap the rewards of a broadened network of supportive women, as well as being connected to studios, education, resources and mentors who are available and happy to guide filmmakers through any rough or confusing patches in the journey. Go “Like” their page on Facebook to be up-to-date on events, and be on the lookout for them at Sundance as well!