Women filmmakers in metro Detroit are one step closer to fulfilling their mission to build community in the traditionally male-dominated film industry, with help from more than $15,000 from a Knight Arts Challenge grant and a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The Kickstarter wrapped up on November 2, raising $5,291 to match a $10,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant.
The collective of women in the film and video industry was founded by documentary filmmaker Andrea Claire Morningstar, who was inspired to start the group after meeting with the national women filmmakers' group Film Fatales at her film’s premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. Back in Detroit, Morningstar pow-wowed with local filmmaker Jasmine Rivera, and the pair decided to launch a Detroit chapter of the organization.
“Women are a minority in the industry. It's still very much a boys' club and together we have common experiences being a minority in the industry that we share, that makes us all feel a little less crazy,” says Morningstar. “We all tend to be pretty strong and independent, and I think that there's a trap in that, and you end up putting up with a lot of crap.”
The group quickly realized, however, that they needed to start their own organization to better fit the needs of women filmmakers in Detroit.
“The Film Fatales have a pretty strict policy that you have to have directed and distributed a feature film to be a Film Fatale. I loved the camaraderie, but I wasn't a feature director and I only knew one feature director in Detroit. So I wanted to start something that has the feeling and the support of a women's film groups without the restrictions of having to be a director because I just didn't feel like that works for Detroit.”
So in 2014, Morningstar and a small group of women began meeting as “Final Girls,” so named for the trope of the last girl in a slasher flick (although Final Girls’ members work across a spectrum of genres). Within a few months, the group had grown to ten active members, who began sharing their struggles and stories and lending support to one another.
“I think everybody was really hungry for that kind of support, and it was one of the only places that women filmmakers met with other women filmmakers on a regular basis,” Morningstar recalls. "One of my favorite moments was when somebody needed a dolly--that thing you push along the tracks to get a smooth shot--and four people raised their hand and they all had dollies that were available.”
Today, the group has grown to 20 active members with a larger community of approximately 80 women across the state, according to Morningstar. And the camaraderie has yielded more than equipment sharing, says Morningstar; several collaborative creative projects have arisen organically from the conversation.
As the group grew, they identified a suite of features they would like to offer, which led to the successful Knight Arts Challenge Grant application. The funding will cover out-of-pocket meeting expenses as well as help to fund visits by guest artists, networking events, and works-in-progress screenings.
Special attention to serving underrepresented groups is part and parcel of the group’s core values.
“There's this sea change going on in the industry, not just in our industry but every industry and it's like, ‘okay, we've had these issues for awhile and now it's time more than ever to do something’. You see kind of this emerging wave of more diverse stories being told,” says Final Girl member Eden Villarba-Sabolboro, who recently immigrated from the Philippines. ”I feel like women now more than ever have to be the ones to tell their own stories, especially minority women.”
For Morningstar, that sense of community is the path to building a better future for all women, filmmakers or not.
“People feel excited to be part of other people's creative process. I know that when it's happened, just casually between us as filmmakers we get really excited about one another's work,” says Morningstar. “We come up with ideas, resources for one another, I think that can happen on a larger community level in a way that really benefits everybody in the community, not just the filmmakers.”