Friday, June 17, 2011

Interview with Reel Grrls

By Will Deyamport, III, MSEd

Some people don't know this about me, but I went to film school. Yes, I have a bachelor's degree in Film Production. And, before I got into education, I had dreams of winning an Oscar for Best Director.

Movies and television are passions of mine. Over the years, I've wondered if I'll ever be able to combine my love for film with my love for education. Then, I came across Reel Grrls on Twitter. The work they're doing is amazing, and I had to interview them to find out how they were combining education and multimedia production. I haven't seen anything like them. Lights, camera, action, meet the Reel Grrls.

Will: What is Reel Grrls? What is your mission? Why do you believe it’s so important to teach young women how to be in charge of producing media content?

Lila: Reel Grrls is a unique non-profit after-school program that teaches media literacy and filmmaking to grrls ages 9-19. Our mission is to empower young women from diverse communities to realize their power, talent and influence through media production. There’s a couple of big reasons why it’s important for young women to have access to producing media content: First of all, women are terribly underrepresented in the media industry (they make up just 3% of cinematographers in Hollywood, and only 3 women have ever been nominated for Best Director Oscars). Secondly, young women are heavily targeted by the media industry, especially advertisers, and the images of women in mainstream media are overwhelmingly negative. For these reasons, we believe it is essential for young women to learn to interpret the media messages they consume and talk back by creating their own media.

Will: Digital video has changed dramatically since I went to film school. Cameras are a lot cheaper and there are a host of editing programs available. Even the access to other forms of digital media production has reached the masses. What sorts of programs or courses do your offer? What age-ranges do you work with?

Lila: We offer a very wide range of programming. Some of our courses last a week or a weekend, others meet every week after school for several months. We want to give young women different entry points for getting into media; for some it’s just a way to be creative or something fun to try out over spring break, for others it’s a career track or a pathway to confidence and self-esteem. We teach courses in general video production as well as specific skillsets like animation, scriptwriting and working with clients. Until recently we were a teen-serving organization, but in the last two years we’ve started offering classes for the 9-12 set, by popular request. In terms of technology, it’s important to us that we offer skills training in high-end hardware and software so that our students can actually go on to work in the film industry and know what they’re doing. To that end, we use prosumer cameras and teach editing on Final Cut Pro. Even 9-year-olds catch on incredibly quickly!

Will: Who is the average Reel Grrl? What is she like? What's the significance with this age group?

Lila: One thing that’s really cool about our organization is that there is no “average Reel Grrl.” About 65% of our participants receive scholarships (no one is turned away due to lack of funds), but an average workshop/program might have a girl who goes to private school or is homeschooled working alongside a girl who is in foster care or is in the probation system. It’s a great chance for our participants to step outside their comfort zones and hang out with people they might not otherwise meet.

In terms of the age range we serve, girls hit a huge dip in confidence around 12 or 13 years old. This is the age where they really need mentorship, guidance and the chance to succeed. Video is a great way to gain confidence and self-esteem by making your voice heard. And we think Reel Grrls is a great place for young women to gain a community that is centered on respect, and where it’s okay to ask questions and be yourself.

Will: What has surprised you the most from working with the young women?

Lila: Their ability to create powerful, brave work. And the transformational power of media on the lives of young people.

Will: What has the organization learned from the young women who’ve walked across its doors? And what have you learned personally?

Lila: We are constantly shifting our programming to meet the needs of the young women who walk through our doors. We’re always learning more about what skills are most useful to our participants and we ask for feedback from them frequently, particularly from the youth who stick around and serve on our Girls Advisory Board. Personally, I learn a great deal each time I teach a Reel Grrls class. Some of the best tech tips I’ve gotten (in dealing with editing software, cameras, lights, audio) have been from my students, and the best part is learning alongside them when a question comes up to which I don’t have the answer.

Will: What’s next for Reel Grrls? How has your organization evolved since its founding?

Lila: This year we’re turning 10 years old as an organization, which is amazing! We’ve changed a lot in that time. We became our own non-profit in 2004 and hired our first staff member besides our Executive Director the following year. We’re now in our own programming space (as opposed to having to rent spaces in the past), which has changed the capacity of what we can offer. We’re now serving almost 200 girls a year, where we used to serve about 50. What is most important for us in the immediate future is to grow mindfully, all the while keeping the needs of our participants and the fulfillment of our mission at the forefront of everything we do.

Will: What do you do with all of the content created at Reel Grrls? Do you host film festivals? Where can the public see the work being done?

Lila: We host almost all of our content online: Our main channels are Youtube and Vimeo(this last one houses only the short films created in our week-long or weekend camps). We also have a TeacherTube channel so our films can be watched in classrooms where other video sharing sites may be blocked. We don’t host film festivals of our own, but we submit our students work to many different festivals. RG films play in dozens of film fests a year throughout the country and world, and they have won numerous awards over the years.

Will: How are you using social media? What platforms or sites can Reel Grrls be seen?

Lila: We use our social media sites to form and sustain connections with like-minded people and organizations, and to voice our values as an organization to the world. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Myspace.

Will: I think what you are doing is awesome. Is Seattle your only location? If so, do you have any plans of branching out? I know my state of Mississippi would be a great place.

Lila: Thanks! Currently, Seattle is our only location, although we do sometimes partner with programs or schools outside of the city so that we can reach underserved rural populations. We would love to expand to other cities but are not in a hurry to do so. At the moment we just want to focus on serving our community the best way we can.

Will: Thank you so much for granting the interview. Any final thoughts?

Lila: Thank you! We really appreciate your support.

Check out the great work the Reel Grrls are doing:

Lila Kitaeff is an award-winning filmmaker and video editor. She has been with Reel Grrls since 2003 working as a mentor and instructor, and currently serves as Technical Director for the organization. She has worked with independent media centers throughout the US and Mexico, and can also be heard on the radio playing funk music on Friday nights.

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