Bay Area’s Camp Reel Stories teaches girls to make movies

Last year, Esther Pearl and Zoe Boxer founded Camp Reel Stories, a media camp in the Bay Area for girls ages 13 – 18. Excited by the concept and curious about how the camp helps girls turn big dreams into practical action, I interviewed Pearl. Her responses are below. I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to experience this magical place.

What inspired you to found Camp Reel Stories?

 

I have worked in film and media production for 15 years, and though I really loved my work I was often disappointed in the lack of female characters on the projects I worked on and how few female colleagues I had.  When I became a parent to a little girl I dug deeper into this inequity and what I found was astonishing.

 

From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, law, politics, or as a business leader. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce[1]. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. These statistics are enormously detrimental to young women’s impressions of themselves and their perceived value in the world. While this is disheartening, this also means there is a vast untapped market for both talent and products that represent the diversity of our society.

 

I look at this as a great opportunity to create change in not only the lack of equity in the industry, but a creative opportunity to create new filmmakers and producers that are excited about creating characters and storylines that interest them.

My partner and I created Camp Reel Stories (CRS) as a fun way to connect young women with professional mentors, give them story telling and production skills to tell stories that reflect their unique point of view, while incorporating media literacy and leadership workshops. CRS believes that when women and girls are better reflected behind the scenes they will be better reflected on the screen. 

What do you teach the girls during the sessions? What do you think they get out of their time at the camp?

 

Our campers get a lot!  They learn filmmaking and production from leaders in the field, they take media literacy and leadership workshops. The girls work in small teams and have an adult producer that guides them the process and in just one week they write, shoot and edit a short film.  Last year we had six films completed and this year we will have even more! They also have the collaboration and creative skill building process mirrored for them as they see they professional mentors work together to create not only great short films, but a fun camp experience.

How many campers attend?

In 2013 we held our inaugural camp and we had 32 campers.  This year we will have 2 summer camps and can take up to 90 girls, and those spaces are filling fast.  You can apply at http://campreelstories.com/apply

What do the alumni go on to do?

Thus far we have 50% of of campers signed up again this year.  We have elected 2 student board members from our first cohort to the CRS board to help grow our organization.  Two of CRS films were accepted into a local film festival and were screened for a huge audience just this past Friday night and other festivals have asked me to submit their work.  100% of attendees surveyed from the CRS pilot camp said through CRS they learned how gender equity in the media affects the way women are perceived in the media, 85% now view the media more critically and 92% felt more comfortable in their leadership ability, felt their skills as filmmakers improved and plan to continue making films. 20% of our campers have made changes or created an educational plan for a career in the media.

 

Also many of our campers have used what they learned in camp to speak to their classes and schools about gender inequity in the media, sharing knowledge about the Bechdel test and to organize screenings of films with strong female characters.

What are some examples of media that you think promotes positive images or girls and women?

This is a tough one, because as an adult and a parent of young children I have a different lens than our campers about what a positive image is.  The media has made it harder and harder to decipher between a celebrity and a role model.  This is something I talk about a lot with my own kids and with our campers.  There is a difference between a Kardashian and an actress, it’s important to acknowledge that.

Personally I have seen a lot of films that have really interesting characters and relationships that wouldn’t always be appropriate for a younger audience and I like complicated characters.  Recently I saw and loved, Enough Said, Short Term 12, The Bling Ring, Philomena and Frances Ha.

With my daughter and son I find it so hard to find interesting characters in films that we all can enjoy.  We all really like the Miyazaki films and we are introducing films from awhile ago since the pickings are slim currently.  Some of those are Bend it like Beckham, Black Stallion, Mary Poppins. And everyone loved Brave and Despicable Me.

The campers also seem to be able to access to Netflix, Hulu and other online resources to search out media that they can relate to.  I was surprised that so many teenagers were familiar with some 80 and 90s classics, such as Breakfast Club, Harold and Maude, Amelie since they can’t find a lot of current media they can relate to.

What do you do during the rest of the year? Do you plan to expand? What are your goals for the camp?

The rest of the year is spent planning the future of Camp Reel Stories.  This year we will triple in size, we will offer 2 summer camps and an afterschool program in the fall. 40% of our campers are on financial aid so I am always fundraising to make sure that anyone that wants to attend can. The films from last year have been entered in several film festivals and now are being selected and screened.  I also try to collaborate with as many like minded organizations as possible.

We hope to offer camps in other locations the just the Bay Area in 2015 and we are researching those opportunities now.

What is a typical day at camp like?

Each day is a little different, but we incorporate icebreaking and leadership activities into every morning.  The girls are on an accelerated schedule, so they have to get to know one another AND learn filmmaking quickly so that they can get to creating their films.  Everyday they learn about some part of the creative process and immediately get hands on experience in that area.  On Monday morning 30-40 girls who don’t know one another walk into a room, but the end of the day the have formed a small team and have an idea of what they want to make. That process is impressive and we are amazed at how quickly the girls can set aside their differences to get on to the creative process.

Tuesday they learn storyboarding, audio and video and work with their team to finalize their story.  They also take a media literacy workshop so that they can see the direct correlation to the lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera. Wednesday they shoot, Thursday they learn to edit, and they edit a rough cut of their project and then at the end of the day show it to their fellow campers and get creative feedback.  Friday they fix, by either reshooting or reediting, anything that they want and on Saturday they screen it at a Camp Reel Stories film festival which 250 people attend.

It is amazing to see these young women come out of their shell in the course of the week and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.  We are restructuring a bit since we got requests for both more time to shoot and more media literacy.

It sounds like a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun. In the end we are so proud of the work that the campers have done and the community created, not only with the campers, but with our volunteers, professional mentors and families.  It’s quite exciting to see everyone fired up to create media that is more interesting and reflects the diverse fabric of our lives.

 

Visit Camp Reel Stories here.

 

[1] http://www.seejane.org/research

All facts are supported by research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

Reel Girl’s List of Top 10 Movies Starring Heroic Girls to Show Your Kids

Since my oldest daughter turned 10, we’ve been able to watch films for older kids, and I’m so impressed by what we’ve seen. For the most part, movies for this age group seem to have more female characters with power and agency than those in animation. I’m so psyched about some of these movies that I put together a Top 10 list for you. All the ones on this list star strong, brave, smart girls. Please remember, these movies are recommended for your daughters and sons to see. All children need to experience narratives with heroic girls. These movies are not “just for girls.”

Click on the links to read my reviews. If you want to know more details about sex or violence content in the movies, I suggest you go to commonsensemedia.org. My reviews touch on these issues, but mostly, I care about my kids seeing girls with power and agency.

If there are movies you think I should take a look at, please consult Reel Girl’s Working List of Recommended Movies for Ages 10 and Up and also Reel Girl’s List of Movies Centered on Awesome Female Characters (for younger kids) to see if the title is there yet. Please add any recommendations in the comment sections of those posts. Thank you and enjoy!

Akeelah and the Bee

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Hanna

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Fly Away Home

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The Last Mimzy

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Rabbit Proof Fence

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Soul Surfer

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Whale Rider

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Hunger Games/ Catching Fire

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Bend it Like Beckham

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Wrinkle in Time

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Reel Girl recommends ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’

“Rabbit Proof Fence” is an intense, gorgeous, inspiring film about three Aborigine girls who escape from a home for “half-castes,” walking hundreds of miles through the Australian bush to return home after being kidnapped. Based on a true story, the heroine is 14 year old Molly, the daughter of an Aborigine mother and white father, who refuses to believe giving up her home, family, and culture just because she is half-white, is the best thing for her, her sister Daisy who is 10, and cousin Gracie who is 8.

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I had three daughters throwing up yesterday, and I put this movie on for my 10 year old after the younger two had passed out. My daughter and I were frozen and silent for the next two hours, totally engrossed in this story. We leaned about a different culture, a shameful history, witnessed not one but three brave heroines, and also got to see Australia’s beautiful lands. I highly recommend “Rabbit Proof Fence” and I’m adding it to Reel Girl’s list of films recommended for age 10 and up.

Reel Girl rates “Rabbit Proof Fence” ***HHH***

Reel Girl recommends: ‘Akeelah and the Bee’

I just blogged about watching “Bend it Like Beckham” with my soccer obsessed daughter. A week earlier, we saw “Akeelah and the Bee” right after that same daughter was a finalist in her school spelling bee.

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I can’t tell you how excited I was for my daughter to experience this narrative while she was going through something similar in her own life. “Akeelah,” like “Beckham” is about competition and family and culture. “Akeelah” also stars a girl of color. This movie made me cry, and it’s about a spelling bee! If your kids have not seen it, please show it to them ASAP. It’s on Reel Girl’s 10 and up list.

Reel Girl rates “Akeelah and the Bee” ***HHH***

Reel Girl recommends: “Bend It Like Beckham”

Could I have loved “Bend It Like Beckham” more? I saw it for the first time last Saturday night with my ten year old soccer obsessed daughter and my soccer coaching husband. All three of us were crazy about it.

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The star of the movie is a smart, athletic woman of color. Her best friend in the movie is also a soccer superstar. The movie is about competition, family, and culture. It’s incredible, one of my all time favorites. Show it to your kids! I’m putting it on Reel Girl’s  list for age10 and up lbut I think younger kids would enjoy it too. Oh, I almost forgot. Kalinda from “the Good Wife” is in it as the protagonists older sister. Need I say more?

Reel Girl rates “Bend it Like Beckham” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s Movie Picks: ‘The Last Mimzy’

You all recommended ‘The Last Mimzy’ to me, and I admit, as I started to watch it, I was nervous.

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Though the movie opens with a female teacher narrator, it shifts right away to a young boy. For the first 20 minutes of the movie, or so, I was worried he would be the protagonist. He has a younger sister, and I did notice right away something truly rare: he treated his sister respectfully. You almost never see siblings get along and work together in a film. This is wonderful watch.

The sister, Emma, discovers a strange object in the water off of Whidbey, one of the San Juan Islands. It turns out the find is a message from the future. It’s up to Emma to decode the message and save the world. She does all this, though its not clear until about halfway through the movie that Emma is the “chosen one.” When a costar reads her brother’s palm, to see if he is the special child, my seven year old daughter rolled her eyes and said, “I knew it.” But our worries were unwarranted. Turns out, Emma is the gifted one, and it is up to her to save the world. An extra plus: the movie title comes from a poem from Alice in Wonderland, a story that is referenced throughout the movie. I’m adding “Last Mimzy” to my recommendations for younger kids, but everyone will love this movie.

Reel Girl rates “The Last Mimzy” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s Movie Picks: ‘Fly Away Home’

Finally, my kids got to see a movie with a girl pilot. “Fly Away Home” is not a new movie, it’s just the first one they’ve ever seen with a girl pilot on her own flying machine.

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I grew up with this famous image of “E.T” imprinted in my brain.

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“E.T.” is great movie, but once again, no flying girls. I am thrilled, at the age of 45, to have finally found an alternative for my daughters. Of course, I wish it was more obvious from the poster that a 13 year old girl is the pilot, but at least, my kids and I know the story behind the image on the movie poster.

Amy, played by Anna Paquin, is 13 yr old whose mother was killed in a car accident (while talking on her cell phone!) Amy goes to live with her artist/ inventor father and his girlfriend. Alienated and alone, while wandering the grounds, Amy discovers wild geese eggs. The goose mother was killed by developers who are bulldozing the land. Amy makes the eggs a nest in a drawer, the eggs hatch, and the chicks, thinking Amy is their mother and follow her everywhere. In order teach the geese how to migrate, Amy pilots her father’s flying machine, and leads them south. She ends up not only saving the geese but the wilderness as well. “Fly Away Home” is an excellent film, and I am adding it to my list for young kids, though kids of all ages will love it.

Reel Girl rates ‘Fly Away Home’ ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s movie picks: ‘Hanna’

I am so into “Hanna.” This movie has everything I look for.

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(1) Powerful girl protagonist Hanna, played by Saorise Ronan, is a 16 year old girl who lives with her father, a former spy, out in the wilderness. He has trained her to be a killer in order to protect herself as powerful people would assassinate her on sight.

(2) Evil female villain The bad guy in this movie, another killer, is a girl, played marvelously by Cate Blanchett.

(3) Great acting I already told you the movie stars Ronan and Blanchett. Need I say more? OK, the dad is Eric Bana.

(4) Great story Usually, on Reel Girl, I don’t mind spoiling stories. I analyze them so I can’t help it. But, I’m not going to tell you this one because so few people have seen the movie. I’ll just say that I love how the narrative is interwoven with Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The symbolism and the filming is beautiful.

(5) Female friendship Hanna makes a friend and their relationship is complex and real.

This movie is violent. More violent than “Hunger Games.” Like “Hunger Games” the camera doesn’t linger over the gore. I let my 10 year old watch it and it’s on my list of recs for 10 and up, but as I’ve written a lot here, I want my daughter to see females with power and agency. If your kid gets scared in movies, this is not the film for her.

Reel Girl rates “Hanna” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s movie picks: “Clueless” ***HH***

“Clueless” is my favorite of the Jane Austen movies. Alicia Silverstone plays a contemporary Emma, muddling in everyone’s private lives until she finally has her own epiphany and finds true love.

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I could be wrong here, but I think “Clueless” is the only movie I have ever seen where popular girls are not mean. There is no “mean girl” contingent at all. Maybe, for that reason alone,you should show it to your kids.

There is racial diversity in the typical, sidekick way that I just blogged about in “Freaky Friday:” the best friend of the protagonist is African American.

However, this movie does a great job dealing with class. While both Cher, the protag, and Dionne, her BFF, are rich, the one from the other side of the tracks is a white girl named Tai. Usually, I hate movie makeovers, but when Cher and Dionee make Tai their “project,” the transformation happens with commentary that is insightful and powerful. If you’ve read Emma, Cher is very similar to her literary role– you see that she’s superficial, but she’s also likeable. You hope she will have the courage and insight to live up to her potential and she does.

I am deducting one H for the sexy outfits, though the clothing really didn’t bother me so much in this film. I’m trying to figure out why. Is it because there was no cleavage, it was mostly a leg thing? I don’t know. If you’ve see this movie,  tell me your thoughts.

Reel Girl rates “Clueless” ***HH***

‘Gender neutral’ not exactly what I’m going for…

Friday, on the local San Francisco public radio station, KQED, I heard a show about children and gender neutral toys. It was a great program, featuring the brilliant Peggy Orenstein, among others, and I was psyched to hear the topic of kids and toys debated as we go into the Christmas season. But, I’ve got to say, I’m not entirely on board with the term “gender neutral” that the host kept using to define a goal. And that is a term that the media seems to cling to when the topic of sexism in kidworld is discussed. When I was on Fox News, the host kept trying to put the same words in my mouth, and I didn’t like it.

Let me be clear here. I absolutely believe toys in stores should be divided by type– building, outdoor, figures/ dolls etc– not by gender. I don’t believe objects should be color coded to imply they should be played with by boys or girls. I am hard pressed to think of something more absurd and simultaneously socially accepted than this. I desperately want to see girls and boys pictured playing together on boxes. When the term “gender neutral” is used, I think this is the goal referred to, a goal I share with all of my heart.

I guess the issue from me is that powerful female characters are already drastically missing from the fantasy world created by grown-ups for children. When we talk about “gender neutral,” I fear that girls will continue to go missing from this debate– about children, toys, play, and sexism– even more. “Gender neutral” needs to be a goal of sorts, but we also have to keep in mind that all kids need to see more girls and women doing more things. Do we call that “gender neutral”?

Another problem for me with the term is that “gender neutral” doesn’t inspire me. “Gender neutral” makes me think of a bunch of grown-ups or academics or psychiatrists sitting around wearing super thick glasses and holding notebooks.

Here is what I want to see in kidworld: More females having adventures. More females doing cool shit. Got it? Do you call that gender neutral or do you call that being alive?

I want options. Variety. Diversity. Multiple narratives. I want all kids to see many more images of powerful and complex females, to see girls taking risks, saving the world, being brave, smart, and going on adventures in the fantasy world and in the real one. You could argue that we need to see more images of boys being kind and geeky and paternal, but from my vantage point, as a reader, movie goer, and watcher of TV shows, that’s pretty covered. I honestly believe the best way to help boys get out of gender stereotypes right now is to show them females being strong, being the star of the movie, or the central figure in a game that everyone wants to play.

But, as it stands, this is not the case at all. Strong female characters have gone missing. Part of this lack is because there are so few female characters in kids’ movies. Those narratives get licensed into LEGO and diapers and clothing. But even when female characters show up, they get “make-overs” or companies like Stride Rite will remove Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Leia from their Justice League, Avengers, and Star Wars products and marketing. It’s really shocking how strong female characters keep disappearing from toys, clothing, and all kinds of children’s products.

Here’s my four year old daughter (holding a lunchbox from the Seventies.)

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My daughter isn’t a “tomboy” or a “girlie-girl.” She likes pants; she likes dresses; she like yellow, she likes pink, she likes black. She likes to race and play soccer and read and make art. She loves superheroes and her mermaid Barbie. But the older she gets, the more I see her choices getting influenced and limited by stores and marketing and media and peers. My goal is to have her world grow, not shrink. I’m not sure that “gender neutral” is what she needs.