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UVU: FEMME movie-making project gives women a voice in the film industry

By Alessia Love - Special to the Daily Herald | Jun 11, 2022

Courtesy Kennedy Evans, UVU Marketing

UVU’s annual FEMME (Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences) project is for digital cinema production majors of any gender identity who are interested in better understanding and advocating for women’s opportunity and equity.

Utah Valley University’s “Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences” in its digital cinema production program is empowering women to follow their dreams and make their mark in the film world.

Founded seven years ago by filmmaker and UVU faculty member Duane Andersen, FEMME brings in a notable writer/director annually from Hollywood or New York to the university along with a professional cast, cinematographer, gaffer, sound mixer and key grip to produce a short film. 

“We have two goals,” Andersen said. “Goal No. 1 is to support female filmmakers by financing a short film for an up-and-coming female filmmaker. The other goal is the student side of it — to create networking and training opportunities for our students. The women who come in as directors understand that.”

Previous directors include Jennifer Prediger, Guinevere Turner, Leah Meyerhoff and Jennifer Reeder. This year’s director/writer is Lynn Chen (I Will Make You Mine). FEMME shot its seventh short film with Chen at a studio in South Salt Lake on April 8-10. 

“There’s a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment that comes with doing a project like FEMME,” Chen said. “Being able to not only create a short film from scratch, but to know I’m doing it with the support of young women who are actively learning — it is unlike anything I’ve experienced.” 

Courtesy Kennedy Evans, UVU Marketing

UVU’s annual FEMME (Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences) project is for digital cinema production majors of any gender identity who are interested in better understanding and advocating for women’s opportunity and equity.

FEMME started because three of Andersen’s female students attended a film-making event where almost all of the attendees were male, making them feel like they were not included. They talked among themselves and imagined the idea of an all-female crew, where they would feel comfortable and in control. Andersen picked up on the idea when a friend in Los Angeles posted the need for a female director at UVU. Approximately 80 women responded. The dean provided funding and they were on their way.

In 2022, award-winning documentary filmmaker Jenny Mackenzie was appointed as faculty liaison and executive producer. “It’s such an important program because women have been underrepresented in the industry and still are,” Mackenzie said. “Like so many businesses, we are still really working hard to create equity and equal opportunities for women as they interview for jobs.” 

Those involved with the film learned much from their mentors — Mackenzie, Mimi Davis-Taylor and Marcie Gibboney. FEMME not only provides engaged learning opportunities, but promotes UVU’s mission of inclusion and helping every student feel like they have a place in school, in their profession and in the community. 

For the film’s junior producer, UVU sophomore Gabi Cuascut-Tapia, female representation matters. “I really care about equity, and I care about equality,” she said. “I care about representation. I want people to be able to watch something in the media, or a movie, and feel like they can connect to it.” That is why, she says, FEMME’s mission of promoting women’s voices and perspectives in the film world is paramount.

Kelty Heppler, UVU senior and the film’s first assistant director, set the film schedule and stayed on set every day for twelve hours, making sure scenes were being shot and everyone was where they needed to be. 

Courtesy Kennedy Evans, UVU Marketing

UVU’s annual FEMME (Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences) project is for digital cinema production majors of any gender identity who are interested in better understanding and advocating for women’s opportunity and equity.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, well, not many women want to be directors,’ but it’s not true,” Heppler said. “We are smart, capable, and creative, and if we have the platform then we can make something amazing.”

“I think (FEMME) is a very UVU thing to have,” said Madison Pickett, second year UVU student and location manager on this year’s film. “One of the big reasons I came to UVU was its devotion to empowering minority students. And in the case of film, women are unfortunately in the minority.” 

Mackenzie’s long-term vision for FEMME is to continue to improve the quality and the credibility of the program and promote it as a model to be adopted in other university film studies and digital cinema programs.

The women’s 2022 short film is in post-production. Once it is finished, FEMME will submit it to top film festivals in the country. To learn more about FEMME or how you can get involved, visit their webpage.

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