Film students empower women with the FEMME project

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FEMME group members work behind the scenes of the short film “Stage Kids.” For seven years, Utah Valley University has been putting on the Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences or FEMME project, which involves a student-led cast and crew comprised only of women. (Photo courtesy of Ruby Tafolla)

A cast and crew of female students at Utah Valley University are producing a new film for the Females Empowered or FEMME project.

The project was designed to support female students who are digital cinema production majors and give them practical experience with professionals. Faculty members bring in a professional writer, a director and mentors who are experts in the filmmaking process to help the students create a short film.

FEMME was first founded seven years ago by UVU digital cinema production professor Duane Andersen, but is now run by UVU professor Jenny Mackenzie, who serves as the faculty liaison and executive producer for FEMME.

“The idea is to create a situation where women are mentored by successful industry professionals who are women,” Mackenzie said. “Students are able to participate and do the job on set. It’s been a very successful program.”

This year’s film, titled “Stage Kids,” is about the toxic environment children in the entertainment industry face. The film was directed by writer, actress and movie director Lynn Chen.

FEMME’s films are typically shot over two days, with a day of preparation and a couple of months of pre-production leading up to the shoot. “Stage Kids” is in the final stages of post-production and will be finished in August, when it will be submitted to several film festivals.

Mackenzie said she plans to continue working with FEMME for years to come and is already looking into potential directors and writers for next year’s film. 

“It has been one of the most meaningful professional experiences I have had because for me, empowering girls and women has been one of my priorities in terms of social justice issues and what I care most about,” Mackenzie said.

UVU Digital Cinema Production majors work on set of FEMME. For seven years, Utah Valley University has been putting on the Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences or FEMME project, which involves a student-led cast and crew comprised only of women. (Photo courtesy of Ruby Tafolla)

Kelty Heppler, the first assistant director for FEMME, said the program gives female students the unique opportunity to work together with only women.

“It’s such a male-dominated workplace and FEMME has really challenged that ideology,” Heppler said. “It’s really shown that you can put a bunch of women in one place and we’re able to do everything that men can do, if not more.”

Heppler also said FEMME has further inspired her to develop her career in assistant directing. “I want to create film sets where people feel welcome, especially women and nonbinary people,” Heppler said. “I want them to come on my sets and know that they’ll be supported and their ideas will be encouraged and their hard work is appreciated.”

Sydney Pusey, a digital imaging technician for FEMME, explained how she felt empowered by getting to work with so many other women. 

“It gives me more confidence seeing more women working on set because I know there’s more people like me,” Pusey said.

Mackenzie echoed the thought of the importance of seeing people who look like them in successful workplace positions. She stressed the representation of not only women, but also of all different kinds of people is essential to achieve equity. 

“It’s more meaningful and becomes internalized if we see and hear information coming from someone who is most like us,” Mackenzie said. “A woman understands my job parameters, how to succeed, how to negotiate deals, how to resolve a conflict.”

The FEMME Project is sponsored by the Utah Film Commission. “Right now it’s just at UVU, but it’s done so many amazing things for our school program that I would love for other school programs to do this too, like BYU,” Heppler said.

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