NFFTY (pronounced “nifty”), which supports young filmmakers, has a special emphasis this year on engaging girls in a traditionally male-dominated industry. The festival runs April 23-26, 2015, in Seattle.
The numbers out of Hollywood speak loudly, in front of and behind the cameras. Women make up about 30 percent of speaking characters in last year’s 100 top grossing films, and only 12 percent of protagonists. From 2009 to 2013, only 4.7 percent of feature films released by a major studio were directed by women. And, at the Academy Awards earlier this year, no women were nominated in the writing and directing categories.
Stefanie Malone, executive director of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (which kicks off its ninth edition on Thursday, April 23), wanted to make a change. “It’s across the board, right?” she said of women’s secondary role in filmmaking — from pay inequities to lack of representation on-camera and behind the scenes. “How do you help to combat something like that — a huge culture, a system, an industry?”
Dates: April 23-26
Films in the festival: 248, all but one of which are short films. The festival’s sole feature-length film is “Sleepwalkers,” from New York and directed by Jason Merrin, Rachel Liu, Aaron Senser and Alex Liberatore
Films submitted: approximately 900
Youngest filmmaker: 11-year-old Ivana Noa from Belgium (“Feeling to Dive and Other Stories”)
Countries represented: 25
Pacific Northwest filmmakers (Washington and Oregon): 40
Venues: Cinerama for opening night (2100 Fourth Ave., Seattle); all other screenings at SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle)
Tickets: Individual screenings begin at $11 (adults)/$10 (youth 24 and under); various passes/packages are available.
Information: 206-905-8400 or www.nffty.org
Looking at the participants in NFFTY — hundreds of filmmakers aged 24 and under, from around the world — Malone saw a place for change.
“I thought, we have these amazing filmmakers who are on this trajectory toward becoming professionals. That seems like a key age to try to engage them: to make sure that they’re well supported, to make additional attempts to make sure that their films are being shown and programmed in festivals, to provide them with additional networking opportunities.”
Last year, NFFTY (pronounced “nifty”) launched its Women in Film initiative in support of gender equity in the film industry by announcing a new award, for Best New Female Filmmaker. This year, the efforts go further. NFFTY has partnered with other festivals throughout the year to showcase its young female filmmakers (a selection of whom were, for example, included in the Seattle International Film Festival’s Women in Cinema fest last fall). Particular effort has gone into making sure that panel discussions at NFFTY this year include women working in the film industry.
And the closing-night slot in the festival has been named Femme Finale — a celebration of some of the fest’s most creative works by young women. Cornish College of the Arts, the closing-night sponsor, is offering a partial four-year scholarship to the winner of this year’s female filmmaker award. “I was thrilled when Cornish College of the Arts came up,” said Malone, “because it was founded by a woman, Nellie Cornish. And it’s building a film program.”
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The Femme Finale includes a diverse selection of films. “The Provider,” about a Texas abortion doctor, “just knocked me off my seat,” said Malone; its three directors are Leah Galant, Maya Cueva and Peter Quandt. (Many NFTTY films have more than one director.) “Sad Lonely Girl,” a two-minute comedy from Laura Holliday — “it’s hilarious” said Malone — has already been picked up by the comedy website Funny or Die. “Eloise, little dreamer,” from Canada, is an animated fantasy; from Norway, “How Do You Like My Hair?” is a narrative based on filmmaker Emilie Blichfeldt’s coming-of-age experiences — “funny, touching and authentic,” Malone said. And locals are represented on closing night, too: the drama “Collision” is from Seattle filmmakers Lael Rogers and James Cashman.
Malone is proud to note that half of NFTTY’s films this year have a female director — a far higher percentage than most festivals can claim. But she emphasizes her excitement about all the films, as the festival continues to grow. NFTTY filmmakers, Malone said, have been accepted at festivals at Sundance and Cannes, and have gone on to work at industry giants like Pixar, Paramount and HBO.
“The thing that makes me the saddest, in some ways, is that we’re such a film-loving community in Seattle, and so many of those people who love and are passionate about films and film festivals don’t go to NFFTY because they think it’s a kids’ film festival. And it’s not a kids’ film festival!” she said. “It’s one of the strongest short-film festivals in the country … If people would just take the time to go ahead and catch a screening, they would walk away just delighted.”