Girls In Film

POWgirls offers girls a seat in the director's chair.

The statistics for women filmmakers are dismal: In 2013, only 6 percent of the 250 top-grossing domestic films had female directors. Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival took aim at that discrepancy.

POWFest executive director Tara Johnson-Medinger is trying to boost Oregon's role in the growing industry of media camps and classes for West Coast girls. San Francisco has Camp Reel Stories, and Seattle has Reel Grrls. Now Portland has POWGirls.

"My daughter participates in Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls," she says, "a really thriving organization that is international at this point. It's all about getting girls in gear, getting them into the leadership position that sometimes girls can shy away from."

Johnson-Medinger tried the idea at the 2014 POWFest. During festival weekend, six girls had 30 hours to create their films, from concept to screen. It was an aggressive schedule.

"I gave a crash course on [camera operation], videography and lighting," says Barb Myers, education and operations manager for the festival. "They learned how to use an audiokit recorder, then three-point lighting—basically, everything I used to teach in an entire semester we did in one night."

The program was only open to girls aged 15 to 18 because, Johnson-Medinger says, "I think there's more opportunity for them to be heard, and less hesitation that's presented in terms of getting their hands dirty."

Enrollment more than doubled this year. With tuition set at $200 and scholarship opportunities, 14 participants studied under a new, improved format.

"We took their feedback to heart," says Johnson-Medinger of last year's group. "They wanted more time. And being in the same time frame as the festival, they felt like they didn't get a chance to really participate."

Participant Lucy Sagoo, a sophomore at St. Mary's Academy, agreed with a paradoxical suggestion made by much of 2014's class: more time, shorter days. Sagoo says 12-hour days, though true to the reality of the film industry, were a bit much, though ultimately it was worth the work.

"My favorite moment was when we'd finished all the editing, we had the end of the last day, where we all got to watch our videos in front of the whole group," Sagoo recalls. "And I got to just sit in the glory of watching our video."

Girls this year took last year's themes and kept rolling with them.

"Both years came up with the idea of exploring how technology affects our relationships with each other," Myers says.

From there, the only real guidelines were practical.

The POWGirls were well-equipped for the challenge, with guidance from media educator Jodi Darby and education coordinator Nili Yosha, and equipment and space from by MetroEast Community Media.

"We reminded them we only had a whole day to film," Myers explains, "so no major action scenes, or scenes that require elephants or skydiving or anything like that. But they're the ones who processed it, scripted it, everything."

"I never really knew how much time and work and processing and changes had to be made to come up with the final project," says Lincoln High sophomore Leah Steindorf, in awe.

The final product is two meditative, quiet pieces, Save for voice-over, dialogue is either absent or only hinted at.

In Great Expectations, a bookish young woman sees a world of opportunity when Wi-Fi goes down at local cafe (Gresham's Twisted Carrot). In Words of Wisdom, a girl at a crossroads treasures handwritten encouragement from her grandmother and pays it forward.

Both films are sweet and whimsical, without being alienatingly so. Both use film to explore the protagonist's inner world, an endless resource for any teenage girl.

Johnson-Medinger admits that a condensed high-school course might be a small step. But maybe some day it will give a POWGirl alum the confidence to speak up when she's the only woman at the table in a pitch meeting.

“Little moments like this in life are so valuable to guide that voice of a young woman,” she says. 

SEE IT: POWFest runs March 12-15 at the Hollywood Theatre. See for a list of films and showtimes.