HER Film Camp premieres seven short films
The HER Film Camp, a filmmaking program designed for female and non-binary youth in Eagle County, held at private premiere at the Riverwalk Theater on Tuesday
This week, the young women and non-binary participants of the second annual HER Film Camp premiered the final cuts of their short films for a private audience at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards.
Strolling across a red carpet and stopping for photos in front of an official premiere background, over a dozen middle and early high school students filed into the theater surrounded by family and friends to see the product of weeks of hard work portrayed on the big screen.
The HER Film Camp was created in 2020 by local filmmaker Meredith Kirkman, who developed the program with YouthPower365 and Girl PowHER to teach girls and non-binary youth in the valley filmmaking skills in a supportive and collaborative environment.
This past summer, HER Film Camp offered two camps: an introductory two-week “Workshop” session, where students learned the fundamentals of filmmaking and created their own short films, and an advanced three-week “Director’s Choice” session, where the students joined a team of emerging filmmakers to produce two professional-grade films based on previously selected scripts.
The premiere on Tuesday night unveiled the five films produced during the Workshop session and both Director’s Choice films.
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Empowering women and gender non-conforming youth through film
During the camp, the students learn how to take a film from conception to production, and are hands-on at every step of the process. In addition to technical skill-building, the students also learn about the power of sharing their unique perspective and experience through storytelling, while forming friendships and working as a team along the way.
Kirkman said it is important to introduce the opportunities that women have in film, which is an industry that has historically been dominated by men and the male perspective.
“There is a lot of empowerment, because we do take the opportunity to learn that there is a lack of representation and equality in the film industry, especially at the elite, Hollywood level,” Kirkman said. “I definitely try to show some TED Talks and other people in the industry talking about this, so they know that this is a field that we have a space in, and that we can step up and get a lot of potential work in. Similar to ‘Girls Who Code’, I just think it’s so cool to show them the movement of women in film and to get them ignited in that.”
By creating an exclusively female and non-binary environment, Kirkman said it allows the students to feel comfortable to experiment, face challenges together and have their voices heard in the group.
”When they first walk into the room, everyone is really quiet and really shy, it’s total first day of middle school vibes,” Kirkman said. “It’s happened each time, but then by the end they have swagger with this equipment, and they are really goofy. I feel like we just create a really safe place because you’re walking in knowing that you are supported and that we want to hear your perspective and your vision.”
Katie McClanahan is the director of Girl PowHER, which is designed to build confidence and resiliency in middle school girls through enrichment and adventure activities, and she said that the HER Film Program is a powerful avenue for building these values.
“It’s an outlet for girls to be able to express themselves in alternative ways,” McClanahan said. “It definitely focuses on hitting social and emotional supports, it provides girls with resiliency and it really addresses how to work through challenges when making a film. The goal is to make a film, but really the growth happens in that process.”
The camps may only span a few weeks, but YouthPower365 marketing manager Amy Vogt said that the change the campers undergo over the course of the program is palpable.
“The biggest thing that stands out to me is how much confidence is instilled in these kids,” Vogt said. “I can always tell, when I see the behind the scenes footage, whether it was taken at the end of camp or the beginning, because the way that these girls hold themselves, how much they project their voice – it totally changes. That vulnerability and that skill-building transfers to a lot of different aspects of their lives, where they can say ‘I can do new, tough things. I can excel, and I can work openly and help others learn’.”
The HER Film Camp private premiere opened on Tuesday night with the five short films produced by the Workshop campers. For this session, the students formed teams and came up with their own film concepts, for which they then wrote scripts, created sets and props, directed, filmed and edited to produce a final cut.
The film topics varied widely, ranging from horror to magical realism to creative stop-motion animation. In “Monsters in Black”, a girl in detention finds a curse in an old textbook that summons monsters to the school, which she then battles in a chase and sword fight through the halls of the school. In “Class of Animals”, a classroom of students transforms into their spirit animals, and must find a number of gemstones hidden around the school in order to turn back into people.
The remaining three were stop-motion animation films, including “Pride”, which animated colorful M&Ms into various rainbow patterns, “Markers vs. Pencils”, which had markers and pencils battling between a wall of ring-bound notebooks, and “Legos in the Park”, which featured a community of Lego people interacting within a park environment constructed out of folders. It was hard to keep an eye on all of the activity happening at once in “Legos”, but the audience broke out into uproarious laughter when one Lego distinctly ran over another with its car in the middle of the scene.
After the films premiered, the audience got to view some behind-the-scenes shots and interviews with the filmmakers.
“It’s just really freeing, because you get to be in your own little world, and you get to take these puppets and you are the one who gets to bring them to life and move them around,” said Sigrid “Ghost” Keihler, who worked on the stop-motion films. “I think it’s just an amazing experience.”
Following the Workshop films, the Director’s Choice films made their world premiere. For this more advanced session, Kirkman selected two original scripts written by emerging filmmakers and directed the shorts herself, while campers worked production on a professional film set.
Both of the selected scripts dealt with topics that are relatable to teenage girls: choosing a college, and getting your period. In “Decision Day”, feminist icons Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Katherine Johnson and Frida Kahlo help a girl choose which college to go to by driving home the message that the only wrong decision is not making a decision at all, and that mistakes are only opportunities for growth. In “Ladies in Red”, a girl gets her period for the first time on the playground, but her friends come to her rescue, covering themselves in red paint to help her not feel embarrassed.
“It was just an incredible opportunity to normalize the conversations about periods, because it’s so awkward in middle school to talk about it,” Kirkman said. “I was reflecting back that if I was in middle school and I had these young women naturally, casually, talking about periods, I think I would have been really grateful.”
The Director’s Choice films drove home the importance of having female and non-binary written and directed films, because it allowed the campers to see themselves in the people and experiences that were being represented.
Eighth-grader Paige Middleton acted as “Kit”, one of the friends in “Ladies in Red”, as well as helping to produce the film.
“I really liked playing that role because it somewhat reminded me of myself, such as being the mother of the group and keeping everyone out of trouble and also just being prepared,” Middleton said during her behind-the-scenes interview. “It was a really great experience to be behind the scenes and in the scenes, so I really appreciated that. Just being able to talk and be around all these other kids, I felt like it gave me a whole round trip of how a film is produced.”
In the Q+A session with the audience that followed the films, the students all said that it was difficult to make a film, but they enthusiastically encouraged anyone who was interested to do the camp. The hard work is what made the project fun, they said, and they could overcome the challenges when they came together as a team.
“I feel like a lot of times we go through really bad moments,” said Quincy Eckdahl, a seventh-grader who worked on the Director’s Choice films. “Like in ‘Lady in Red’, we had the rain just pour in at one point and we had to figure something out. We had umbrellas out, and our set was going on long because we had to wait out the rain, and it was really crazy, but we still did it, and we still got through with the film. It’s crazy how we can come together at one point and just make a film, even though so many things have gone wrong.”
The difficulty of the camp makes presenting the final outcome all the more rewarding, and Kirkman watched the premiere with pride.
“It brings it full circle for them to know that they had this idea in their head, they actually got it down on paper with a team, filmed it and now it’s from idea to screen,” Kirkman said. “That is one of my biggest passions to do as an emerging director, so for them to experience that – that’s where I’m overjoyed.”
The HER Film Camp returns in 2022 with an “Acting on Camera” session in the spring, followed by the Workshop and Director’s Choice sessions in the late spring and summer. Financial assistance for the camp is also available through YouthPower365, thanks to community donations. For more information about registration, or to donate to support the camp, visit youthpower365.org.