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Women in Film Summit a Success

Panelists and organizers of the Women in Film Summit

The panelists, along with event organizer Professor Cristina Kotz Cornejo (back row, center), gather with members of the Emerson College student group Women in Motion for a celebratory photo during this week's Women in Film & Media Summit. Photo by Victoria Bilcik '17

The first-ever Women in Film & Media Summit was held November 9 at Emerson College to discuss the roles of women in the male-dominated industries.

Organized and hosted by Emerson Visual and Media Arts associate chair, professor, and faculty advisor Cristina Kotz Cornejo, the event provided a space for students to engage in a dialogue with experienced women from many parts of the film industry about credibility, how to deal with “mansplaining” and other micro-aggressive forms of sexism, and how to climb the ladder in a male-dominated industry.

The summit, which was sponsored by the College’s Women in Motion student organization and the Department of Visual and Media Arts, began at 11:00 am at the Bright Family Screening Room with a “Strategies for Change and Success” panel discussion and ended at 10:00 pm after a screening of Songs My Brothers Taught Me and a question-and-answer session with director Chloe Zhao and producer Mollye Asher. About 100 students attended each event. The interactive programs offered students practical advice on networking, conducting efficient meetings, and finding entry-level positions and meaningful internships.

In addition to Zhao and Asher, panelists throughout the day included writer/director Aurora Guerrero; director Lexi Alexander; director/producer Beth Murphy; creative producer Linda Reisman (also Emerson Visual and Media Arts senior distinguished producer-in-residence); director of photography Cybel Martin; composer Germaine Franco; art director/production designer Toni Barton; sound and game designer Chanel Summers; Berklee College of Music’s vice president for curriculum and program innovation, Jeanine Cowen; and HBO’s vice president of talent development, Kelly Edwards.

Kotz Cornejo said she pitched the idea for the summit to Women in Motion when prominent figures in the film industry began speaking up about the injustices women face on a daily basis, from pay inequality to sexist remarks on a set. She said she has had an idea for this type of summit since she was in graduate school at New York University, but now seemed to be the perfect time to pull it together.

“There are few women directors who have been speaking out about the biases in the industry,” she said in an interview. “I wanted to do my share of speaking out but also encouraging young women in film schools. This is the next generation of filmmakers and I wanted to have professionals come and share their experiences, give advice, and give an opportunity for students to connect with them in a meaningful way.”

Panelists discussed the lack of representation of women, especially women of color, across the film industry. In the sound design field, for instance, less than 1 percent of professionals are women.

“If you always look at the statistics, you might not want to continue,” Franco said during a roundtable discussion at the summit. “But I never thought I couldn’t do it.”

Anna Drummond ’17, who attended the summit with one of her classes, said she was struck by the numbers but encouraged by the panelists’ perseverance.

“It’s weird to hear these statistics and to hear these stories because they’re not discussed and they’re not talked about,” Drummond said. “Hearing that validation from people who have become successful is uplifting, and there are people actively looking to change it with awareness and knowledge.”

Another common theme across the panels was the importance of networking and finding a mentor. Students had the chance to put panelists’ networking advice to work at an hour-long luncheon with the summit’s speakers.

“You can’t get far in this business without having networks of contacts,” Kotz Cornejo said. “Individually you could be extremely talented, but if you’re not connected to people who can help you, to get you in the door for meetings, to refer you to jobs, to recommend you, it makes it way harder, and possibly a longer journey.”

Kotz Cornejo said she wants to inspire and motivate students who attended the summit to push forward and pursue their dreams, despite the adversity they may face along the way. She wanted to show young women in the industry that they can define success for themselves. She also said she found hope in the many male audience members who engaged in conversations with the panelists.

“These are extremely talented women who have something to offer everybody,” Kotz Cornejo said. “We need men as allies to change the system. Women can’t do it from the outside; men have to do it from the inside. I hope the men who graduate from Emerson leave with an awareness and a commitment to give equal opportunity, because that’s really what it’s all about.”

Women in Film Summit

Panelist Toni Barton (center), an art director and production designer who has worked on series such as HBO's Girls and Daredevil (Netflix), networks with Emerson students during the luncheon at the Women in Film & Media Summit.