4WomenFilms aims to bring gender balance to filmmaking

Tiana Kennell

The best way to put more women on screen and behind the camera is to, simply, put them to work.

That’s the mission of 4WomenFilms, a production company founded in January by local industry professionals with a single goal: creating high-quality film product starring, written and produced by women.

“I want to see more women’s stories — all women,” said founder and actress Mary Thoma. “When we watch TV and films we only see a very narrow range of women’s stories, and we know there are many more kinds of women and experiences. Women have unique perspectives of the world. We feel it would be a happier place if we saw a balance.”

Thoma joined filmmaker Mindy Bledsoe, community organizer Nina Kelly and fellow actress Wanetah Walmsley in the mission to move the needle on women’s employment in the budding Shreveport-Bossier City independent film industry.

The idea to create 4WomenFilms came last spring. Thoma and Walmsley were in New Orleans working on a film together, and a conversation about a movie idea transitioned into the birth of a production company that would be owned and operated — and successfully employing — mostly women. They brought in Bledsoe and Kelly, already working in the industry, and set out to balance the scales.

“It’s probably no surprise that the film industry is a male-dominated industry,” Thoma said. “Knowing it is one thing and doing something to balance it is another.”

It’s not about being “anti-male,” Thoma said. “We love men. It’s not about that. It’s about creating a space for women to work.”

Each of the women has years of experience working local and national productions. The common link is working on Top 20 films featured in the Louisiana Film Prize short film competition in Shreveport-Bossier City. Thoma, who worked on the Louisiana Film Prize Top 20 films “This Is A Microphone” and “Angel of Joy,” will direct this year’s LAFP entry, the short film “Dandelion.”

“It’s about two women going on a shared quest for closure,” Thoma said.

“Dandelion” has an all-female cast, and 4WomenFilms announced Louisiana actress Odessa Sykes will co-star in the film.

4WomenFilms hopes to hire a crew that is at least 90 percent female. Finding the crew members may be a challenge.

“Those positions have been filled by men so long that some women have had a hard time,” Thoma said.

But Shreveport-Bossier City productions could be the tip of the spear, Thoma said, because of a budding pool of local talent which is bolstered by dozens of film crews descending here locally to shoot short movies for the Louisiana Film Prize.

“I’m such a fan of Louisiana Film Prize and what Gregory Kallenberg has done for our city,” she said. “I’ve been in LAFP since its beginning, acting in several films. It’s my first time as writer, director and producer. It’s exhilarating.”

Kallenberg, founder and executive director of Louisiana Film Prize, agrees there’s a lack of women working in film, but said he has seen an increase in female participation in LAFP since its introduction in 2012.

“Last year we had four female directors in the Top 20,” Kallenberg said. “That’s a really good number considering it’s an industry dominated by males. As a benchmark, this year’s Best Director category at the Oscars had zero females.”

Kallenberg can recall the work of Thoma, Bledsoe, Kelly and Walmsley in LAFP and calls them a “super team.” He also said Natalie Kingston, the cinematographer for “Dandelion,” became one of his favorite cinematographers to enter LAFP after he saw her Top 20 film “Cabbie” in 2013.

In order to film “Dandelion,” 4WomenFilms is holding a fundraiser campaign on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. The production company hopes to raise $15,000 to go toward the project.

Bledsoe said the $15,000 goal is partial funding and a donor has committed to match the funds raised.

“Everything boils down to money,” Bledsoe said. “We are using crowdfunding to make ‘Dandelion’ and when that is successful it will make it easier to make the next short film or feature film.”

The campaign ends March 21. Donors can contribute as little as a dollar, but larger contributions come with “perks” such as autographed copies of the completed film, life coaching sessions, original art from local artists, or an invitation to the cast and crew party.

Through support for the film and the work done through the production company, 4WomenFilms hopes to ignite a change in the industry.

“The more women we have in upper levels of the industry, the more women we will see working in the industry,” Thoma said. “It’s happening, but it’s very slow.”

Bledsoe said she hopes more women production crews will spring up in other towns.

“I hope it gets people excited and gets women excited to help out and be a part of this revolution,” Bledsoe said. “Get women involved and there will be a change.”

Kallenberg believes this change can be started in Shreveport, Thoma’s and Bledsoe’s hometown.

“The amazing thing about Shreveport-Bossier City is it’s a blank slate to independent filmmakers,” he said. “Everyone can carve out their place here. We could become the ‘Female Production Capital of the World’ if we wanted to, and if they do the work.”

Kallenberg said 4WomenFilms has the ability to set the pace and rhythm in Shreveport.

“There’s not a weird hierarchy here or a boys’ club where you can’t make films,” he said. “The rules are being written now.”

“Dandelion” is not yet in production, but they have until July to submit their first cut of the film. In August, LAFP will announce the Top 20 films to show in the festival in October in Shreveport.

Kallenberg said the mission of LAFP is to encourage those interested in pursuing filmmaking to do so, no matter race, age, or creed.

“I applaud anyone who can pick up a camera and roll the dice on a film,” he said.


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