As women trickled into the fourth meeting of UO Women and Film, founder and President Danielle LeBlanc mingled with club members and made sure all the materials were prepped and ready to go. The room was buzzing as women introduced themselves to those they hadn’t met and embraced others they already knew.
UO Women and Film is a student organization within University Film Organization (UFO) that aims to provide further education on the ins-and-outs of filmmaking. Attendance at meetings ranges from 25 to 45 women. Immense value is placed on creating camaraderie and solidarity between the women in the Cinema Studies program and allowing a safe space for technical training. Their mission statement centers around equality and artistic development — it was recently updated to be more inclusive towards all gender identities and can be found on their Facebook page.
LeBlanc was first inspired to start the organization when she noticed sexism taking place within the Cinema Studies major, as well as in related extracurriculars. She learned that her sister was involved in Women and Minorities in Engineering at Oregon State University and decided to structure the UO club in a similar way.
After drafting the outline for the organization and putting together curriculum, LeBlanc reached out to some key women she already knew to help her with the launch. They made a facebook group and garnered roughly 80 members before the first meeting, which took place on Jan. 17, 2018. “I want to make sure we touch on every little piece of filmmaking, so someone feels a connection to what we’re talking about,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc prioritized mentorship early on in UO Women and Film’s development. “I knew I wanted [mentorship] to be a really important part of the organization. Partly because I think that is something I really needed when I was a freshman,” she said. “I think I would be a lot further if I had someone to look up to, and someone who was encouraging me and giving me tips.”
There are around 10 mentors, each specializing on a specific portion of film — directing, producing, screenwriting, editing, photography/cinematography, documentary filmmaking, acting, film journalism and art and set design — and providing expertise to mentees who are hoping to pursue the same concentration.
The first segment of club meetings consists of a “share your experience” time where women are free to share an experience they recently endured where they were the victim of sexism. The rest of the group is then able to respond with encouragement, understanding and tips for navigating a similar scenario should it happen again. “There is not just one solution for any set of experiences, so its finding the best one, and I think [‘share your experience’ time] is a great exercise to do that,” LeBlanc said.
Club members recall classes in which they were one of five women out of around 20 students. Being a minority sometimes leaves women feeling undervalued and overlooked within classes. LeBlanc is fully capable and competent, but she has been around men who monopolize the camera equipment during group projects and act as though she is unable to operate the machinery correctly.
“As someone who is new to viewing movies, it can be kind of intimidating,” said junior Olivia Bowman. “This club has made it a lot easier.”
Following the first segment, meetings carry on with a warm-up and teaching activity to give members practice in a technical area of film. Each week, a different topic is chosen and released on the Facebook group so that women can attend based on whether or not they desire more training in that area.
Most recently, the warm-up consisted of members pairing up and sharing a pivotal moment in their lives. Then, one member of each pair repeated the other’s story to the group. The exercise was meant to depict the relationship between a director and a screenwriter — the director is responsible for accurately portraying the script written by the screenwriter.
For the main activity, LeBlanc passed out a short story titled “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love” by Kathleen Collins and required members to get into groups of three and draft a shot list of a chosen scene. “They take words and make them come to life,” LeBlanc said.
Aside from the teaching elements of UO Women and Film, members also benefit by getting to be a part of a welcoming and authentic community. Regular meetings are biweekly, but on the off-week, movie nights are held at one of the members’ apartment. The group watches films directed by women and alternates between light-hearted films and ones that are critically acclaimed. LeBlanc said she can clearly tell the difference in the portrayal of female characters when movies are directed by men. “Women are way more real and flawed when they’re written by women,” she said. “Men either put women on a pedestal or dehumanize them entirely.”
In the future, the group is looking forward to having Michael Aronson, head of the Cinema Studies department, sit in on one of their meetings. The organization is designed for women, but members are planning to host a conjoined event where men of the Cinema Studies club are welcome to attend and participate in a constructive group discussion. Senior English major Delane Cunningham defined the group as being “pro-women” as opposed to “anti-men.”
“We, and Danielle, have created a space where we feel safe and comfortable and welcome and appreciated in ways that sometimes aren’t encouraged in more public spaces,” Cunningham said.
LeBlanc is also requesting funding from the ASUO Surplus in an effort to provide more wholesome meetings and events for the group. Other women who are interested in the organization are welcome and encouraged to attend biweekly meetings at 6:30 p.m. in Straub Hall 254.
“Having a support system automatically gives women an advantage, because we have a resource to get advice and to feel better about what we have to offer,” LeBlanc said.