Hello Filmmakers and Visitors,
My name is Sophie Zawadzki. I created the Reel Girls Film Festival. Below is a little bit about me and why I have devoted my time to creating this festival.
I am currently a student at the University of California in Berkeley, but I started this festival while I was a high school student at Branksome Hall, located in Toronto, Ontario. I have had a passion for filmmaking since I was very young. When I was nine, with the help of my filmmaker babysitter, I made my first short film. I wrote the script and my friends and I acted in it. It was the most fun I had ever had. After that, I convinced my parents to send me to Interlochen Center for the Arts summer camp where I majored in filmmaking in order to gain more knowledge.
Immediately, I was hooked on filmmaking and when the camp ended all I wanted to do was make short films. In 8th grade, I began volunteering at a local hospice where I created my documentary series 'Living Histories', a series of short films on the lives of Hospice patients. This is where I created "Tina's Story", a documentary on the life of Hospice patient, Tina Piontowski. Tina tells her story of being kidnapped from her home when she was a young girl during World War 2 and put to work on a Nazi farm camp. I noticed how many people were moved by "Tina's Story". I wanted to honor Tina's life and share her story with the rest of the world. I began submitting the short film to different film festivals around the world.
At one of the film festivals that "Tina's Story" had been selected for there was a section for films created by kids between the ages of 6-9. Out of these films two stood out, a short film about Lego Superheros, and a short film about American Girl Dolls. When the judges came up they announced that the Lego Superhero film had won. I wondered why? I thought that the American Girl Doll film was done a little bit better and it resonated more with me (as someone who played with those dolls). When looking at the judges I noticed that they were all men. While attending other film festivals, I noticed that this was a common trend, having an all-male judges panel. I started to wonder what films were being passed up? and I started to suspect that maybe without even being aware the male judges were overlooking the girls' ideas and passions for films that resonated with the male judges' own experiences. I worried that this would discourage young girls from making films.
I began to recall my own experiences at the film camps I had attended. Most of the time, I was the only or just one of two girls in my filmmaking classes. I recalled how worried I was prior to camp starting that I would be the only girl enrolled. I began to question why this was. Why didn't more girls participate?
These concerns led me to develop the Reel Girls Film Festival, the first-ever all-girls international film festival. I created this film festival to encourage girls to participate in filmmaking. The first festival took place in the 2019/2020 school year. I was a tenth grader and I wanted to create a place that, unlike my experiences, where girls could join a community and were empowered to make films and watch films by other girls, instead of girls seeing filmmaking as a "something boys do". The 2020 Reel Girls Film Festival received submissions from over 400 young women in 40 different countries. The panel of all-female judges included positive female role models, that each took time to speak and encourage the Reel Girls Filmmakers. We were very proud to include Naomi McDougall -Jones, Alicia Malone, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Mellisa Shaddick, and Amber-Sekowan Daniels on our inaugural judge's panel. They were inspiring.
My goal for the Reel Girls Film Festival is to continue to encourage young girls to take part in filmmaking and to build a community where girls support each other in their creative endeavors. I hope this festival helps strengthen young female voices.
Founder of Reel Girls Film Festival