Women In Film And Television International
BROWN BAG LUNCHES AND WOMEN’S VOICES
An historical perspective of WIFTI by Gayle Economos
Some of the first filmmakers and studio powers were women. But times changed dramatically from the days of Alice Guy and Mary Pickford, so that by the 1970s, women were struggling for a voice of recognition and power in the television and film industries. Rather than just bemoan cruel fate, a group of women in Los Angeles decided to do something about it. The late Tichi Wilkerson-Kassels, Publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, gathered together a group of women for a “brown bag lunch” in her office in Hollywood. So many women attended, with their sandwiches in the proverbial brown paper bags, that many had to sit on the floor. The women, mainly producers and writers, discussed the state of women in “the Business” and made plans to increase awareness of the contributions of women to the film and television industries. They were tired of men receiving all the credit for accomplishments in the “Biz” and weren’t going to be quiet about the endeavors of women anymore. The men had the “good old boy” network – it was time for women to form their own. Thus, Women In Film was born in Los Angeles in 1973.
Of course, since women were working in the Industry in other cities and states in the US, word spread rapidly about what was happening in LA. Soon after, Atlanta followed with their own Women In Film Chapter. Then the Big Apple with New York Women in Film and Television. Since this is a global business, women from other countries met with their US counterparts to learn about the LA model. Soon women were meeting together with their local equivalent of brown bag lunches on the shores of Lake Huron, in Trafalgar Square and on the Champs d’Elysee. These women formed their own organizations, such as Women In Film and Television in the United Kingdom and Canadian Chapters in the cities of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. Ireland, Germany, France, South Africa, Jamaica, and women in many more countries all started their own versions of Women In Film based on the LA model.
As the Chapters grew worldwide, so did the realization that the time had come to form a global umbrella organization to oversee efforts and help advise the local Chapters, as well as encourage growth and professional development opportunities. Up to this point, the members of the various chapters worldwide were associated mainly through our kindred spirit as women facing similar struggles for recognition and parity in an unforgiving business environment ruled by men. Women from around the world periodically would meet in informal environments to discuss matters in various locales. Finally, it was decided that the time had come to formalize these loose associations. The word was spread; the first Women In Film and Television International World Summit was to be held in September of 1997 in New York City.
What a September it was! The enthusiasm in the air was palpable – finally, we joined with our sisters from around the world to form a network that would help us to learn and work together, to network, as well as speak out on issues relevant to our careers in the Industry. THE PROPOSITION was hammered out, a networking structure was decided upon, and the first Women In Film and Television International Board was formed. One of the decisions reached was to hold a World Summit every two years in order for the myriad Chapters to meet face-to-face and reinforce our ties. Since the New York meeting was mainly a structural and planning meeting, the first “official” World Summit was planned for the following November in Los Angeles.
1998 was the perfect time to meet in Los Angeles, as they were celebrating their 25th Anniversary. How appropriate that the first Women In Film and Television International World Summit under the aegis of the new umbrella network be held where it all began twenty-five years earlier. Not only did women attend from existing Chapters from all over the world, but Denmark sent one delegate to learn about forming a Chapter in their country. By the next World Summit in London in 2000, Denmark had not only formed a Chapter, they sent 14 women to attend.
Each World Summit has its own unique flavor. The London, UK World Summit in 2000 brought together women from the new Denmark Chapter, as well as a number of African Chapters, including women from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Even the People’s Republic of China sent representatives. It was amazing to hear the stories and experiences of women from disparate cultures all tied together with two common threads: our womanhood and our profession.
2002 found us in October in sunny Montego Bay, Jamaica. The beautiful island attracted women from other Caribbean islands and encouraged discussion of international co-productions as well as the challenges facing women in our Industry in developing nations.
Auckland, New Zealand hosted the 2004 WIFTI World Summit in April. Coming out of the recent numerous Academy Award nominations and wins for films made in New Zealand, the energy at this World Summit was electrifying. Everyone was more than willing to share their insight and experiences in order to help their fellow women Industry professionals.
We returned to where it all began again in 2005 when the “Mother Chapter”, Women In Film in Los Angeles, hosted the biennial Women In Film and Television International World Summit and were in Toronto in 2007.
With more than 40 Chapters worldwide and a growing membership of over 13,000 women, we may have started from brown bag lunches in a crowded Hollywood office, but the mission has never wavered: we are a global network dedicated to advancing professional development and achievement for women working in all areas of film, video, and other screen-based media. WIFTI continues to be a voice for women in the Industry worldwide. And with your help, we’ll grow stronger together.