woman speaking

Women in Focus conference examines issues of gender equity in film industry

Few industries have been hit as hard with criticism for its old-boy ways and lack of diversity as the film business. Consider the outcry over this year’s Oscar nominations and the sweeping membership changes approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Its goal is to double its diverse and female membership by 2020.

four women smiling

From left, student Gina Yull and panelists Debra Martin Chase, Janine Sherman Barrois and student Gabrielle Shepard mingle at the 2012 Women in Focus reception.

But long before this latest storm, Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts was keenly aware of those disparities and working to shift the tide. Seventeen years ago Dodge launched Women in Focus, an annual conference that features accomplished women in the industry sharing insider tips and advice with the next generation of Hollywood’s movers and shakers.

The lineup has always been impressive and sometimes star-studded – Maya Rudolph in 2013 and
Breaking Bad
producer Michelle MacLaren in 2014 just to name two. Among the panelists scheduled for this year’s Friday, April 8, Women in Focus is Nicole Rocklin, producer of Best Picture winner

But real-world advice and frank conversations about workaday life is the heart of every Women in Focus, says Bob Bassett, Dodge College dean.

Register for the Women in Focus conference 2016

Panelists planned for the 2016 conference include Sanaa Hamri, director (Empire, Shameless, Elementary); Hannah Minghella, president of TriStar Pictures; Bruna Papandrea, producer (Gone Girl, Wild, Milk); Nicole Rocklin, producer, (Spotlight, The Perfect Guy, Middle of Nowhere); Molly Smith, producer (Sicario, The Blindside, P.S. I Love You); and moderator, Denise Di Novi producer (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas).

Late-add panelists may be announced as the date nears.

Women in Focus will start at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 8. Admission is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. Details are available online at the Women in Focus website.

“The idea is to give students some ideas about what women have experienced in building their careers and some of the best strategies for moving forward,” Bassett says.

Headway has been made since that first Women in Focus, particularly in television, and especially in film editing, where women are nearly equal in number to men, Bassett says. But women represent only 8 percent of the industry’s film directors, he adds.

“Although I would say there has been progress for women in the business, it’s still very tough,” Bassett says.

That reality is tackled, and sometimes skewered, by the Women in Focus panelists. In 2014 panelist Cathy Schulman, Academy award winning producer of
and president of Women in Film, shared that she loathes news articles that focus on her achievements as a woman in the industry. She tries to counter that by demanding reporters also interview men in stories about her.

two women talking

Among the conference’s highlights for students is the opportunity to escort industry guests through the day’s events. Here student host Melanie Kocher visits with “There Will Be Blood” producer JoAnne Sellar.

Actress and producer Maya Rudolph (
Saturday Night Live
) acknowledged that the hit movie
opened more doors for female comedy, but confessed puzzlement that the industry acted like it had just discovered that women could be funny.

“Where were they when we did our sketches on
Saturday Night Live
?” she asked. “Did they go to the bathroom every time we came on?”

Featured image at top/
Nancy Utley president, Fox Searchlight, speaking at a recent Women in Focus. 


Dawn Bonker

1 comment

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