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Girls' Voices Now: a program for high school girls

As the summer approaches and students start to apply for programs, I thought it would be a great opportunity to platform Girls’ Voices Now, the program I participated in last summer. Run by film and gender equity-based organization Women’s Voices Now, it is a free summer intensive that trains high school girls in the Los Angeles area in documentary filmmaking through the lens of women’s rights and social change. During my time in GVN, I learned so much as a filmmaker, and now its network continues to be a resource that brings me new opportunities for my career. If any of this piques your interest, keep reading to learn more!

The details

I’ve already elaborated on what kind of program GVN is, the biggest key factor being that it’s free; however, it does get better than that. You are paid $500 for just participating in the program! It was a pleasant surprise for me when I was accepted– given that I didn’t know before applying– so I think that fact may seal the deal for just about anyone.

Subsequent photos by Rebekah Grace de Guzman

But, of course, there are logistics. You are only eligible if you are a girl entering high school (grades 9 through 12) next fall semester. You’re not eligible if you are a high school graduate. Additionally, this year’s program will take place over five weeks from June 24th to July 26th (no worries, you have July 4th and 5th off). It’ll be at Mount Saint Mary’s University’s beautiful Doheny Campus: near USC and known for being a film location for The Princess Diaries. And yes, food is provided every day at MSMU’s cafeteria, and it tastes as amazing as it looks!

At the end of the program, you create a short documentary along with some of your other classmates that tackles a specific social issue, but it doesn’t have to be related to gender equity. Production, which is when you film your work in its entirety, will take place on the weekend of July 13th and 14th.

How it works

The program runs Monday through Friday from 10 am to 3:30 pm. TAP cards are available to participants who need transportation.

In the first week, you’ll be learning about key concepts in activism and filmmaking. You’ll engage in conversations about social issues you care about and analyze documentaries and films created by the program’s instructors as a group. To prepare for when you make your documentary, you also start to learn how to interview someone on camera with each other. At the end of the first week, filmmaking groups will be sorted according to the main social issues the whole cohort discussed.

Pre-production will be the focus of the second week and third week. Along with your group, you’ll start to conceptualize what your short documentary will look like. This includes thinking of who you can interview, creating mood boards, and what kind of music or b-roll you want to include. You’ll be doing this with the guidance of your Media Chaperone, who is an industry professional who has experience in making films and documentaries of this genre. At the end of the week, you will be pitching your documentary as a group to the Programs Director of Women’s Voices Now.

Along with pre-production, the second and third weeks are all about technical training! Your Media Instructors will teach you how to use the camera, lights, and audio equipment provided to each group. As you experiment and practice setting up and taking down the equipment, you’ll start to assign roles to certain people during production. (For example, I was responsible for audio recording.) The weekend following right after technical training will be production, in which you’ll apply all the skills you’ve learned so far and work collaboratively.

After shooting your film, the last weeks will be dedicated to post-production and editing. You’ll learn how to edit in Premiere Pro and what it takes to take the interviews you did and compile them into a short documentary. On the very last day, you’ll have a potluck and watch what each group has compiled so far before passing off the hard drive to your professional editor!

In addition to all of this, you’ll participate in activities that will empower your voice. Some of my personal favorites included a crystal meditation and spinning in the grassy meadows of MSMU together until you have no choice but to fall!

You’ll also meet many great speakers who are working professionals in the entertainment industry. One of my biggest regrets was that I wished I stayed in contact with these speakers well after the program, so make sure to soak up every chance to learn and stay connected!

During the first few months of the school year, you’ll stay in contact with your team, Media Chaperone, and editor to complete the film. Then in November, you’ll have your premiere and properly celebrate all of your hard work!

My experience

My group created The Beauty in Being Different, which explores how the Western beauty standard negatively impacts women of color.

Conceptualizing the film and doing the interviews was very emotional because we all connected deeply with the topic; this intimacy made us closer as a group. However, on shooting day, there were some mishaps with our schedule that we had to problem-solve together, which showed me that in filmmaking– or group work in general– anything can go wrong. The whole experience made me improve as a team player.

At the premiere, while holding hands with my teammates, I watched as everyone was affected by our film. Afterward, people expressed to us how much they connected with its material and wished that when they were younger, they had seen this film and seen that other girls like them found the beauty in themselves. This inspired my purpose as a filmmaker: to create films that encourage their audience to make changes in their communities and societies. And without GVN, I would’ve never found that.

After GVN, I used the skills I learned from the program to make my own short documentary The Pressure In-Between, which you can read more about here. My mentors also continue to send us internships and film camps in our cohort group chat: most of which I’ve applied for, got into, and will lead me to more opportunities in my future!

Main takeaways

With that being said, GVN was a life-changing experience for me and can be for so many others. It teaches you skills that can help you in any facet of your life: be it in filmmaking, activism, or anything in general. If everything I’ve said has convinced you, you can apply for Girls’ Voices Now here!

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