Women Calling the Shots: NYWIFT At 40

Honoree Goldie Hawn at the 1984 NYWIFT Muse Awards. Photo courtesy of NYWIFT.

For 40 years, one acronym has symbolized the power of women within the entertainment industry. NYWIFT (New York Women in Film and Television) is the preeminent association responsible for energizing the careers of female directors, producers, writers and others within film, TV, and digital media. In addition to providing much-needed funding for female filmmakers, NYWIFT produces over 50 programs annually, including the Muse Awards for Vision and Achievement and Designing Women. For the organization’s anniversary, Honeysuckle got the inside story straight from the groundbreakers themselves.

NYWIFT member Barbara Moss with Muse honorees Holly Hunter and Charlayne Hunter-Gault at the 1993 NYWIFT Muse Awards. Photo courtesy of NYWIFT.
TIMELINE: We started with the historic New York City blackout in the summer of 1977.

The first group of NYWIFT members met in an apartment on July 13th, 1977, the same night as the great New York City blackout! Legend has it that the creation of NYWIFT is what caused that fateful power surge. We’re kicking off our year-long 40th anniversary celebration with a networking event this coming July 13th in tribute to that first meeting. Our first board President, Marilyn Casselman, took the legal steps to get NYWIF (as it was known then, before we added the T for “Television”) incorporated. It was incorporated in July 1978, exactly one year after the first meeting, which is why we will celebrate the anniversary all year long. The kick-off party will be followed by a symposium on the status of women in the industry in September and more special events throughout the year.

[For photos from the July 13th kick-off party, “NYWIFT’s Night Out,” visit our Facebook page.]

Presenter Julia Roberts with honoree hair stylist Lyndell Quiyou at the 2006 NYWIFT Designing Women gala. Photo: Victoria Medina.
Comedians Phoebe Robinson and Jeannie Gaffigan at NYWIFT’s Annual Comedy Makers panel in November 2016 at Caroline’s on Broadway. Photo: Lauren Miller.
OUR INITIATIVES: The Writers Lab

The Writers Lab, presented by NYWIFT and IRIS (an organization that champions the female voice in narrative film) and funded by Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey, brings promising scripts from women screenwriters over the age of 40 together with outstanding professional female filmmakers for an intensive four-day screenwriting retreat. Mentors advise participants in one-on-one meetings and via panel discussions. The conversation continues at mealtime and at after-hours gatherings. Interactions are designed to inspire the artists; to prompt rigorous creative exploration; and, through revision, to cultivate first-rate cinematic stories.

The Lab is now in its third year. Submissions are being reviewed and this year’s participants will be announced in August.

We feel it is critical to nurture the voices of mature women that have not been heard and are in danger of being lost entirely. We look forward to a new landscape where the female narrative is in equal proportion to the male narrative, sharing our stories to strengthen our ties to one another and empower younger generations.

The Lab aims to combat the dual problems of ageism and sexism that women past a certain age inevitably face, as it becomes even harder to break into the “boy’s club.” Those women are also often saddled with the additional challenges of child and elder care at that stage in their lives, and the entertainment industry is notoriously difficult to navigate while also being a parent. (Which is why we are thrilled to have our own NYWIFT Mom’s Network group of members, and are pleased to support Mathilde Dratwa and her Moms-in-Film group with their upcoming initiatives in regards to childcare on set.)

It’s not only women writers who face this problem, which is why we also offer the NYWIFT Ravenal Foundation Feature Film Grant to support a woman second-time feature film director who is over 40 years of age in the production of a dramatic feature film. Grant funds may be used for pre-production, production, or post-production. The grant is specifically for the director’s second feature as it’s often much harder to get your second film off the ground than the first one; with the first the filmmakers often max out their credit cards, and need to turn to outside financing the second time around. [Submissions for this year’s Ravenal grant were accepted through July 15th.]

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK stars Uzo Aduba and Kate Mulgrew at the 2015 Designing Women gala, where they presented the Variety Ensemble Awards to the hair, makeup and costume design team from OITNB. Photo: Rowena Husbands.
OUR INITIATIVES: Restoring Female-Centric Films

The NYWIFT Women’s Film Preservation Fund (WFPF) is the only program in the world dedicated to preserving the cultural legacy of women in the industry through preserving films made by women. It was founded in 1995 by NYWIFT in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art. The WFPF’s goal is to ensure that the contributions of women to film history are not forgotten. To date the WFPF has preserved a remarkable spectrum of more than 100 American films in which women play key creative roles. These include works by early feminists, women of color, social activists and artists that represent a unique and irreplaceable part of our nation’s cultural legacy. The films already preserved range from Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA (1976) and Cinda Firestone’s Attica (1974) to productions by pioneering early film directors Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blaché and experimental and animated films by Maya Deren and Mary Ellen Bute.

Current NYWIFT Board President Simone Pero and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK star Berto Colon at the 2015 Muse Awards. Photo: Victoria Medina.
UPCOMING INITIATIVES

We’re taking submissions now for our annual From Script to Pre-Production (FS2P) workshop, which is a six-month program for women writer-directors that guides them through the process of setting up an independent low-budget feature. We just wrapped up the submission cycle for our other grants: the Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant, our In-Kind Post-Production Grants, and the Nancy Malone Marketing & Promotion Grant. We will continue to give annual scholarships; we’ve supported over 50 students since the fund’s inception in 1995.

Participants in the 2017 Production Workshop for First-Generation and Immigrant Women at Maspeth Town Hall, presented by NYWIFT in collaboration with Third World Newsreel as part of NYWIFT’s Women Filmmakers: Immigrant Stories series. Photo: Easmanie Michel.
JOIN US! Yeah… YOU!

Our membership is growing, particularly in the last few years, due in part to the fact that the New York entertainment industry is growing. There are more productions, expanded tax incentives, and therefore more opportunities. The women that work in the New York industry are often “the only woman in the room,” be it in an office or on set. NYWIFT provides an oasis for them. It’s a place where they can come to a networking party or panel and be surrounded by like-minded women who understand the challenges of being that lone woman alongside the boys. We have created a supportive community—our members can not only network, grow professionally, and find job opportunities among one another, but they have a unique opportunity to commiserate and join forces. It’s a “safe space.” Plus, we have some members who are guys, and it’s great to have them in the room listening and offering support as well, so it feels less like “us” against “them” and we can focus on moving forward together.

NYWIFT members at NYWIFT Designing Women, 2015. Photo: Rowena Husbands.

Happy 40th anniversary, NYWIFT, from the Honeysuckle team! To learn more about NYWIFT’s programs, initiatives, and resources, please visit nywift.org.

**A version of this article appeared in print in Honeysuckle Magazine’s HERS issue, summer 2017 edition.

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