It’s no secret that the film industry is a male-dominated field. In 2016, women comprised only 4% of directors, 13% of writers and 17% of executive producers on the top 100 grossing films that year. Of the top 250 grossing films in the same year, 58% of them had no female executive producers whatsoever. This dearth of women involved in higher-level film direction and production is by no means a consequence of a widespread lack of qualification. In fact, about half of film school graduates are women. Unlike the underrepresentation pointed out in STEM fields like Computer Science, the film industry’s gender disparity has gone largely ignored. 

Fortunately, Vivian Bowman-Edwards and her independent film festival ALICE FEST are working to shed light on this issue and provide a space for independent women filmmakers. Bowman-Edwards founded ALICE FEST seven years ago as a Durham-based annual film festival that showcases films directed, produced and written by women. 

“I always have wanted to do a film festival that showed women’s work because I wanted to watch it,” Bowman-Edwards said. “I felt like I hadn’t seen enough film through the female gaze. I’m all about promoting films by women and getting women’s work out there and encouraging women to not just make film but to make films about women where women are agents of change.” 

ALICE FEST has grown out of Bowman-Edward’s commitment to herself and her peers. 

“It started because I belong to a small group of women filmmakers,” she said. “One year, I came up with the idea that we should do something to challenge ourselves. I went out and looked for films by women, announced [the festival] and got a few submissions.”

The first ALICE FEST was held on Duke’s campus in the Center for Documentary Studies’ basement. According to Bowman-Edwards, the first year was standing room only. The second year of ALICE FEST saw even more visitors than the previous year, and by the third year they had moved to the Full Frame Theater.

Though ALICE FEST premieres in March, Bowman-Edwards leads the women’s charge yearlong with other, smaller programming at local theaters. This past Saturday, she turned everyone’s attention to animation with an animated shorts screening at the Shadowbox Studio in Durham. Before the screening began, Bowman-Edwards highlighted the lack of women’s voices in animation. According to a 2015 study, 60% of animation school students are women but upon graduation, they are offered only 20% of animation jobs. In the same year, IndieWire reported that only two US animated films had been directed solely by women in the last fifteen years. 

“I’m interested in animation. I always pick out stuff that I’m interested in,” Bowman-Edwards remarked on why she chose to curate an animated shorts program. “I’ve always wanted to learn [animation] and, over the last few years, I’ve been learning it on my own. When I got into it I realized there’s all kinds of animation. You can see tonight, there’s 2-D, there’s clay. Every ALICE FEST I show something animated.” 

She’s right to highlight the varying forms animated films take—of the eleven short films screened, no two employed exactly the same style. The program began with a commercial for Nivea lotion, created with silhouette animation—a technique that involves silhouetted characters, usually cardboard cutouts, against white against a black background. The rest of the programming included films produced using classic 2-D animation, claymation and stop-motion animation. 

Several local filmmakers were present to introduce their own films, fulfilling one of ALICE FEST’s primary goals—giving a voice to local filmmakers whose work may not be shown elsewhere. 

“I like to find people locally to show their films and talk about their films,” Bowman-Edwards said. “I would say that at ALICE FEST, half the films we show are local. I want [local female filmmakers] to have that first experience, and then maybe they’ll go on and do more of their own shows. It’s really wonderful for me because I get to see all of these really great films that normally I wouldn’t see. The audience is really happy to see them because you’re not going to see them anywhere else.”

Saturday’s ALICE FEST programming was part of a larger discussion of women in the film industry. Directed by Women has declared September the Women Directors Awareness Month. Each year, they encourage a worldwide viewing party of films produced and directed by women and compile a list of these events on their website. 

Certainly there are people in the film industry who understand the significance of women’s absence from film—a marginalization of the voices, stories and experiences of half the population. Independent film festivals like ALICE FEST return artistic agency to the female filmmaker community and expose the general public to ideas that would otherwise go unwatched and unheard. The film industry can learn a great deal from the efforts of individuals like Vivian Bowman-Edwards, whose commitment to a diversified filmic body continues to inspire the Durham community. 

For information about the next Directed by Women event, visit directedbywomen.com.