by Tatyana Mann
These are some of the words that were voiced when I asked festival goers to describe in one word what they noticed most of a story or film.
Most intriguing, these are exactly the words I would use to describe the 10th Annual ConnectHer Film Festival that took place in Austin, Texas on November 5th, 2022. Filmmakers, supporters and patrons came by planes and cars, gathering at St. Andrew's Dell Fine Arts Center to witness the power of intentional storytelling and its effect on how we connect with each other across borders and continents.
This was my first attendance of the festival and my introduction to the ConnectHer community—and community it is. From as close to down the road and as far as Pakistan, I was pleasantly surprised to see all the lengths people took to support this growing platform of young truth seekers and storytellers.
The excitement and pride was palpable, exuded from the volunteers that welcomed me in to the people mingling in the foyer prior to the initial afternoon screenings. For some, the pride was personal: Susan Walker, mother to Laura Nell Walker (Filmmaker, Our Land Contains the Stories of Our People) was beaming long before her daughter took home the win in her category, Ending Violence Against Women.
And for the next 60 minutes, myself and about 100* other viewers sat in an intimate auditorium and watched over and over again as 15 directors showcased their budding skills in filmmaking, tackling critical women’s issues ranging from beauty standards to poverty & economic independence. From 1500 submissions across 64 countries, 13 talented projects graced the screen and inspired an audience as we took notice of the new voices and forces entering the realm of film.
At times, I was a bit saddened by the harrowing topics covered in the showcase: Narrative after narrative depicting the struggles women around the world experience by simply existing (compounded further by the looming midterm elections that literally have women’s rights issues on ballots). However, that feeling was quickly replaced by one of hope. Strength even, echoed beautifully by the words of guest panelist, lawyer, filmmaker and 2018 Green IS ConnectHer Winner Halimah Tariq:
After the screenings, Ms. Tariq was joined by fellow ConnectHer Alumnae Aneta Felix (2020 Winner; Girls in Tech) and Tapiwa Gambura (2020 2x-Winner; Honest Beauty & Judges’ Choice First Runner Up) for a panel discussion about filmmakers using their work to become changemakers, moderated by Co-Owner and VP of Troublemaker Studios, Elizabeth Avellán. “Aspirational” was the mot du jour as people left the talk. Ms. Avellán expertly traveled through time with the group, unearthing beautiful nuggets of insight from our panelists on their past, present and future works. Although each of our guest speakers own portfolios spanning topics as diverse as their backgrounds, one thing they could all agree on was the love they had for ConnectHer and the impact this organization made on their career trajectories.
Filmmaker and Journalist
Filmmaker and Student
Following the panel, guests were invited to mingle with some of the young filmmakers in attendance. After grabbing a taco (ok two), I found myself at a table with Czerena Boyle (Finalist, More than a Joke), Julia Hicks (Winner, One Click Away) and Ayla Carda (Winner, ReWa). Despite our age differences (they’re all still in undergrad and I’m … not), we fell into easy conversation, swapping notes on lenses and cameras, sharing our favorite movies (“Everything, Everywhere all at once is just beautiful” - Julia) and how we fell into loving films and filmmaking in the first place.
In between bites, I asked the girls that classic future question we all know and love: What’s next for you after graduation? After a chew, Czerena, a Journalism major, shared that she wants to apply her degree towards a more educational, nonfiction route in the film industry.
It’s through initiatives like ConnectHER that we see and hear these sentiments come to life. The scholarships awarded—funded through generous donations—sponsor many female filmmakers and projects that serve as integral stepping stones for local communities to start conversations and implement real change.
To say I enjoyed my first festival is an understatement. Huge round of applause to everyone who made this event possible for the last decade. My final ovation goes to the ConnectHer team for creating this necessary space and recognizing that the time is now.