22 July 2008

The Power of Local Women's Organizations

Today will be my maiden post about organizations that are part of the growing women's empowerment movement that are working towards helping the world's poor. I want this blog to become a knowledge center for audiences to learn more about how they can take action and make a difference in their hometown. It is amazing to me how many organizations are out there working to create positive change. Now this blog can connect all these groups and direct people to how to get involved.

The first organization I am featuring is called Women's Empowerment International based in San Diego. Founders Win Cox and Leigh Fenly started their organization in December 2003 to provide microcredit loans to women in Sonora, Mexico, just south of their hometown. They began the group with the core values of maintaining communication with the women they assisted and keep the lowest absolute overhead as possible. As they embarked on creating this organization, many people felt they could not stay true to these values. As of today, they have proudly succeeded in not spending any donated money on overhead while never losing contact with someone they have helped start a business.

The started the group with 35 close friends and in five years have a total membership of 550 people. To start a business in Sonora, they need $96 and all of that money goes directly to the individual since WEI is a an all volunteer organization. Win Cox said, "We quickly learned that empowerment was a two-way street. When I started, I felt we would be empowering women in Mexico, but when you visit these women there is a feeling of community and pride you receive in return." This really struck me as a powerful comment in our conversation. It described the exact emotion I hoped the film would achieve for viewers. I wanted audiences to not only experience the power of these women, but to actually take away power from watching them fight throughout the film for their communities.

Women's Empowerment International has expanded recently to helping women in Honduras and Benin. Leigh explained that they choose these countries after an exhaustive search of over 3000 countries. They hope to help the indigenous people of Honduras fight malnutrition and high mortality rates. In Benin, they are working to set-up banks to fund hunger projects that are the epicenters of local villages.

Additionally, WEI has been helping out in San Diego. Two years ago they started the WE Center for STAR (Support, Training, and Assistance to Refugees) and have help 57 women start local businesses. This is obviously a tremendous success and I was very impressed. I asked how they did it and Leigh said it best, "A little money can do big things. Many people believe only rich people are philanthropists, but if you don’t buy that pair of shoes one week then you can provide a loan for someone to change their lives."

In the future, they hope to expand the countries they reach and support. Much like we discuss in the film, they felt it was important to stress how women make sure their financial success directly benefits their children's health, education, and overall well-being. They see communities benefiting from these loans as they create an unbreakable bond and strength amongst the women in the area. When asked why empowering women has such benefits in turning around people's lives, they felt women in these areas are far less damaged due to the effects of poverty, and at the end of the day, they have the moxie to build and grow their families and community.

If you are in the San Diego area contact them at (858) 486-6466 and become part of the solution.

12 July 2008

Reaching the Audience

Television executives tell doc filmmakers at every seminar or film festival conference to "know your audience." Pretty pat advice, but obviously it is true. But sometimes it feels like execs do not understand how powerful your film's audience truly is unless it fits into the vaunted 18-35 year old category.

Last week, we talked with BlogHer about their initiatives this year. They were excited that our film speaks to their core audience of women and might be helpful in launching a screening series they have in the works. If it happens, this is a great synergy for both of us as they speak to the audience we want to reach and our film can be an entertaining, informing, and inspiring evening for their core audience. Their website speaks to nearly 9 million female visitors a month. These are informed women who care about social issues and would be drawn to watching our film. They are not all in the vaunted TV demographic, but if the BlogHer crowd watches the film on TV then it would be a powerhouse ratings night for a broadcaster.

Additionally, we are beginning to hear from other non-profits. I reached out to Women's Empowerment International and heard back from them within an hour. They were excited that a film spoke to their work in providing microfinance options to women in Mexico, Benin, and Honduras. We will be speaking later this week and this is the beginning of getting additional non-profit partners on board to prove the power of women.

It is an exciting time as people begin to hear about the film and understand the value of partnership. This network of women will be the reason the mass public is aware of the movement and help it grow stronger.

Here's to hearing from you and how we can reach everyone about the film and the solution to stopping the marginalization of women and girls around the world.

02 July 2008

Film Affects Social Issues?

It is an interesting question and one that I may have answered too idealistically in the past. From the very beginning, I felt Scott's idea was visionary and risky. Both have proven to be the case. Audiences are genuinely enthused, entertained, informed and inspired at our screenings. People bombard Scott, Sheila, and myself after the screening, take our card, and promise to be in touch with their ideas on helping to make a difference. This is where life sets in and very little action happens. I must admit, I have been this person in the past and it angers me. I would say we have gotten 10-15% of realistic action from viewers at this point. Some gains have been significant, but at the end of the day, they are wildly inconsistent.

So is the film "A Powerful Noise" making a difference? In the end, I think it will happen. We have several private screenings being planned by viewers to increase meaningful awareness politically and financially. In terms of distribution, there are champions for this film out there and we are reaching them one by one. But without a higher profile deal in place, we lack the ability to affect a serious number of people. Having a feature length film opens many doors for telling these stories that did not exist in the past, but it is also an additional barrier for entry onto mainstream broadcast channels. In my heart, this is the best film we could have made and it is the right length to absorb the complexity of character and their situation. And in my heart, I see it having a huge impact by the time its life cycle is over and carriage on a major network.