It's International Women's Day, so it's a good time to reflect on how the Film Girl Film Festival has grown over the years. Granted, this is only my third year, but still.
First off? Let's just say ignorance is bliss. Generally, I'm not a huge fan of not knowing what's coming, but I'm kind of glad I didn't know just how much I was going to go through that first time. I had almost no guidance. I started the film festival myself, with no organizational backing. To comprehend just what I'd gotten myself into (and the times I wondered that was more than I could count), consider I had no experience in putting on such a massive event like this, and I also had no staff. Sure, I had plenty of people who were willing to help, especially once they saw I was serious. But mostly, it was just me writing press releases and keeping the media informed, watching and choosing the films, determining the schedule, getting sponsors, raising money, building and updating the website, finding the location, arranging the opening night party festivities, coordinating volunteers, running the festival equipment during the fest itself, and finally, setting up and taking everything down.
Needless to say, by the time it was all over, I needed a day off to lie around on the couch, which I happily took. Actually, more than one. It wasn't too hard, since the day job I had, or rather, stayed stuck in for years let me go about a month or two before the fest. Why? Because I'd gotten a 94.91 instead of a 95 on an assessment after being there for...well, years. I truly wish I could say I'd left rather than getting fired, like so many others had. But when I walked out, I felt freed rather than bitter. It may not have been the best timing, but it felt like I was finally making the necessary changes.
I hope all this makes it easier to understand just why I wasn't sure I wanted to put on the festival again. Just the thought of going through everything again exhausted me. But then the 2016 election happened. And that decided things. Sure, the fest was a relatively small thing, but I felt like I needed to do it again. This would be my own way of saying that not only would I not shut up, I'd do my part to make sure other women were heard too. Once I committed to it, things happened quickly. I found that new problems quickly sprang up to replace the old, but for once I was happy to have them. When your issues are due to growth, that's a lot easier to handle.
The big thing was I met the two women who would work with me. One was Crystal Schreiner, who would help me build the Film Girl Film Festival into not just an event, but a brand, with a new site and logo. The other was Kenlei, who would help me fundraise and find new sponsors. Interestingly enough, I met them both at the coffee shop I would go to, the Pleasant Kafe. It's since changed owners, but thankfully it's still there. Local coffee shops really are the best for all purposes, including networking.
But the biggest change came from being awarded a grant from the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee. Hell, I didn't even apply for it. Money changes things, and having spare cash that I could use to spend on the fest changed everything. Suddenly, my profile was bigger, people were taking me more seriously, and I learned even more about how to make best use of funds. (Like paying Crystal and Kenlei, although that was more of a given.) And it had results. For my second year, I learned about how to build a brand, give the festival a higher profile, and get even more people to attend.
So for 2018, there was never even a question of whether I would do it again. For the third year, I changed the name to the Film Girl Film Festival, and decided to try and make it an official nonprofit. I set up a GoFundMe, opened the fest for submissions, and made the move to Chicago (don't worry, fest is still staying in Milwaukee!) for more professional opportunities. To get a sense of just how much things have progressed in just a few years, here's the essay I wrote after my first year, with my old logo: https://www.theyoungfolks.com/review/85918/six-things-i-learned-from-starting-a-film-festival/. But if you wanna skip the read, here's the logo from my first year: