Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Reel Women

Story by Catharine Lo Griffin. Photos by Marie Eriel Hobro.

In the summer of 2016, Phoenix Maimiti Valentine was invited to spend the week with her cousin Alana, and Alana’s mom suggested they sign up for Reel Camp for Girls, a program offered through the non-profit Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking (HWIF). Phoenix’s mom was initially hesitant, concerned about the cost of learning technical skills like 2-D and stop-motion animation. But upon discovering that HWIF has a sliding-scale tuition policy and will not turn away any girls for lack of funding, she made a donation and Phoenix was in.

“I loved learning about the anatomy of a camera, how it works, how it’s constructed,” Phoenix says. She enjoyed camp so much that she signed up for another, and another and then several others. She ticks off the skills she’s developed: how to storyboard, how to prioritize a shot list, how to write scripts, how to develop a theme—“the language of film,” she calls it.

When two of Phoenix’s animations were included in the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, the thrill of seeing her work on the big screen cemented her aspirations to become a director. “I love that you can make anything possible in films—that you can think of something and in a matter of time you’ll see it on a screen as if it’s real,” the ambitious 14-year-old auteur says.

“As Geena Davis says, ‘If girls can see it, they can be it,’” asserts HWIF founder Vera Zambonelli. Providing girls and women with the opportunity to connect and manifest their ideas is why she established the nonprofit in 2011, Zambonelli says. Besides the mechanical aspects of filmmaking, HWIF explores the medium’s impact through its “Making Media That Matters” workshop, which explores how film can drive social change. Participants can get valuable feedback from seasoned professionals during monthly talks and regular “works-in-progress” screenings.

It may be a while before there’s gender equality in Hollywood, but Zambonelli says,“Having more women and girls involved in the creative process behind the screen in all of the roles—from actress to composer to cinematographer to editor to producer—is going to change what we see in front of the screen.”