AFI Teams Up With Will and Jada Pinkett Smith to Help Young Women in Film

Seth Pierson

The Young Women in Film Intensive empowers L.A.-based high school students to pursue roles behind the scenes.

Hollywood welcomed a new league of female creatives during the second annual Young Women in Film Intensive hosted by American Film Institute Conservatory and Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation on May 14 on the AFI campus.

After a rigorous selection process, 45 bright, upbeat and forward-thinking high school students ages 13-18 were selected from Inner City Education Foundation, View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School and Immaculate Heart and Synergy Quantum Academy High School.

The students participated in an eight-week filmmaking intensive that was held on the AFI campus in Los Angeles. Grouped into six teams, students received comprehensive hands-on training in areas such as directing, pitching, producing, editing, cinematography, production design, screenwriting and sound development. Each student had the opportunity to use cutting-edge cinematic technology and was mentored by current fellows and working professional alumni of the AFI Conservatory.

Jonathan Sanchez Leos, director of Fellow Affairs at AFI, told The Hollywood Reporter that programs like this one empower a group that is underrepresented in an industry where the female voice needs to be heard. “This is a perspective that otherwise we wouldn’t know. These are teenage girls, young women, and we see the world through their eyes," she said. "If this program didn’t exist, we wouldn’t see these types of films. The most beautiful part of this program is that we’re taking three high schools from completely different areas of L.A., bringing them together and mixing high school students up so that they’re working together to make one product.”

The eight-week course wrapped in full Hollywood style with a red carpet premiere event that led to the debut of each group’s short film. The packed theater included family and friends of the students as well as faculty and staff of the program. The films encompassed drama, thriller and comedy genres while the themes creatively ranged from romance, hostility and domestic abuse.

Toni Williams, a high school student, told THR that this initiative provided representation for voices that have been historically overlooked and silenced: “A program like this is very important because you get to see someone who looks like me be represented around such a wonderful industry. To see directors, cinematographers and producers doing what they do inspires us to want to go and do that.”

The Young Women in Film program received funding from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and is one of AFI’s pioneering, tuition-free efforts to empower female filmmakers. The WJSFF works to provide opportunities and learning though media to serve a deserving community of up-and-coming artists by way of arts and education, social empowerment and sustainability.