Women in Film Partners With Pepperdine University on Entrepreneurial Pathways Initiative

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Lake Bell, Kyra Sedgwick and Hanelle M. Culpepper

Announced at their annual gala, the program will examine the paucity of funding for female-led companies and create tools and resources for women to raise capital.

"We're brand-new tonight," host Xosha Roquemore said, toasting the newly minted Women in Film gala, formerly known as the Crystal + Lucy Awards in past years, to a fresh beginning at the Beverly Hilton on Wednesday night.

Indeed, along with a new name, the annual benefit emphasizing gender parity since 1977 introduced new awards and a brand-new initiative. 

Women in Film executive director Kirsten Schaffer at first acknowledged the connection between 1973 -— the year the organization was founded and Roe v. Wade was decided —- and the terrifying time "we're in where we could lose such a fundamental right."

"This type of cultural upheaval makes our work even more important, to ensure the quality in numbers and the diversity of voices shaping the national narrative," Schaffer said, cementing Women in Film's goal to advance parity in a rapidly changing industry.

Thus, in an effort to counter the roadblock of access to capital at the top of the system, Women in Film partnered with Pepperdine University to launch Entrepreneurial Pathways. The initiative will examine the paucity of funding for female-led companies and create tools and resources for women to raise capital.

Schaffer deplored how women-led companies receive only 16 percent of the overhead deals and 23 percent of overall deals in television, while almost no postproduction or special effects companies are fronted by women.

"Every week I read in the trades about a man who receives tens of millions of dollars for a new business, while equally qualified women are struggling to raise $2 million," Schaffer said.

To launch the program and conduct the research, the gala needed to raise $100,000. Shivani Rawat of ShivHans Pictures had already given $50,000, and the rest was matched by audience members by the time the clock struck 10 p.m.

Lake Bell also presented the new Women in Film Members' Choice Award, acknowledging the achievements of 40 female directors and their narrative features released in 2018. "That's out of 700 films released overall. The number 40 illustrates how far the industry is from 50-50 parity."

After a reel displaying the works of Ava DuVernay, Kay Cannon, Karyn Kusama and more, Bell implored that the award was in response to the oversight of female directors in almost every awards show and in a marketplace that "devalues us." She suggested, "Let's applaud each other by DIY'ing our accolades, you know?"

The top five directors and films as chosen by the Women in Film members were: Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Chloe Zhao (The Rider), Anne Fletcher (Dumplin') and Mimi Leder (On the Basis of Sex). 

While Bell was "thrilled to report all these ladies are working right now, directing," she did call to the stage Leder, who is working in Los Angeles.

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a woman, who like countless generations of women before her and since, withstood discrimination of the culture around her. And with her intelligence and values, she continues to hold our values on the highest court," Leder said to thunderous claps.

"We have the expertise and creativity in this room to mirror that power," she urged.

In addition, ReFrame, a collaborative initiative of Women in Film and the Sundance Institute, introduced the new ReFrame Rise Directors Program at the event, as the Hollywood Reporter revealed Wednesday morning. Hulu was announced as a new sponsor.

The two-year program provides high-level industry sponsorship to help experienced female filmmakers advance to the next stage in their career. The inaugural class of eight directors includes: Desiree Akhavan, Tina Mabry, Sydney Freeland, Patricia Cardoso, Zetna Fuentes, Meera Menon, Hanelle Culpepper and Haifaa Al-Mansour.

Kyra Sedgwick, who described herself as "an actor transitioning into directing, so I know how important it is to be supported at every level in this industry," brought the four in attendance (Mabry, Cardoso, Culpepper and Al-Mansour) to the stage.

Women in Film also presented revamped awards Wednesday evening to Amy Poehler (Entrepreneur in Entertainment Award), Issa Rae (Emerging Entrepreneur in Entertainment Award) and Cathy Schulman (Crystal Award for Advocacy in Entertainment). Elizabeth Debicki received the Max Mara Face of the Future honor. Max Mara sponsored the event for the 17th year, along with Delta Air Lines and Lexus.