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NYU Students Celebrate Women in Film at Fusion Festival

Hollywood’s lack of diversity has been a hot topic in recent weeks after Oscar voters snubbed female directors such as “Selma’s” Ava DuVernay and “Unbroken’s” Angelina Jolie, depriving them of nominations.

Amidst the ongoing debate about how to crack the entertainment industry’s glass ceiling, film and television students at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts are planning to gather to celebrate emerging female talent behind the camera and to hear from women who have succeeded in a business that remains male-dominated.

This year marks the 13th edition of the Fusion Film Festival, one of the only student-run gatherings providing a platform specifically for women creators in film, TV, and new media. The purpose is to elevate, not exclude, according to students involved in the program.

“It’s not that I’m for having fewer men telling stories; we need everyone’s voices,” said Lucy Ross, a senior at NYU and the festival’s co-director. “It’s just that there are not enough women’s voices being heard.”

The numbers are stark, and in many cases they’re getting worse, not better. Over the past 17 years, the number of women directing the 250 top-grossing films declined by 2%, according to a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. Likewise, the percentage of women working as writers, editors and producers all dropped, the study found.

What’s upsetting for film schools like Tisch is that its program is evenly divided between the genders, as is faculty.

“We’re doing our job to develop the talent and create the talent,” said Susan Sandler, Fusion’s faculty adviser and the writer of “Crossing Delancey.” “But we’re still here because the path is still not clear.”

It’s not all bad news. There have been some improvements industry-wide. The San Diego State University study found that there are more female executive producers and cinematographers working today than there were in 1998, and indie film and documentary filmmaking are more inclusive. That gives many of the students involved with Fusion hope.

“There’s a lack of diversity, but it is getting better,” said Nicole Quintero Ochoa, a festival co-director and an NYU junior. “It’s about leveling out the playing field. Not pushing out male directors. Just giving female directors the same opportunity.”

In an effort to encourage collaboration, many of the submitted films or Web series don’t have to be directed by women. They just have to have women co-directors, producers, writers, cinematographers or editors, depending on the category. Applicants must be current NYU students or recent alumni, and winners get a range of rewards — from cash prizes to script software and DVDs.

The three-day event kicks off Thursday and continues through Saturday. It is about more than new works from the NYU community. Fusion also gives students and participants a chance to hear from the likes of “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, “Rizzoli & Isles” creator Janet Tamaro and HBO exec Doris Casap at panels and events. There’s also a “woman of the year” prize that will be awarded to “Frozen River” cinematographer and NYU alum Reed Morano.

“It’s a chance for our students to meet with people they admire and look ahead at what they might want to do,” said Sandler, who noted that many of the established talent are willing to come back on their own dime because “it’s a very satisfying thing to mentor people.”

The women behind Fusion are pleased that the debate around the Oscars is shining a light on the gender gap in Hollywood, and they hope that the events this weekend will continue that discussion. Ultimately, they look forward to a day when events like Fusion will seem anachronistic.

“Festivals like Fusion may not need to exist forever,” said Natalie Erazo, a Fusion co-director and a junior at NYU. “One day we may just call them all inclusive festivals or festivals with great work in them.”

Image: Lucy Ross, Natalie Erazo, Susan Sandler, Nicole Quintero Ochoa, left to right.

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