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Camp Reel Stories Gets Girls Into Filmmaking

If women and girls are better represented behind the scenes in the media, will they also be better reflected on-screen?

Yes, believes Esther Pearl, who founded Camp Reel Stories five summers ago as a series of filmmaking camps for girls and young women, where attendees write, shoot and edit their own movies while being mentored by industry pros.

Since then, the camp has grown from five-day classes attended by some 30 girls to sometimes four-week sessions that include 200. And after years of operating in the Bay Area only, the organization has added a stop in Los Angeles this summer, setting up shop at Glendale Community College for a weeklong session starting July 24.

Pearl began her career in the film industry at 16, working on her first commercial when she interned at a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She spent nearly a decade at Pixar as a production manager, working on such films as “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Incredibles” and “Wall-E.” Previously, she had worked in visual effects.

During those years, on many occasions she was acutely aware of being the only woman in the room.

Aiming to change that, in 2013 she came up with the idea to offer a weeklong summer camp that aimed to get girls excited about the idea of being storytellers and media and content creators. “We wanted to put accessible technology in their hands and then bring in women that had made this their career, in order to show all the different roles that it takes to put on a show or movie.”

Sixty professional women asked to volunteer that first summer. That made it clear to Pearl that she was onto something.

Those attending Camp Reel Stories range in age from 12 to 19. At the end of each session, they present their work in a mini film festival. “We have girls that have flown in from all over,” says Pearl. “We have girls who have come two years in a row. This summer, we have someone from Dubai attending for the second time. And while they have to find their own sleeping accommodations, we offer need-based financial aid. We’ve been very fortunate to subsist on private and individual donations.”

Many Camp Reel Stories graduates have gone on to attend film school and now come back to volunteer. One example: Norma Anaya, who was one of the first campers. Now she’s making documentaries while attending Chico State University.

Another alum, who didn’t want her name published, aims to create a video blog interviewing young women in Iran.

“Instead of waiting until after college to try to make it in this industry,” explains Pearl, “we want our girls to realize that they have the technology right in front of them — their iPads and smartphones and YouTube. There’s no longer a huge entry barrier. They have a better camera on their phone than most of us had in film school.”

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