Interview with: Heidi Basch-Harod Executive Director of Women’s Voices Now

Tell us a little about yourself and what role do you play with Women’s Voices Now?

From a very young age I felt drawn to do something to alleviate the suffering of people. I’m pretty sure this came about from the first time I heard by grandfather’s story of survival in the Holocaust at about the age of ten. Coupled with a curiosity about the world, different places and different people in it, by the time I got to college I was ready to become an activist, to travel, but most importantly to understand for myself why and how there is conflict and suffering in the world.

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When I look back on my work experience and my volunteerism it is clear to see that I was on my path to finding something like Women’s Voices Now. As Executive Director of the organization I have this unique opportunity to spend time understanding global women’s rights issues from the people fighting at the frontlines through community activism, filmmaking and other forms of creative expression, government, and personal anecdotes of bravery in the private spaces of life. Introducing people to the universal struggle of women and seeing that moment of recognition helps me believe that the work I do is moving in the right direction.

 

What is Women’s Voices Now?

At its foundation, Women’s Voices Now advocates women’s rights through film, education, and activism. There are several pillars of the organization as well. An online film festival; a film archive of approximately 200 women’s rights-oriented films in the experimental, narrative short, documentary feature, and documentary short categories; our e-magazine, The WVoice; creative workshops; curated screening packages; and our fiscal sponsorship program for small budget films aligned with our mission. We seek to move people from empathy to action in the realm of the global women’s rights struggle.

Seeing a film is the first step, channeling the emotion and, most importantly, empathy generated in the experience of viewing into activism is the next step. This can be on the personal level, such as seeking out help to remove oneself from an abusive relationship; to a communal level, starting a letter writing campaign to elected officials about women’s rights legislation. Through social media and storytelling we became so close to our sisters in all parts of the world and began to see the common threads in the struggle.

 

 

Why was it important to create a platform where women can use their voice to encourage women’s rights that inspire social change?

It is somewhat unbelievable to think about how little women have to do with the way women are presented in the media. More and more we know the statistics – it’s mostly men – from journalism to the Hollywood entertainment industry. Women’s point of view is often packaged by men, so bizarre. When women are telling the narrative it takes on different shades. Also, women’s issues are simply not the focus of most people’s attention so we need outlets that directly, specifically focus on women and their experience of the world.

We all need to be part of this conversation, but it is certainly important to first learn and listen to women’s experiences in the world, whether positive or negative, personal or professional.

You have a film festival portion of WVN, tell us about the festival and how we can enter it?

The annual Women’s Voices Now Online Film Festival celebrates and awards the best films from around the world that highlight women in film and women’s rights issues that inspire social change. Each year, films are selected from countries all over the world and are viewed by tens of thousands of people online, internationally. Filmmakers compete for in-kind and cash prizes, media features, and the opportunity to have their films added to the WVN Film Archive for global promotion and viewing.

We seek out films and filmmakers interested in exposure and advocacy, and teaming up with WVN to have their films incorporated into educational and curated screening programs with individuals and our global partners. We have a Film Freeway portal that is very easy to submit films. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

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Do you also have future plans of extending the festival beyond being held online?
Our first festival in fact was a live, traditional experience hosted at the Los Angeles Film School. It was a very exciting gathering for those who attended to watch the films, as well as the filmmakers who were flown in from Afghanistan and the Netherlands, and also other locales within the United States.

However, we seek to be something a little bit different. We are trying to reach not only those who have access to film festivals and films, but also those who do not necessarily have the opportunities to attend movie theaters for either economic or social reasons. To fulfill our mission, we want and need to reach individuals where viewing these films will be comfortable and, most importantly, safe. We choose films that carry powerful messages and transmit the voices of women. Women’s voices are very powerful.  In our 2017 online festival, over 45,000 people in 195 countries were viewing and voting on our films. Limiting ourselves to the live festival wouldn’t allow us to have the kind of impact we seek to have, reaching the types of audiences we hope to reach.

 

What advice do you have for women who are deciding to enter into a film festival for the first time?

The immediate words that fly out of my mouth are, “Go for it!” But I’ve learned over the past five years that to be heard, one has to get one’s message clear. And since we’re talking film, it’s worthwhile taking the time to make sure the story is being told well. It doesn’t have to be professional or high budget or fancy, but a story has to be told well. This is important to honor the experience/story being conveyed, but also to actually inspire the empathy our filmmakers should be seeking from the WVN content consumers.

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Do you believe as women filmmakers we have a responsibility to use our voice to inspire a younger generation of women to become filmmakers? If so, how do we go about doing this?

We aren’t just hoping to inspire a younger generation to become filmmakers. Film is our main medium for activism, but it is not the only means to the more just and equitable end we are trying to create for us all. That being said, we strongly believe that film is the most efficient vehicle out there today for effecting social change. The way the mode of storytelling through film can instantaneously help us to identify with “others” makes it the most powerful tool we have out there to get people angry, mobilized, outraged, and ready to make change or be the change.

You also include Educational Screening Programs, tell us about that and why was important to include that aspect.

Quite often we see heavy films that are very powerful but leave us with a sense of helplessness and apathy. The issue is too big, the problems are out of reach, the individual can do nothing. Our educational screening programs are built to avoid this missed opportunity to make citizen activists. We provide context, expert speakers and/or the filmmakers who are affecting change in the situation that a film or group of films presents. Again, we are not showing films for entertainment. We have an agenda to inspire activism and a sense of individual agency. Without a little deeper engagement we cannot do that.

What’s next?

Over the past five years Women’s Voices Now has become something truly unique and special. But it has not reached nearly enough people and I want this to change. The time is now, that probably goes without saying. So the work is getting the product out there. All of our services are free, they need to be utilized!

As for me, on the side, I am always trying to find time to research why it seems that the male population has such an ingrained disrespect for the females. I am a writer, that’s my mode of expression. In time I am hoping to put all of my findings down to be helpful to others. If I find the answer maybe I’ll be up for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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