Few high school students can say they’ve accomplished as much as Kate Gondwe in the past two years.
The Wichita Collegiate School senior has made three short films, each of which has won accolades at film festivals locally, nationally and internationally.
Gondwe finds herself in the minority – in more ways than one.
Gondwe is an African-American woman and a first-generation American.
Opportunities for women in the film industry have historically been scarce, though strides have been made in recent years to add diversity to the filmmaking scene, Gondwe said.
A group of Wichita women – called the Female Filmmakers of Wichita – has gathered together for a little over a year now to be at the forefront of that change locally.
The goal, according to the group’s organizer, Andy McGinnis, is to create a supportive environment for women wanting to get into filmmaking.
If you don’t ever see stories that reflect your life and your experience, you can kind of feel invisible.
Andy McGinnis, leader of Female Filmmakers of Wichita
“It’s really important to me that women’s stories be told,” McGinnis said. “Women play such an incredible part in our culture. They tell stories that matter. If you don’t ever see stories that reflect your life and your experience, you can kind of feel invisible.”
Filmmaking in Wichita
Filmmaking in Wichita appears to be on the rise, judging from attendance at a filmmakers mixer earlier this month.
Wichita has a robust community of independent filmmakers – primarily hobbyists who do film because they are passionate about the art, not necessarily because it will make them money.
That community is fostered by organizations such as the Tallgrass Film Association and its Down to the Wire filmmaking competition, done in conjunction with Creative Rush. Since 2014, the Doc Sunback Film Festival in Mulvane has also been a boon for local filmmakers.
Last year, Tallgrass’ Down to the Wire competition featured its first all-female team, filled with girls 8 to 14 years old who shot their movie on an iPhone, McGinnis said.
That sort of diversity is what makes McGinnis optimistic about the future of Wichita film.
“Wichita’s a very collaborative and helpful filmmaking group,” she said. “We’re supportive of each other. We share equipment. ... There’s plenty of people who are willing to work with you.”
Gondwe, a member of Female Filmmakers of Wichita, said independent films like the ones produced in Wichita are where the “real raw stories” are able to be told.
“They’re people that are really putting their hearts and souls into their stories and putting their passion into projects – sometimes even getting into debt because of it,” Gondwe said. “At the end of the day, I really think independent filmmaking is the heart and soul of filmmaking in general, because that’s where you find that people that aren’t in it for the money.”
In independent film – as opposed to big-budget studio film – there has traditionally been far more opportunity for women to tell their stories, Gondwe said.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand it’s not that there aren’t talented women and people of color,” Gondwe said. “It’s that they don’t have the opportunities to get (into the craft) as easily, but things are changing. Hopefully they continue to change.”
Goals of the group
Since the Female Filmmakers of Wichita was formed on Facebook in August 2015, its membership has grown to about 50.
Female Filmmakers of Wichita began as a Facebook-only support group for women interested in film. It’s now developed into a group who holds in-person monthly meetings.
What began as an online-only community for women interested in filmmaking to network has developed into an in-person meeting every month, typically at the Donut Whole. Time and place is posted on the group’s Facebook page.
Ginger Bynorth, a filmmaker in Wichita – and founder of the Film Wichita organization, which tries to attract studios to film in Kansas – said she is “pulling for the female filmmakers” like herself.
She started filming in 2003, when she got her first camera.
“I’ve learned my way up the ropes, and now I want to help everybody else to do the same,” she said.
Gondwe echoed that sentiment.
“Women don’t always have to be sexualized; people of color don’t always have to be stereotyped,” Gondwe said. “I think we really should start making more films that show the reality of the world, which is a world mixed with different cultures and different people.”