LUNAFEST East Bay – 10 years, by the numbers

I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.
– Meryl Streep, American actress

As LUNAFEST East Bay wraps up its LUNAFEST season, it’s worthwhile to look at the committee’s impressive 10-year run.

Our VIP event.

Nineteen filmmakers have attended our film festival since its inception in 2008.

In 2015, Emily Fraser and Katherine Gorringe, were our guest filmmakers.

LUNAFEST screened a total of 89 short films “by, for, about women.”

The Lunafest filmmakers for the 2014-2015 season, at the San Francisco premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Two hundred attendees came in 2008. Last year, 377 filled the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. The final numbers haven’t come out yet for this year, but we’re looking at approximately 325 people.

A full house once again!

LUNAFEST East Bay has raised $32,053 in its 10 years for the Breast Cancer Fund, now called the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

Jeanne Rizzo, RN, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, spoke at our 2015 event. She is amazing, energetic, and inspiring!

The committee raised $13,984 for El Cerrito High School’s Information Technology Academy (ITA), which has purchased, among other things, a 3D printer for the ITA students. LUNAFEST East Bay began funding the ITA in 2012.

The ITA students served food and greeted guests at the VIP event. They sold raffle tickets, checked in ticket holders, helped with the raffle prizes, and did so many other tasks during the evening that made for a smooth event. Thank you, ITA and committee members Melody Shah and Crystal Ngo, who oversaw the students.

At least 151 attendees filled out our 2017 survey. While many attendees hailed from El Cerrito (62), Berkeley (20), Richmond (17), Albany (14), and Oakland (13) were well represented at our event. For 31 people, it was their first LUNAFEST. Four people have attended all 10 screenings. Twenty people have gone five times, while 24 have gone three times, and 26 have gone twice.

Happy campers anticipate the 2017 screening.

How did our attendees find out about LUNAFEST? For 74, word of mouth made a difference. Emails drew 31 attendees, while the infamous “other” lured 47 attendees. One-hundred forty-four affirmed that they enjoyed the films, with 150 saying that they would tell a friend about next year’s LUNAFEST. So if you came this year or came in previous years but had a conflict this year, be sure to come next year and tell a friend. We’ll see you next year!

LUNAFEST in review – oh what a night!

Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try.
– John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

Ten years ago, LUNAFEST East Bay was created, chaired by the indefatigable, ever resourceful, community leader Joann Steck-Bayat. This year, LUNAFEST toasted its first decade of bringing the traveling, fundraising film festival to El Cerrito. What a major accomplishment. And we are the richer for it. In the course of watching fabulous, funny, thought-provoking, moving short films “by, for, about women,” we have learned about environmental risks for breast cancer and supported research done by the Breast Cancer Fund, our main beneficiary.

As we enlarged our world view by watching films by women filmmakers all over the world, we raised money for El Cerrito High School’s Information Technology Academy (ITA) to purchase such equipment as a 3D printer and supplies. We were moved and exhilarated watching the short film that the ITA students put together to let us know how the money we raised for their program enriched them and enabled them to realize their creative dreams and carry out their technological projects.

We got to know, as one of this year’s guest filmmakers, Diane Weipert, noted, some “kick-ass” women who are making important films that speak to a woman’s point of view and are making noise to be heard. We hear!

The morning after, as I looked at all the photos that I and my behind-the-scenes LUNAFEST partner and husband took, I knew that I would let the photos tell the story of yet another successful LUNAFEST film festival. I ran into a friend as I walked our dog Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood. She called out, “Brava!” Another fine show. Thank you to my LUNAFEST committee members, our guest filmmakers – Lara Everly and Diane Weipert – to our families and the ITA students who helped us out, and to our wonderful community who welcomes us every year.

LUNAFEST filmmaker Diane Weipert and her son, Theo.

Welcome to the LUNAFEST VIP event! Our bubbly committee member Jeannine Pagan is ready to check you in.

Tanner Nevill, committee member Stephanie Nevill’s husband, is ready to hand VIP’ers their glass of champagne to toast 10 years of LUNAFEST East Bay.

Our ITA student greets our VIP guests.

Our LUNAFEST VIP event was catered this year by Joanne Bailey, owner and chef of J Gourmet Catering.

ITA servers offer vegetarian stuffed mushrooms and pulled pork sliders with coleslaw.

VIP attendees getting their raffle tickets.

LUNAFEST committee member Peggy Murphy is excited about the 10 raffle prize packages.

Our scheduled piano player didn’t show up, but one of the ITA students tickled the ivories in a pinch. Note the tip jar – a LUNAFEST East Bay VIP event staple!

Nice spread of fruit, veggies, cheese and bread and crackers, thanks to LUNAFEST committee member Stephanie Nevill.

The weather cooperated and many guests enjoyed the outdoors.

Our cheerful bartenders and runner – LUNAFEST committee member Rebecca
Boe’s son and husband and Hossein Bayat, committee chair Joann’s husband.

Our veteran raffle ticket sellers at the VIP event – Dylan and Wyatt, sons of committee members Anja Hakoshima and Peggy Murphy.

Anja’s husband, Tom, and son, Dylan, assist VIP guests on which raffle packages are the most popular – such as the $100 gift certificate to Chez Panisse.

Selfie with LUNAFEST filmmaker Lara Everly and Elease Lui Stemp, producer of Lara’s film, Free to Laugh.

Committee member Carol Seuferer and former committee member Rhoda Haberman.

Chatting it up outside where the temperature was pleasant.

Peggy, Stephanie, and Hazel Nevill – her first LUNAFEST as raffle ticket seller!

It’s time to head to the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater. ECHS alumna Anna Schumacher, who was also a LUNAFEST filmmaker last year, was our master of ceremonies, and our guest filmmakers were Lara Everly and Diane Weipert.

Time to interview Diane and Lara on stage before the film screening (photo credit: David Rossi).

Diane discusses what inspired her short film, Ninera – her experience as a new mom amid the Latina nannies who were taking care of children other than their own (photo credit: David Rossi).

Lara talks about wanting to highlight an underserved community – women who were formerly incarcerated – in her short film, Free to Laugh (photo credit: David Rossi).

I really enjoyed how passionate Diane and Lara were when talking about their film projects and why they are so relevant in today’s world (photo credit: David Rossi).

Diane listens with rapt attention as Lara talks about her next project, Patriettes, about an undocumented girl who gets kicked out of the mock government summer camp. Lots of respect for each other’s work – and deservedly so! (photo credit: David Rossi)

Lara agrees with Diane about how politics is central to what they are creating – and how important it is to be vigilant about these issues, especially in today’s political climate (photo credit: David Rossi).

During intermission, the ITA table was covered by ITA lead teacher and LUNAFEST East Bay committee member Melody Shah and English teacher and committee member Crystal Ngo, with one of the ITA students.

Last chance to view the raffle prize packages!

Attendees knew where to go to get the scrumptious Braxtons’ Boxes baked goods in the lobby.

The best baked goods ever by Pamela Braxton and her son Zachary of Braxtons’ Boxes.

The films are done and now it’s time to announce the raffle ticket winners! Peggy entertained us while the ITA kids helped out. Side note – that’s my son, Jacob, trying to be cool on stage.

Somebody went home with this gorgeous and enormous bouquet of flowers.

The Pine family – Tim and Anne Marie and daughters Charlotte and Maddie – make it a family night at LUNAFEST. Thanks for coming out and supporting our film festival!

Joanne Bailey: cooking from the heart and home

Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best.
 – Isak Dinesen, Danish author, from Babette’s Feast

I first met Joanne Bailey, owner and chef of J Gourmet Catering, when my husband, David, reached out to a good friend for recommendations for a caterer for my 50th birthday celebration at our home five years ago. He and his wife had known Joanne for a decade and highly recommended her services. We wanted simple but memorable and flavorful food, and Joanne did not disappoint. Our same friend had Joanne cater his wife’s 50th birthday celebration recently, so I was able to connect with this wonderful chef, who I then recommended to cater our LUNAFEST East Bay VIP event, which precedes our LUNAFEST film festival on Saturday, March 18th.

J. Gourmet Catering catered my 50th birthday party. The food is ready to be served (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

Family food memories
Joanne’s life has always revolved around food, which brings up wonderful memories of family and her hometown of Richmond, Va. She recalls Sunday dinners at her maternal grandmother’s home with no less than 20 people at the table for traditional Italian meals and bottles of homemade wine. When her father was ill, she and her brother would eat meals at her aunt’s house. They’d pull out the leaves to extend the dining room table and iron the linen tablecloth before setting the table with cloth napkins and silverware. Her grandfather would be picked up to join them and sit at the head of the table. As one of the youngest children of the large extended family, Joanne was often in the kitchen, washing dishes and laughing and chatting with family members. “I grew up in the kitchen,” she noted. “The food was always amazing, and food was always an event in our family.”

The food is all gone – no surprise (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

Her father was a member of the First Families of Virginia, a designation bestowed upon those whose lineage can be traced back to Colonial Virginia. As such, her paternal grandmother was a “very proper” Southerner, and meals were no exception. For example, breakfasts were two-hour events, which included being served bacon and eggs and even ice cream and sherry glasses filled with Manishewitz Blackberry wine. Joanne remembers the sweet potato pie, greens, and leg of lamb that her paternal grandmother would serve during the holidays. She didn’t give out her recipes. “You had to be there if you wanted to learn,” Joanne said. In fact, her grandmother didn’t use cookbooks. “You learned by feel. That’s how you learned how to cook,” she explained.

After her father passed away, her mother took her brother and her and joined her best friend and her two kids on vacation. They rented a house along the Rappahannock River, a river in eastern Virginia that runs along the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, across the Piedmont, to the Chesapeake Bay, south of the Potomac River. The two mothers sent the four kids out on a boat with nets, freshly broken chicken necks, and bushel baskets, and tell them to come back when the baskets were full. “In the South, oysters, king crab, and fish were common fare,” she explained. Her mother continued the family tradition of instilling in Joanne the love of cooking and the importance of flavor. “My mother never heated up any food (out of a can or package,” she said.

Fast forward to the early 1980s, when she met and married her husband, who purchased and remodeled homes in San Francisco, then resold them, which now we call “flipping” homes. “Believe it or not, there were a lot of burned-out, abandoned, and reasonably priced homes in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s,” she recalled. During that time, Joanne had been involved in working in restaurants, but when her husband bought a restaurant for her, he encouraged her: “You’re a great cook. You should use your skills.” They hired a chef, whose specialty was fish, and thus began her culinary training. He taught her so much, from roasting a whole pig and making all sauces including demi-glace to mastering knife skills. The experience was exhausting and all-consuming in and of itself, so when her son was born a year into launching the restaurant, she realized that she didn’t want to miss out on raising him. So she and her husband sold the restaurant.

When her husband passed away, Joanne took her two kids and moved to Sonoma County. She started a successful housecleaning business, which enabled her to work but be home in time to be with her kids. She also turned the five acres of her land into a huge garden and for a while raised chickens. “We grew all of our food,” she said. Even when she and her kids went camping, they would make their own food. Her time in Sonoma was healing, with cooking playing an important role. “We took joy in small things,” she explained.

Joanne Bailey by her works of art – at my friend Raissa’s 50th birthday party in January (photo credit: David Rossi).

The kitchen comes calling
In the late 1990s, Joanne decided to move back to the San Francisco Bay Area and opened J Gourmet Catering, though she brought her housecleaning business with her. The husband of one of her clients, who was pregnant and on bed rest with a serious condition, hired her to cook for them, which resulted in her catering business booming simply by word of mouth. She’s been busy ever since, catering weddings, birthday parties, special occasion events, and other celebrations for more than 15 years.

Joanne is passionate about some of the work she takes on, especially with WestEd, a San Francisco-based nonpartisan, nonprofit, mission-focused organization that helps schools, districts, and states improve education through innovative research, evaluation, and consulting. One of WestEd’s missions is training pre-school teachers. Joanne caters breakfast and lunch for the teachers in the training program. “It just amazes me how much these teachers care about these children,” she marveled. “Teachers don’t get paid very much, so I try to do something amazing for them.” One menu she created for them included chicken masala sandwiches, sweet potato and red bell pepper soup with red dahl coconut milk, and tofu, carrot, and ginger cake.

Her latest obsession is flavor layering. “It’s so exciting,” she enthused, as she explained the time-consuming process for making the chicken masala for the sandwiches. The different steps involved different ingredients – first soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk or thick yogurt, then toast the seeds, fennel, ajwain, cumin, and coriander and grind them all, add ginger garlic paste, roll the chicken in paste and then in cornstarch. Yet another sauce will accompany the final dish, she explained, adding more flavor. “The different components involve different layers of flavoring,” she said.

Joanne loves to talk about food – here with Raissa’s husband, Mike (photo credit: Kelly Whitney).

I recalled how friends enjoyed the food at my birthday party, as did I and other attendees at my friend’s birthday party. “I feel so grateful that they love it,” Joanne said, of the compliments. “I do it for them. They want a wonderful meal, and I want to give it for them.” Joanne insists on getting the best ingredients that she can, no matter what the budget is. “Whatever I do, it’s going to be the best for whatever the budget,” she said. “Whatever I make for them, it’s going to be amazing.” Joanne enjoys picking out what’s in season and figuring out how to combine those ingredients for a memorable meal.

Joanne has passed on her appreciation of food and cooking to her children. Her daughter lives in England, but when they get together, she enjoys cooking with her son-in-law, who also loves to cook. Her son works with her and is a “really good cook,” according to Joanne. While she likes to move on to the next meal, he can transform leftovers from a meal into new creations.

She’s thankful that she didn’t follow through when she went back to school to earn a degree in accounting. “I love math, but you have to be practical. I didn’t want to make money for other people,” she said, of her change of heart. “Owning a business is hard. You’re always wondering about the next job, the next process. But I love challenges, and I’m really happy.” When you listen to Joanne talk about food, you hear joy in her voice – joy in life, as well. “Life is too short,” she shared. “The most important thing are your kids, your family. The rest is just the rest.” So be happy and try to do what you love best. Joanne certainly is living her motto. And her food is prepared and infused with that same love and joy.

Note: For more information about LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater, click here.

Joey Ally: making films with integrity

All any filmmaker can do is focus on creating something that has depth and resonance, and do whatever possible to get it seen by audiences and hope the word spreads.
– Megan Griffiths, American director, writer, and producer

As a child actor, who has appeared in such television shows as Sesame Street, Joey Ally pointedly noted, “I was not one of those kids who grew up with a camera in their hand – quite the contrary.” When the time came to attend college, however, the writer, director, actor, and producer opted not to go to a conservatory for acting. Instead, she attended Amherst College to study political science and French, with an eye toward entering law school later. “I wanted to work in the international criminal court,” she said. “I wanted to move to human rights law.” While at Amherst, Joey met a playwright who then wrote the lead part of his new play for her. As soon as she got back into acting, she realized how much she had missed it. “It got me back into acting,” Joey said, of the experience. “I just purely loved it so much, I realized I had to try to do this before I decide to go to law school. That changed my trajectory.”

Joey Ally

She returned to New York City, where she was born and raised – she also spent part of her childhood in Connecticut – and acted for a couple of years. But, she confessed, “I didn’t really love the business side of it. I didn’t love auditioning. I didn’t love what I was auditioning for.” She also didn’t love a lot of the scripts she was reading, so she started writing for herself. Although Joey was trying to avoid moving to Los Angeles when her apartment lease was up, it became her temporary destination when her best friend relocated there. Another friend who was going to volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival convinced her to join her in Park City, Utah. “I’d never been exposed to indie films much before that,” Joey admitted. At Sundance, she saw the film The Off Hours (2011) and loved it. When writer and director Megan Griffiths spoke to the audience after her screening, Joey said, “She was inspiring to me. The things she said, I thought, ‘I feel that I understand that person. I feel the same way as that person. I think I’d like to do those things.'” At that moment, the notion of being a director opened up to her. “It was such a revolutionary thought at the time,” she recalled. The Off Hours was the kind of film that she wanted to work on from behind the camera.

She got her first 9-to-5 job as an assistant for Whitewater Films, which, she says, was “the best decision I ever made to that point.” She met Megan on the job and asked if she could be her assistant to get hands-on learning on the set. Joey then moved to Seattle where Megan is based to assist her on the film Lucky Them. While there, Megan recommended Joey to director Lynn Shelton, and she stayed in Seattle to assist on Laggies as well.

Still from the film “Partners.”

From ‘Minimum Wageto ‘Partners’
After that experience, Joey made her first film. “It was very fast once I found it (directing),” Joey said. She wrote the script for “Minimum Wage,” a short film about a cocktail waitress who, at the end of a bad day, is walking home after her car is towed and is solicited by a man who thinks she is a prostitute. The inspiration for the “mixed-morality” film came from an incident that happened right after college – a man solicited her while she was on her mobile phone in front of a grocery store. She wondered what she could have done differently in that situation and what would have happened had she taken the guy’s money without having to do anything for it. The incident occurred during the financial crisis, and many of her friends were losing or had lost their jobs. “The world felt really dark and unfair,” she said, of the time. “This whole story came out of thinking about what morality means, purposefully choosing to do right over wrong, when the world itself isn’t reflecting those values to you.”

Although Joey admitted that she hated the process of writing, she said, “I think certain stories need to be told – I want the stories that I want to be told, to be told. So I keep doing it.” She started writing to create roles and scripts for herself, but by the time she had worked under Megan and Lynn, and started making her first film, she realized she wanted to write and direct even independent of acting. Although she wrote “Minimum Wage” with the intention of playing the lead role of “Kit,” she ultimately decided to cast the role. “It was a life-changing experience to work with Sarah (Ramos), and to really be able to focus on directing exclusively,” she said.

On the set of “Partners.”

One of the perks of directing is the ability to collaborate with others. An official selection of LUNAFEST this year, “Partners” was a collaboration between her and Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt, who both star in the short film. “I had been wanting to work with improv more heavily in my work,” Joey said, of the experience. They workshopped and rehearsed the script together, with filming and editing lasting two days. “Then we were done,” she said simply. “It really showed me that prep makes a difference.”

Both “Minimum Wage” and “Partners” are productions of SilverOx Pictures, a creative partnership between Joey and T.J. Williams, Jr., an award-winning cinematographer whom she was introduced to by Megan. The partnership allows them to create their own work but also to be involved in co-productions mostly brought to them by friends and their film community. While they won the 2014 MOFILM for Cannes Award for the first SilverOx commercial and won 2015 Video of the Year at WME|IMG, Joey noted that SilverOx Pictures is focused mostly on narratives.

Joey Ally giving direction on the set of “Partners.”

Changing the world – and the industry – with invested stories
“When I gave up the idea of being a human rights attorney, I didn’t give up the idea of working in the human rights sector,” Joey pointed out. “It’s really important to me that my work reflects that, on some level, every time.” The points needn’t be made emphatically. “It can be as simple as changing the gender, sexuality, or the race of a character – and say nothing about it,” she said. “I want to push on those things.”

Although Joey has experienced gender discrimination as an actor, she insisted, “I’ve had a really strangely easy experience entering the industry as a director. Although I’ve been lucky, I know a lot of people who haven’t. I’ve been treated like a normal human being, and that should be the status quo for everybody.”

Her two apprenticeships with diverse crews under two strong, well-respected female directors contributed to her positive experiences. She learned from Megan and Lynn to “treat each other fairly” as a director. “It’s really important to treat everyone around you with not only respect but respect for their position because as much as you are the film, they are the film,” she said. Joey strives to create a “crewtopia” – coined by Megan and Lynn – within her own projects and hopes that culture is embraced in the Los Angeles filmmaking industry. Just as she’s learned from the two veteran filmmakers, Joey says she’d advise young directors: “Don’t just make it because you think it will do well; make it because you really care about it. Otherwise, why are you making stories?” she said. “That’s the first thing. And then work on it until it’s good. When it’s good for you, then you’ve made your piece of art. But make what you want to make, with integrity. And surround yourself with people with integrity.”

Note: You can see Joey’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.

Laura Doggett: creating a space for girls to express their stories through film

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
– Marcel Proust, French novelist

Community artist and educator Laura Doggett.

“Another Kind of Girl,” directed by Khaldiya Jibawi – which is a pseudonym to protect her identity – could not have been released at a more relevant time amid media attention on the Syrian refugee crisis and the hot-button topic of immigration. In this short film, an official selection of LUNAFEST Film Festival for 2016/2017, “a 17-year-old girl meditates on how her refugee camp (in Jordan) has opened up new horizons and given her a sense of courage that she lacked in Syria (her homeland).” The film was made in a workshop for teenaged girls run by Laura Doggett, a community artist and educator on a post-graduate fellowship from Duke University in 2014.

Khaldiya taking aim with her camera.

As a Felsman Documentary Fellow, Laura was paired with a Public Policy Fellow to conduct research for two months on girls’ access to education in Jordan – in Za’atari Refugee Camp. For her part, she was tasked with making a film. There was little time to do research on the topic before her arrival, but nevertheless Laura immersed herself in her new environment by giving the girls she was working with the opportunity to teach her through their perspective. “My natural instinct is to give them cameras,” she explained, of her teaching strategy but also her introduction to a new culture through her students.

Still from Another Kind of Girl.

Another kind of workshop
In her first workshop at the refugee camp, Laura and her translator and co-facilitator, Tasneem, taught photography to 20 girls, although two of them were more interested in video. When she returned later in the year (2015) through the International Rescue Committee, she worked in her preferred medium of video with five teenaged girls in Jordan’s northern city of Irbid. The camera became a way for the girls to develop a visual language to express their inner and outer worlds, according to Laura. “Since the first round of workshops, the girls expressed a desire to acquire deeper knowledge of the technical and artistic means to tell their community’s stories, as well as have a supportive community through which they can continue to create more work,” she explained. “From this desire grew the Another Kind of Girl Collective, an arts collective with their female peers that supports further learning, artistic production and social engagement.” As their producer, Laura entered their seven films in various youth film festivals around the world.

The young women in the collective share their work with one another.

To date, international festivals, such as Sundance, Cannes, and SXSW, have screened the films. Conferences focused on the refugee crisis, including the EU Conference on Women Refugees and Asylum Seekers, have showcased their films. The New York Times and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, among other media outlets, have featured their works. The young women have also won numerous awards, which have included prizes such as a camera and computer, which the individual recipients have shared with the others in the Collective.

Laura, sharing her knowledge with the young women in the Collective.

Khaldiya fled from her hometown of Dara’a four years ago after Syria’s civil war broke out and now lives in Za’atari Refugee Camp. In a post from the Another Kind of Girl Collective website, she explained what filmmaking brought to her life: “In Syria, I didn’t even know how to hold a cell phone and film. Here I fell in love with filming. When I film I just feel at ease. It never crossed my mind that I would become a filmmaker, but when we took the course, I had it in my head that I wanted to be a filmmaker. When I film, I feel like I am someone very important.” Khaldiya wants to take become a leader in continuing the workshops – helping other girls in the camp to give voice to their stories through the arts and to drive change in her community through storytelling. In the meantime, Khaldiya is awaiting Laura’s arrival this month, so that Laura can attend her wedding. Laura keeps in touch with the young women from the workshops, and shared that a few of them have married “amazing” husbands who have supported their wives’ artistic endeavors. Khalidiya’s husband-to-be, too, supports her dreams.

Still from Another Kind of Girl.

Laura and Tasneem began the second round of workshops in November and December 2016, and will return this month to work with them on editing skills. “The workshop gives them a space where they continually create and and speak about being aware that they are providing something really valuable for their community – a collective of passionate, creative, vocal, compassionate, civic-minded young women – and to the world – a new perspective on the lives of refugees,” she said, of the young women. “They are looking for ways to make their day-to-day lives meaningful.”

Sharing and bonding time.

The power of storytelling
Laura has been helping young people – mostly young women – tell their stories and thus become empowered through creative expression for more than two decades. “I’ve always loved stories,” she noted, citing her father as “the first master storyteller in my life.” Laura, who earned her BA in English, Creative Writing, from Wesleyan University, was also inspired by Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American short story writer and novelist. In a 2013 profile, Laura said of Welty, who wrote about the American South, “She made me want to write characters and stories just like hers, but before she even made me want to write, she made me want to observe.” The power of observation serves the artist well, but it also can inspire greater understanding of and compassion for communities outside of our own.

Capturing one of her students, Stacie, in Appalachia.

As an intern for the public radio documentary show, This American Life, Laura worked on a piece about Mexican-American teenagers and cruising. When she returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C., she ran a youth radio program. Laura spent many years in Appalachia, first directing a program in Kentucky called the Appalachian Media Institute, which trained young people to create documentaries about their own communities, and then later doing the same at High Rocks, a girls’ leadership organization in West Virginia. Laura worked with them to express themselves through media, particularly photography, video, and creative writing.

Filming her student Lauren in a program that she led while in her MFA program.

After her experiences in these various experiences, she decided to go back to school and earned her MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. “It was an opportunity to continue to do storytelling with girls and young women, but to develop a more personal style of collaborating with them in ways that responded to individually their artistic voice and strengths, and the multitude of ways they chose to articulate their visions for themselves,” she said. In between the workshops in Jordan, as a Lewis Hine Fellow, Laura worked with young women aging out of the foster care system in the Bronx.

One of Laura’s students, Etta, imagines nature in the Bronx.

Nurturing Another Kind of Girl Collective
Laura’s visit to Jordan this month won’t be her last. She’s hoping to secure more funding to continue conducting workshops in Jordan, as well as to find the next community to share her passion for storytelling and to create more opportunities for young women to be heard and become empowered through film. Thus far, she’s been “running to keep up with the project,” but at some point she wants to take time out to strategize with the members of the Another Kind of Girl Collective. “The next step is to move towards making it self-sustainable, where they can continue to create media on their own, learn the various platforms and venues to share their stories and create dialogue, and then ideally also earn income for their media pieces,” she explained. She’s hoping that the women can build on their skills, get their own media out into the market, and create a successful business.

A lighthearted moment between Laura and her Syrian student.

“My desire for the films is what the girls’ desires are for their films as they’re being shown around the world,” Laura said, speaking as the Collective’s creative director. “They are smart, creative young women who have a unique perspective and a lot to say They are not passive or tragic beings, as mainstream media often present them. They are very vocal about wanting to be understood and heard as hard-working, motivated, creative visionaries. They also want their stories to encourage other girls and young women in difficult circumstances to express their most important stories.” Laura shared the sentiments of one young woman in the Collective, Walaa: “It’s important for girls to bring things from inside to the outside. Writing and filmmaking helped me not be afraid to tell my story. I hope that each young woman is able to express her inner-self directly and indirectly, and that she can just break the world. It doesn’t matter, just break it all over the place.…” Such passion and conviction are testaments to the value of artistic expression Laura has brought to these young women and our communities.

Note: You can see Laura’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.

Top 10 reasons to attend the extra-special LUNAFEST 2017

I can see myself in all things and all people around me.
– Sanskrit phrase

We’re almost a month out from LUNAFEST East Bay’s annual LUNAFEST film festival – “by, for, about women” – which means it’s time for my annual Top 10 reasons to attend. This year is extra special, as you’ll see as you go down the list.

One of our perky ECHS ITA students serving at our VIP event last year.

10. VIP event
If you’re attending the VIP event, which precedes the film screening, you’re in for a real treat. First of all, you’ll be served fantastic food created by J. Gourmet Catering. The flavorful fare will be paired with an assortment of spirits – wine donated by Clif Family Winery and Folsom & Associates (Robert Mondavi and Franciscan) and beer donated by Lagunitas Brewing Company and Trumer Pils. You will get to meet our two guest filmmakers whose short films were selected for LUNAFEST this year. Listen to great music performed by El Cerrito High School student musicians while mingling with other VIP attendees who love film and raising funds for worthy causes. This year, we’ll all be raising a glass of champagne for a toast – but I won’t let on why until further down the list. Intrigued? Sounds like your kind of event? You can get VIP tickets here. But hurry, number of tickets are limited and they are selling quickly!

Head straight for the raffle tables in the lobby to choose what you’ll be buying tickets for.

9. Raffle prizes
Every year, LUNAFEST East Bay raffles off fabulous prizes, and this year is no different. Among the LUNAFEST 2017 prizes are a $100 certificate to Chez Panisse and $100 cash. Check out the raffle board at the VIP event and in the lobby of the El Cerrito High School (ECHS) Performing Arts Theater to peruse the themed basket of prizes, and then nab an ECHS Information Technology Academy (ITA) student who will be selling raffle tickets. $1 a ticket, 12 tickets for $10, and 25 tickets for $20.

Anna Schumacher (photo credit: Talia J Phorography).

8. ECHS alumna Anna Schumacher
Master of ceremony duties belongs to Anna Schumacher, whose short film, “Finding June,” was a LUNAFEST 2016 selection. Anna, who grew up in Kensington, Calif., is a local alumna of Portola Middle School (now Fred T. Korematsu Middle School) and El Cerrito High School. If you went to school with Anna, come on out and reconnect.

7. LUNAFEST filmmakers Lara Everly and Diane Weipert
This year we are lucky to have two filmmakers join us – both at the VIP event and in an on-stage interview. Diane Weipert, who lives in San Francisco, will be showing her short film, “Niñera,” “a story that looks at the bitter irony many nannies face: raising the children of strangers for a living while their own children are virtually left to raise themselves.”

Diane Weipert.

Diane Weipert has worked in film for over a decade. Her screenwriting debut premiered at the World Cinema Competition at Sundance in 2006 (Solo Dios Sabe – Diego Luna, Alica Braga). Her award-winning radio piece, “The Living Room,” was named best story of 2015 by Wired and The Atlantic, and is being developed as a feature film. Weipert is a two-time resident of the San Francisco Film Society’s Film House, where she is in development on her feature, Boyle Heights. Read my profile of Diane here. Then get to know her in person and ask her about her feature film!

Our second guest filmmaker, Lara Everly, hails from Los Angeles. Her short film, “Free to laugh,” is “a documentary that explores the power of comedy after prison.” Lara is a director, actress, and writer championing women in comedy – both in front and behind the camera. Her directorial debut, “Me, You, A Bag & Bamboo,” was awarded Best Family Film at the Canada International Film Festival and won the Viewer’s Choice award at the Ovation Short Film Contest, which led to a televised screening of the film. Lara’s short films have played the film festival circuit, won awards and procured distribution through Shorts HD, Snag Films and

Lara Everly (photo credit: John Sutton).

Lara loves directing comedy, partnering with companies like FunnyorDie, Comediva, Hello Giggles, and College Humor. Web Series work includes “Love Handles” for FunnyorDie and a music-video web series called “The Queue” for PopularTV.  She most recently directed a musical comedy pilot called “Patriettes” about a mock government summer camp for teenage girls. Read my profile of Lara here. Be sure to meet Lara at either the VIP event or at the film screening – she’s as funny as her short films!

6. The Breast Cancer Fund and ECHS ITA benefit
When you attend a fundraiser, you want to ensure that it’s working to make the world a better place. LUNAFEST East Bay is supporting both a local organization and the Breast Cancer Fund. The Breast Cancer Fund “works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease.”

The nonprofit organization translates the “growing body of scientific evidence linking breast cancer and environmental exposures into public education and advocacy campaigns that protect our health and reduce breast cancer risk.” The Breast Cancer Fund also helps to “transform how our society thinks about and uses chemicals and radiation, with the goal of preventing breast cancer and sustaining health and life,” and finds “practical solutions so that our children, grandchildren and planet can thrive.”

ECHS’s ITA students – volunteering for LUNAFEST and gaining invaluable IT experience.

ECHS’s ITA is our local beneficiary. ITA is a small learning community supported by TechFutures, a nonprofit organization started by Mr. and Mrs. Ron Whittier. Their objective is “to give the underserved WCCUSD students an opportunity to have career focused courses in digital art and computer systems management.” From the funds raised by LUNAFEST East Bay, ITA has purchased, among other things such as art supplies, a three-dimensional printer, which is serving tens of hundreds of students. The students have created short films that will be shown at the film festival, which is paving the way for future filmmakers.

A great way to spend an evening with your women friends! Our LUNAFEST East Bay committee members raise a glass to another successful event!

5. Women’s Night Out
Historically, women have had to fight for too many things – the right to vote, protection of their reproductive rights, equal pay, and the list goes on and on. And we’re still fighting on many of these issues! Just as Black Lives Matter, there’s a reason why a film festival “for, by, about women” exists. It’s not meant to be exclusive. Rather, it highlights the fact that women have not had equality or equity in the film industry. Especially during these times, let’s celebrate the accomplishments of women. Let’s be right beside them when they dream big and make good on their vision. Let’s celebrate their artistic vision. If you went to one of the women’s marches around the Bay Area, gather your friends again and celebrate LUNAFEST by making it a Women’s Night Out.

My friend Wendy and her daughter, Lindsay, enjoy their evening out.

4. Mom/daughter night out
Following on the theme of the recent women’s march and Women’s Night Out, it’s important to think of our daughters, as they are the future of our world and what happens now affects their future. Taking our daughters to LUNAFEST is a way to introduce them to films with a woman’s perspective, to other cultures, to other ways of thinking and seeing. It’s a way of expanding their world and connecting them with people outside of our community. My daughter, Isabella, will be attending her third LUNAFEST. Technically, we’re not together in the audience since I’m in and out, behind the scenes, so she sits with a good friend of hers, who also comes with her mother. It’s a tradition that I’m thrilled to share with her, but it’s also something that she’ll take with her when she’s an adult – appreciating and supporting women filmmakers, raising awareness of the environmental impact on breast cancer, and raising funds for worthy causes.

A family of friends have some fun at the LUNAFEST photo booth last year.

3. Family night out – LUNAFEST is for everybody
So I’ve been advocating Women’s Night Out and Mother/Daughter Night Out, but I believe in inclusivity, so if you feel inclined, bring your whole family and make it a Family Night Out. In fact, my husband, David, and my son, Jacob, who is in the ECHS ITA, also attend LUNAFEST. I feel that it’s important for everyone – not just women and not just for preaching to the choir – to see films made by women filmmakers. Let your sons and husbands be exposed to and appreciate short films that speak to a woman’s view. It’s a great way to expand their capacity for compassion.

At last year’s LUNAFEST, the East Bay committee gets a little crazy at the close of the event.

2. 10th anniversary of LUNAFEST East Bay and 100th anniversary of City of El Cerrito!
It’s our 10th anniversary of bringing this fundraising film festival to the San Francisco East Bay. Sure, more than 175 cities across the country have been showing this year’s films, including local communities in the area. But we’re special: to date, in nine years, LUNAFEST East Bay has raised more than $27,000 for the Breast Cancer Fund, a distinction that has been recognized by both the nonprofit organization and LUNAFEST. We have also been supporting ECHS ITA for the last six years, raising nearly $11,000 for the learning community. We look forward to adding to those amazing totals with our 10th film screening. So come on out and celebrate this banner year! Our LUNAFEST film festival is also one of the official events recognizing the 100th anniversary of the City of El Cerrito. So, if you’re a resident of El Cerrito, join us in celebrating our host city’s centennial!

Still from this year’s LUNAFEST selection, “Another Kind of Girl.”

1. LUNAFEST films are fantastic
If you’ve been to LUNAFEST film festivals in the past, then you know how wonderful the films are. Quiet, rebellious, thoughtful, laugh-out-loud funny, sad, biting, gentle, animated, innovative, traditional – for the past 15 years, LUNAFEST has honored a broad spectrum of short films. If you’ve never been, join us and see why our event keeps growing in attendance every year, and many attendees return and make the event a tradition. We support excellence in short filmmaking. Be entertained. Be awed. Become full of wonder. Expand your world and your love and compassion. Get to know your neighbor in the theater and talk about which short film was your favorite and why. Connect and share. Walk away changed by the vision of these talented women filmmakers.

Note: For more information on LUNAFEST East Bay’s LUNAFEST screening, click here.