Participants of the Reel Women Film Festival

The four documentary films showcased at the seventh annual Reel Women Film Festival were diverse in their subject matter, but similar in their depth. From chronicling the lives of women who survived civil war in Sierra Leone to exploring diversity through the eyes of a single mother who adopted three children with different ethnic backgrounds, the works delved into unique and complex stories.

The films screened during the festival are the culminating projects of students who participate in the Digital Moving Image Salon.  Their works are the result of a yearlong course where students learn to produce documentaries, and various research projects that explore interactive cinema.

“Producing documentary films, particularly those that focus on the lived experiences of women, allows our students to think critically, think visually and to participate in the national and international dialogues that occur around issues of social justice for women and girls,” said professor Ayoka Chenzira, founding director of DMIS and the festival, which for the first time was held off campus at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema in Atlanta.

The four films showcased include: “By Any Other Name,” produced by Daniel Edwards, DMIS’ first Morehouse student, Roberta Stanfield, C’2011, and

Digital Doyennes panelists (l to r) include: Angela Conyers Benton, Erica Hartfield, Gina McCauley, Jacqui Chew, Ananda Leeke and Lauren Brown-Jarvis

Khadija Ameen, C’2011, challenged the traditional notion of family with a portrait of Cindy Lutenbacher, Ph.D., a White English professor at Morehouse College, who mounts a host of personal challenges to create a family by adopting three daughters from different ethnic backgrounds. “The Rainbow Behind the Movement,” produced by Jeshawna Wholley, C’2011, Moriah Thomas, C’2012, and Cyncere White, C’2012, highlights the historical and current activism of Black “queer” women in the civil and gay rights movements.

“My participation in DMIS was like most of my classmates — life-changing. There were lessons that I and other students will be able to carry through my life,” said Nekesa J. Smith, C’2012, who along with M’Ballu Tejan-Sie, C’2011, and Blaire Smith, C’2011, co-produced “Neks Wol No Go Tan So (The Next World Won’t Be So).” “We followed three women who escaped the tragic Sierra Leone civil war and explore how they are keeping their culture and tradition in Atlanta.

“Beyond the Storm,” the film produced by Janee Chambers, C’2012, Darlene Garcia, C’2011, and Lauren Brown-Jarvis, C’2012, examined the path many women are taking to recovery after their world was unexpectedly washed away. “The goal was to not just tell the story of women in New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing flood, but to highlight the many needs and challenges these women still face as they continue to rebuild their families, careers and communities five years following this tremendous and terrible American tragedy,” said Brown-Jarvis, who also hosted the Reel event’s panel discussion.

The panel conversation served as the annual speaker series that professor Chenzira said further connects the Spelman community to the historic work that women are doing across various visual communication platforms. Presented in conjunction with the Women in Film and Television Atlanta, the discussion, “Digital Doyennes: Wisdom From the Women Who Lead in Social Media and Digital Innovation,” explored trends, best practices and activism in social media. The panelists included Gina McCauley, founder of the blog What About Our Daughters and the Blogging While Brown Conference; Ananda Leeke; blogger and founder, Digital Sisterhood Month; Erica Hartfield, digital producer, Everywhere; Angela Conyers Benton, CEO, Black Web Media; and Jacqui Chew, principal, iFusion Marketing.

Since its founding, DMIS has produced alumnae who have won Emmys, become part of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, presented their work at international festivals, become Fulbright scholars, and attended graduate school for film. Professor Chenzira sees the prestige continuing, even for participants who choose a different path.

“Students will not necessarily become filmmakers, but many have, including the Emmy Award-winning Spelman alumna Juliana Montgomery,” said professor Chenzira. “Other students will continue to use the skills in other disciplines.  There is already interest from local companies to show this year’s crop of wonderful films.” Joyce E. Davis is the editor of Inside Spelman and associate director of publications for the Office of Communications.