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Women & Fashion Filmfest Speaks in Volumes to Empower Women and Girls

Women & Fashion Film Founder & Executive Director, Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim wearing Monique Lhullier, and Paul Van Ravenstein along with Filmmaker and Founder of Model Alliance, Sara Ziff
Women & Fashion Film Founder & Executive Director, Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim wearing Monique Lhullier, and Paul Van Ravenstein along with Filmmaker and Founder of Model Alliance, Sara Ziff
Photo by Matthew Matossian

It takes a village to create a community - and that's what the Women & Fashion FilmFest is - not just a film festival, not just a conference, but also a community to empower women & girls.

The 2014 Women & Fashion FilmFest (WFF) kicked off June 3 with a Red Carpet Opening Night Gala hosted by the fabulous celebrity stylist, Jacqui Stafford, at Gold Bar in Manhattan. The chic venue, decorated in all gold everything, added an air of luxury to the already glamorous scene of fashion, film and media dignitaries coming together for an evening of philanthropy with one goal in mind – to empower young girls and women and give them a voice in the industry.

Rain showers could not keep out fashionistas who love a good party for a good cause and will travel in rain sleet or snow to get there. The pop of Champagne bottles meshed with music by Phi Unit of Building Beats (a non-profit that fundraises for DJ and music education for kids) as statuesque top models handpicked by International Model Scout, Sandi Bass graced the red carpet in designs by Maggie Norris, Margot Rozanska, Malan Bretonm, Diarra Bouss, and Loris Diran.

“As a casting director it is not all about my taste. I consider the designer and choose models that I think will compliment the designer’s clothing, and then the designer has the final choice. In the WFF Red Carpet casting I had more flexibility as we wanted top models so I chose the models first knowing the designers would be very happy,” said Sandi Bass. And happy they were! A legacy of fashion generations of professional , supermodels together under one roof was indeed empowering. We saw Grace Bol, who looked breathtaking in a dress by Malan Breton, Supermodels Sessilee Lopez, Candace Huffine, Devyn-1st Winner of Naomi Campbell’s The Face alongside Carla Hall-Star of ABC’s The Chew, Legendary Supermodel and WFF honorary host, Pat Cleveland. Nykhor Paul and Candace Huffine are also among the Honorary Hosts.

A heartening welcoming address was delivered by Eric Johnson, leader of NYC’s fashion initiatives followed by the presentation of the first Inspiration and Visionary Award for outstanding excellence. which was given to Filmmaker and founder of Model Alliance, Sara Ziff.

Opening night was followed by five days of girl empowerment activities at LIM College including panel discussions with luminaries in fashion, film, television, magazines, and beauty; screenings of films made by both established filmmakers and high school and college students and workshops for girls. When Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim founded WFF in 2013, the vision was to provide information, tools and creative opportunities for women and students, and honor leaders for their social as well as their artistic contributions. WFF is a Partner of MARITAGE International, a new UNITED NATIONS affiliated platform focusing on empowering women and addressing poverty by creating employment opportunities for women artisans and artists.

While we thoroughly enjoyed the opening night event and the conferences, wanted to dig deeper with an in-depth interview with Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim.

Examiner: What would you say to women and girls who are trying to make it in fashion or film and overcoming all odds to have their voices heard?

Jeanine: This may not be the first thing one may want to hear, but it’s not easy. Our attention spans have become shorter, and we’ve come to expect things to happen quickly and easily. Although it has become cheaper and easier to make films, to post photos of ourselves wearing creative outfits and get multitudes of likes on social media, actually making a viable career as a filmmaker or fashion designer is very difficult.

First of all, you have to have the passion for the crafts because the journey is definitely not one of just glamour and fame. Then you have to develop the skills, and not just the creative skills, but also the organizational, management and execution skills. Independent filmmakers and fashion designers are entrepreneurs. They need to think like entrepreneurs to succeed. Teamwork is critical. Although finding the right people can be difficult, it’s impossible to do it alone, especially when you want to scale.

For young people, I definitely recommend seeking a good mentor. Write a letter along with your resume to someone you admire in the industry, then offer your services. Show that person how dedicated you are. Be willing to do not just the “fun” and “glamorous” aspects of the job, but also tasks that just have to get done. Having a solid, reliable right-hand is invaluable to anyone. If she/he is a good mentor, your mentor will come to appreciate you, guide you through invaluable experiences, possibly make introductions and open numerous opportunities.

But it all starts with the passion and commitment to work hard to fulfill that passion – and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The road to success is rarely a direct straight path.

Examiner: This year's conference was a true success. What were some of highlights you feel best represent the spirit of Women & Fashion Film?

Jeanine: I’m really happy to say that there were many great moments throughout the festival – Carla Hall, Star of ABC’s The Chew, discussing how she left her safe job as an accountant to pursue her passion for cooking, André Leon Talley recounting how Sunday church gatherings prompted his passion for fashion, Liz Janneman, Executive Vice President of Network Strategy of Ovation, retelling how working in sports taught her a lesson – that she had to follow her passions – a common theme throughout.

Sara Ziff, Founder of the Model Alliance and filmmaker of Tangled Thread, her latest documentary about the aftermath of the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh, also raised many important issues about global working conditions for women in the fashion industry. Supermodels Nykhor Paul spoke of discrimination growing up and Grace Bol revealed how she had been told that she was “too black” at modeling castings. So the festival also raised many important issues affecting women and society.

However, watching the student filmmakers of our Girls Film Festival (GFF) speak proudly and confidently about their work gives me the greatest satisfaction. It amazes me how poised and eloquent the high school filmmakers were in front of the audience and cameras. Also, watching the girls – real girls, not trained supermodels – having fun walking the runway in original designs by the United Colors of Fashion, a non-profit that provides free fashion education to under-resourced youth, at our Girls Empowerment Runway, sponsored by TRUE Model Management and Runway The Real Way was really uplifting. Learning to walk confidently before a crowd, thanks to coaching from the lovely legendary supermodel Pat Cleveland and others, has to be empowering.

We were also able to invite a sixteen-year old in foster-care to our Girls Film Festival and Girls Empowerment Fashion Runway. Thanks to Audrey Pass and FoxTV Good Day Street Talk, we were connected to her through a non-profit One Simple Wish, which grants kids in foster-care a wish. Our team pulled together to give her a makeover by Brandy Gomez-Duplessis, a new party dress donated by Sydney's Closet, matching shoes and daytime wardrobe items courtesy of Catherine Schuller of Runway the Real Way, jewelry by CrysCharley and Charms, and $2,000 worth of cosmetics thanks to Stacey Schieffelin and Knox McKay Schieffelin of yBF Cosmetics.

Also, at our red carpet, I caught a moment when a photographer and fashion designer, who had a bad blowup last fashion week, hug it out. They laughed and made peace at our event. For me, that was a great moment too.

Examiner: That is awesome! In closing, what would you like to say to everyone involved and to those came out to support WFF; and, what can we expect next year?

Jeanine: First and foremost, thank you!!! The Women & Fashion FilmFest would not have been possible without our extraordinary team of volunteers and the community of people supporting us. The only way we can continue is to further build awareness and support. You can all help, even in the simplest of ways, by following us on Twitter @womenfashfilm and liking us on Also, visit our website to learn about how you can volunteer and join the festival next year.

We have interest from several potential panelists already, but we’ll have to keep in under wraps for now. I do hope that the Girls Film Festival and Girls Empowerment Fashion Runway especially, will continue to grow and have a real positive impact on young women and girls, particularly those who need the greatest boost and reminders, that yes, they can do it!

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