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WIFT: momentum on mentorship
by: Tina Kaufman

Screen Hub
Friday 16 January, 2009

The second round of the WIFT Media Mentorship for Women Program is now underway, and three new mentorship areas have been introduced: Media Law, Interactive Media and Location Management. Tina Kaufman has the details. 

The program, which was launched at the WOW Film Festival in October last year, saw thirty-eight mentors come on board for round 1 in a number of different specialities.

When she launched the program at WOW, Tania Chambers, Chief Executive of NSWFTO, said that everybody she has spoken to `who has either had the opportunity to be mentored by somebody, or who has been involved in mentoring, talks about the fact that it is a two way experience; that the people who are there as mentors get invigorated, inspired and enthused and actually get to see the world in a slightly different way.’

She added that she hoped the program would continue to expand and extend beyond the initial two rounds, and was very proud that the NSW FTO was a sponsor.

In fact it was a remark made by Tania Chambers at WOW in 2007, when she commented that WIFT should consider reviving its mentorship program, that initiated the process. Ana Tiwary, WOW technical director, who had only arrived in Australia earlier that year and had joined WIFT because she’d been a member of WIFT in Washington DC, was activated by that comment. She had felt that a mentor would have been a help in her first months in Australia, and went to the WIFT board, suggesting the program (which WIFT had last run seven years earlier) be revived.

Although the program had been successful in the past, the board was not willing to commit immediately, but they did encourage her to do more research. She spent three months looking at other mentorship programs, past and present, local and overseas, and talking to people who’d been through such programs as either mentor or mentee. (Can someone think of a better word? Mentee is awful!)

When she went back to WIFT with a detailed proposal, it was the surprise promise of an immediate sponsorship of $500 to kick-start the program from an enthusiast at the meeting that clinched WIFT’s agreement. NSWFTO soon came on board, while the City of Sydney promised free venue hire for events and functions. A number of other sponsors have since been found, but the program would welcome more – at this stage much of the work is done by enthusiastic volunteers.

Responses flooded in after a call went out for expressions of interest from mentors, mentees, sponsors and volunteers. `I’ve been waiting for this for years!’ was a frequent comment, while there were a number of women who’d actually joined WIFT because of its mentorship program, only to find it had been discontinued. Ana Tiwary had expected applications from women in regional areas, and from women with few contacts, but she was surprised to find many from women working in more mainstream areas who still felt the need for a mentor.

With help from a team of web designers from Israel who are now in Australia, a targeted website was attached to the WIFT website – `it’s warm, friendly, youthful and creative,’ says Ana Tiwary – and a call for applicants was sent out in July. The matching process took place in August and September, and the first round matches were announced at WOW in October, followed by a Work/Life Balance discussion and a networking session as the first official events.

While the program has attracted mentors from many different areas of the industry, from scriptwriting and cinematography to sound design and editing, 22 of the applicants were actually teamed up with people they had named as preferred mentors, who enthusiastically joined up when approached.

The rest of the 38 applicants to be matched up in the first round were teamed with mentors who had come forward independently. Industry professionals including Piet De Vries, Robert Humphries, Jessica Douglas-Henry, Susan MacKinnon, Guy Gross, John Edwards, Tom Zubrycki, and Laura Sivis, together with overseas mentors US-based Laurie Scheer, UK based Anna Reeves and Anjum Rajibali from India, came on board for Mentorship Round 1.

Ana Tiwary says, `the most vital part of our program is our mentors, and we are extremely grateful to them for contributing their time and sharing their wisdom with the next generation of women filmmakers.’

Agreement forms between mentors and their prot?g?s set out how many times they meet and how many days they spend together. The mentorships are normally six months, but for some very busy mentors they can be restricted to four. `Once it’s set up, we let them work out the details,’ says Ana Tiwary, `and there is a mid-term evaluation and then a final evaluation – and, hopefully, a certificate.’

The program is just about to hold its first evaluations, but they have already had some feedback – and are asking for more. `We’ve already learned a lot, and we’ve made some improvements, but I’m surprised and pleased at how well it’s going,’ she says.

Deadline for Round 2 is 6 February; guidelines and the application form can be downloaded from the websitewhere there is also much information about the program and about those already taking part.

The program will establish mentor relationships between industry professionals and women who are seeking to further their careers in key technical areas such as Cinematography, Editing, Sound Design, Music Composition, Directing, Script Writing, Animation, Location Management, Media Law, Interactive Media and other areas in which women are consistently under represented.

All applicants will be invited to attend free workshops and forums and will have free access to the online forum i-Mentoring, as well as to podcasts of events. This is proving very useful for the number of applicants from regional NSW who do feel isolated. They can pose questions they have on a range of issues, including careers advice and technical concerns, and mentors are being encouraged to participate in this process.

Applicants will be welcome at the program’s upcoming events, including a talk on media law by Sonia Borella and Cathy Hoyle at Holding Redlich (6-8pm, 21 January), scriptwriting workshop with Karel Segers at the Rex Centre in February, and the cinematography workshop with Piet de Vries at Getting Creative in March.
Tina Kaufman
Tina Kaufman is a freelance writer on film and media issues who was editor of ‘FilmNews’ for seventeen years. She is now an Honorary Life Member of both the Sydney Film Festival and the Film Critics Circle of Australia.