Festival Showcases Nevada and Women Films and Filmmakers

Biggest Little Street Companions, Reno student filmmaker Lucia Starbuck's short documentary film, examines the relationships between those experiencing homelessness and their pets. The film is one of the 2021 Nevada Women's Film Festival's official selections - Image: provided by Nikki Corda with the Nevada Women's Film Festival

In 2014, Nikki Corda was teaching in the film department at the College of Southern Nevada (CSN) in the Las Vegas area. This woman who had received her formal training in filmmaking at Boston University and had made documentary films noticed something odd about her CSN courses: a dearth of women.

It was after watching the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom (yes, that Newsom), when she grasped how widespread this scarcity of women in the film industry truly was. 

“I had worked in L.A. and the industry for years prior, but I didn’t really realize that there was such a problem of underrepresentation,” Corda said.

The film highlights the struggles women face in the industry, from limited or disparaging portrayals of women to a lack of positive role models and overemphasis on women’s youth, beauty and sexuality.

Research bears out Corda’s observations. According to the Women’s Media Center, the behind-the-scenes workforce in the U.S. film industry in 2015-2016 was comprised of only 17 percent women. And among the top 250 films made during that same time period:

  • 96 percent had no women cinematographers
  • 92 percent had no women directors
  • 79 percent had no women editors
  • 77 percent had no women writers
NWFFest selection Fight Back is a student film by Loren Trabelsi from the Maaleh Film School in Jerusalem – image: provided by Nikki Corda with the Nevada Women’s Film Festival

How could an industry in which women comprise 50 percent of the consumers employ so few women? 

Corda set out to address the problem. At CSN, she started a women’s film club whose activities included, among other things, “a little film festival” in March 2015 — Women’s History Month.

“We didn’t really know what was going to happen with it, but we wanted to focus on women filmmakers, and we wound up getting submissions from all over the world,” she said. “We had several hundred films. We just could not believe it. So we knew we had something much larger on our hands.”

Later that year, Corda and her team of organizers established a nonprofit organization, Nevada Women’s Film Collective, which has operated the festival every single year since — including 2020, which was its first virtual festival, though the pandemic forced the festival to move from March to June, where it now remains. This year’s Nevada Women’s Film Festival (or NWFFest, as Corda and her team call it), its seventh, will also be virtual, taking place June 21-27, 2021.

Though the festival originated and remains based in Las Vegas, its connections to northern Nevada include collaboration with Kari Barber, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and associate professor of electronic media at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Reno-based screenwriter and filmmaker Emily Skyle-Golden. Additionally, with films whose subject matter and settings often include Nevada and are available for streaming anywhere in the state, NWFFest’s reach goes far beyond Sin City.

Las Vegas-based filmmaker Hisonni Mustafa, whose film Take Out Girl is a NWFFest selection, will participate in one of the festival’s live Q & A panels – image: provided by Nikki Corda with the Nevada Women’s Film Festival

As for the criteria Corda and the NWFFest board use to determine films’ inclusion, it’s fairly loose. Aside from a great story and, ideally, a woman director (though not required), stories shot in or dealing with Nevada are nice, too, as are strong female protagonists. 

For the narrative, nondocumentary films, Corda explained, they like to use the Bechdel test. Named for Alison Bechdel, the cartoonist/writer who conceived it in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, it’s a set of criteria that measures the representation of women in fiction:

  • Does the film have at least two women in it?
  • Do they talk to each other?
  • Do they talk about something other than a man?

The virtual nature of the festival has not slowed its momentum. In fact, Corda points out that it makes the films and other events much more accessible to filmmakers and viewers than ever before. Its lineup includes 58 films from 20 countries, as well as Q & A panels with film professionals, a Nevada Woman of Achievement program, a panel conversation with script supervisors, a Nevada Women Filmmakers of the Year program, a Filmmaker’s Mixer (the festival’s only live, in-person event, on Saturday, June 26) and the culminating final event, the 7th Annual Femmy Awards show on Sunday, June 27.

Second Team, Ria Pavia’s 10-minute comedy film, is a NWFFest 2021 selection – image: provided by Nikki Corda with the Nevada Women’s Film Festival

Festival attendees/participants can opt into as many (or as few) films and events as they like. The all-access pass costs just $30 (or $20 for a student pass), or you may purchase tickets for individual films or programs, which are organized into “blocks,” or related groupings of films and Q & A programs, starting at $7.50 per ticket for a block. Films may be streamed at any time during the six-day festival, though the scheduled events such as panel discussions, Q & As, awards, etc. begin on Thursday, June 24, and are not streamed asynchronously. 

Corda says that in the seven years since the festival started, the issues surrounding women and film have changed considerably. “When we started out, it was new information that there were few women directors, few women filmmakers, and the way women were treated in front of the camera was ridiculous as well, with ageism and so forth,” she said. “Now I feel that information is much more well-known and highlighted, and now we’re seeing so many other areas to deal with, like the intersection of gender discrimination with race issues. We’ve got gender equality and LGBTQIA issues, with June importantly being Pride month … So just because things may be improving doesn’t mean it’s time to say we did our job, fold up our tent, and go home,” she said. “There are a lot of underrepresented needs and issues that we’re hoping to bring to the forefront, and we’ll just keep going!”

For information and tickets, visit https://www.nwffest.com/.


Jessica Santina is an award-winning writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience contributing to numerous local and regional publications. Read more about her here. Support Jessica’s work in The Ally.