The Inaugural Chicago Women in Entertainment Event

On Monday, October 24th, we teamed up with Women in Film Chicago and IFP Chicago to present Women in Entertainment Chicago, the first Women in Entertainment event outside of California! We are so excited to bring the amazing conversations we started in Los Angeles to Chicago, a truly vibrant and unique community of immensely talented filmmakers, thought-leaders, and creative arts advocates.

During the first panel, Diversifying Women’s Role in Entertainment, we heard from Oriana Oppice, Director, Producer, Writer, Actor, and Director of Programming for Women in Film Chicago; Susie Linker, Co-Founder of Elevated Films Chicago; Leslie Neilan, Producer and Screenwriter, and Fawzia Mirza, Actor, Writer, and Producer. The panel was moderated by Rich Moskal, Director of the Chicago Film Office. The speakers discussed what influenced and motivated them when starting their careers, and the valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way. Oriana Oppice shared her experience with becoming a director, sharing “the pigeonholing of Hollywood gave me what I needed to create content.” Additionally, the speakers shared their perspectives on the rise of female leadership in the industry; highlighting the importance of 50/50 gender parity in the industry and how men and women can work together to achieve equality.

For the second panel, Female Driven Storytelling Across Entertainment, we heard from Nicole Bernardi-Reis, Executive Director of IFP Chicago; Betsy Steinberg, Executive Director of Kartemquin Films; Maria Finitzo, Kartemquin Films Associate and Social-Issue Documentary Filmmaker; Jennifer Reeder, Filmmaker and Visual Artist, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Laurel Ward, Producer at Ocean Pictures. The moderator was Beckie Stocchetti, head of Independent/Local Film Initiatives for the Chicago Film Office. The conversation focused on how women writers, directors, producers, and actresses can work together to increase female leadership in the industry. They also explored what needs to be changed in the industry, like seeing more women in the director’s chair. They also discussed positive elements of the local Chicago filmmaking community, discussing that Kartemquin Films champions the voice of all filmmakers- women and men.

To close the event, we heard from Sanaa Hamri, an Executive Producer and Director on Fox’s Empire, and Susanna Homan, the Editor-in-Chief of Chicago magazine. Sanaa shared her unique experience rising to success directing music videos for artists like Mariah Carey, and her experience as executive producer and director on Empire. She discussed the lessons she learned from others, and how she strived to become even better than her peers– our favorite quote from her conversation is on her own goals: “Everything is about ownership… but eventually I’m going to have my own studio and my own distribution.” She also discussed that she doesn’t think about gender in her projects, she just does what she loves. Adding that she has learned a lot from the men she has worked with and takes those lessons with her on her journey.

All of the panelists offered amazing advice and perspectives for the audience, providing tools on how to nurture a long lasting career in the entertainment industry. We couldn’t have asked for better partners or speakers for our event in Chicago!