Mind the Gap: Women | Film | Tech at the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival

Photo Credit: Bobby Pin Photography

She Started It panelists at MVFF39. Photo Credit: Bobby Pin Photography

Did you know that women make up less than 10% of all start-up founders? Did you know this disparity is the same for female directors in the film industry?

The Mind the Gap initiative was launched in 2015 to expand and reinforce the Mill Valley Film Festival’s long-standing commitment to female filmmakers and the portrayal of strong leading female characters in film. Growing out of that, the Women | Film | Tech initiative helped move the needle on women’s participation by engaging with regional influencers in the tech and business industries who share the same passions. Through networking events, discussions, screenings and workshops, we dug deep into the fundamental social, economic and industry-specific barriers to a level playing field for women. By bringing together business leaders and thought leaders, we empowered participants to make real progress in tearing down some of those barriers.

One highlight from the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival was a discussion about the intersecting points of the film and tech industries represented in the documentary film She Started It, which followed the lives of five young female entrepreneurs making their mark in the technology industry and examined the challenges they face in the ruthlessly competitive world of start-ups.

At the screening of the film, filmmaker Nora Poggi pointed out the similarities of independent filmmaking and start-ups, stating “it is our first film and it is definitely a start-up. You need to raise money, you need to build a team and build a product.”

When Poggi and her filmmaking partner reflected on their experience at MVFF, they enthused,

“As first-time filmmakers and as women, to get our foot in the door—it was priceless to get this kind of opportunity. A lot of people don’t see the work that goes into making a movie—so for the young women entrepreneurs who were featured in the film, MVFF elevated the experience.

Often the tech community and film community don’t get to mix and mingle and know each other. This was an incredible opportunity to bring a bit of Silicon Valley to Mill Valley. There were millennials who came to our screening who wouldn’t normally come to a film festival.”

The Mind the Gap program at MVFF was an enormous success, and we were thrilled to have achieved the following:

  • 36% (63) of MVFF39 films were directed by women;
  • 69% (122) of the MVFF39 films were directed, written or produced by women;
  • 1,605 San Francisco Bay Area students attended films that were directed, produced, or written by women, or had a female centered story through MVFF Education programs;
  • Mind the Gap films and panels reached an audience of 32,591.
  • Conversations with Julie Dash to celebrate her 43 year filmmaking career accompanied by a screening of her groundbreaking film Daughters of the Dust, which was the first full-length film to be theatrically released by an African-American women in the US; Nicole Kidman was honored for her legacy of work and contribution to film; and a Centerpiece Ensemble Spotlight program for the film 20th Century Women with director Mike Mills and actors Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Lucas Jade Zumann in attendance;
  • Innovative panel discussions and participatory programming were designed to pave the way for more films by and about women to succeed at every stage, from screenplay to production to distribution, including:

Women Behind Hidden Figures

With Elizabeth Gabler, president, FOX 2000; Marisa Paiva, vice president of production, FOX 2000; Mimi Valdes, executive producer, Mandy Walker, director of photography

Master Class: Documentary StoryMakers

With Barbara Boxer, former U.S. Senator, Nicole Boxer, producer (The Hunting Ground, The Invisible War), director (MVFF37’s How I Got Over), Robin Hauser Reynolds, director (MVFF38’s CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap)

Disney Animation Technistas

With Sara Drakeley, general technical director, Heather Pritchett, general technical director, Erin Ramos, effects animator, Michelle Robinson, character look supervisor, and Maryann Simmons, senior software engineer, who worked on the current  Walt Disney Animation Studio release, Moana

As we look forward to continuing the important conversation about gender in 2017, Mind the Gap: Women | Film | Tech promises a deeper dialogue between the two industries, to create an environment where women can thrive. Mind the Gap is designed to support “Fifty-Fifty by 2020,” Mill Valley Film Festival’s objective to demonstrate 50/50 female-driven storytelling within the next four years!


With appreciation to all of you who inspire us to produce these thought provoking programs.

Special thanks to the foundation support from Marin Community Foundation, special support made possible by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and corporate support from Glassdoor and Delta Airlines.