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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Erin Bagwell hopes Dream, Girl becomes a reality in Dubai

Feminist filmmaker Erin Bagwell hopes her documentary Dream, Girl can encourage more women to succeed as entrepreneurs

Erin Bagwell, documentary filmmaker, on her visit to Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National
Erin Bagwell, documentary filmmaker, on her visit to Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National

Feminist filmmaker Erin Bagwell visited Dubai to attend a screening of her documentary Dream, Girl for the opening of co-working space The Nest in Tryp by Wyndham Hotel.

The latest spot for freelancers and entrepreneurs, in Tecom, joins some esteemed venues in screening Bagwell’s film, which tells the stories of female entrepreneurs and the challenges they face. Dream, Girl had its world premiere at the White House last year at the White House Council on Women and Girls’ Women and Entrepreneurship event. Its public premiere took place at New York’s Paris Theatre, with Forbes editor Valentina Zarya and feminist poet Rupi Kaur among those in attendance. Bagwell herself is now listed in Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul100 – a list of extraordinary individuals who “live life intentionally”.

Already an established writer on her Feminist Wednesday blog, Bagwell came to make the film somewhat unexpectedly, albeit in a topical set of circumstances. She studied film and digital media arts at college and had “always wanted to make a feature film”. Initially, however, she worked in advertising after graduation. In 2014, however, she quit after inappropriate behaviour from a male colleague.

She started hunting down women in business and set up a kickstarter campaign to make her film. Bagwell achieved her US$100,000 (Dh367,280,000) target, and now tours the world with it. “Kickstarter really took off when [motivational speaker and star of YouTube’s MarieTV] Marie Forleo came on board [as a subject of the film]. She has a massive social media following [almost 500,000 subscribers on YouTube]. I had initially raised about $34,000 by myself and then once she came on and supported us, we doubled our goal,” says Bagwell.

The White House screening was facilitated by a Kickstarter contributor who organised the event, while the Dubai screenings took place after a friend at Toronto’s Nest alerted the UAE team about the film. This organic pathway to audiences is something the Dream, Girl team have taken to heart. For most people, the only way to see the film is at a community event such as this, and there have been 250 screenings around the world. After Dubai, Bagwell headed to Tajikistan and Egypt.

“We didn’t want to try for festivals as we really wanted to focus on the audience, and we had those 2,000 Kickstarter backers among them. Plus, as we’d already premiered at the White House we’d written ourselves out of a lot of festivals, as they demand premieres. We didn’t really want to release online either, as similarly, we didn’t think that would serve the audience at all.

“When we were done shooting we were really overwhelmed and the whole idea of getting into pitching it to festivals and distributors just really didn’t align, so we started with baby steps on the self-distribution route and it just kind of worked out, even though we had no idea what we were doing.”

As Bagwell and the team toured the film around women’s business community groups, they sensed a real movement developing and everything started to make sense. “When we started doing these community screenings, the conversations that happened afterwards and the way the whole community started to connect, it was exactly what we’d hoped for,” she says.

The model also gives Bagwell an opportunity to recuperate money. “It works better for my business model this way because I can charge a certain amount per screening and that’s probably more than we’d get if I just stuck it on YouTube. It wasn’t really planned that way, but because we’re not in the mainstream and we didn’t get a big blockbuster deal, it’s just kind of developed that way and we’ve built what works for us.”

The director has picked a timely moment to tour a film about female empowerment – issues around sexism and harassment are currently rarely out of the headlines. Bagwell believes we have reached a watershed moment in the struggle for gender equality.

“What’s really interesting currently, with things like the [Harvey] Weinstein case, is that women are finally starting to use their voices in a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, and that’s causing a domino effect. Women are finally being taken seriously, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it’s happened now we have these privileged, respected white women who we’ve seen in our favourite movies speaking out against sexism and harassment. Women are finally being listened to, and that in turn is giving a voice to women who might otherwise have been more marginalised. It feels like we’ve reached a stage where we’re not going to take anymore.”

Bagwell admits there’s a long way to go yet, however, for her film, for which she envisages another 1,000 community screenings, and for women.

“I think it’s actually more important what happens next,” she says. “Hollywood, in particular, has a lot of work to do, and people in Hollywood do genuinely seem to be taking the Weinstein situation seriously – he’s been sacked, he’s been ostracised, but still the last thing I heard, he was on a golf course, so let’s just see what happens next.”

To learn more about Dream, Girl or book a screening visit www.dreamgirlfilm.com

To learn more about Nest Dubai and it’s programme of opening events, visit https://nestdubai.co/

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