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Training Program Could Boost Diversity Among St. Louis Filmmakers

Instructor Mike Pagano works with participants of Continuity's film-training program on interview techniques.
Instructor Mike Pagano works with participants of Continuity's film-training program on interview techniques.

A local nonprofit aims to attract diverse voices to participate in the local film and media-production scene.

Continuity, a nonprofit media company, is recruiting applicants for its third-annual film-training program. It prepares people of color, women, and members of other underrepresented groups for jobs in the industry. Continuity will accept applicants through the end of April.

A total of 10 participants will be selected for the one-year program, which beings in August. The free training, which takes place at Continuity's Cortex location, will teach participants a wide variety of skills, from the basics of editing to how to create non-narrative projects. The participants will also recieve a paid stipend.

“Minorities are dramatically underrepresented in media today, especially behind the camera,” said Dan Parris, the executive director and co-founder of Continuity. “Our free, 36-week hands-on intensive filmmaking course provides skills-based training, mentorship and opportunities for untapped talent in our city.”

Parris founded the organization with Kyle Montgomery, the nonprofit’s current board president. They started by teaching students in St. Louis Public Schools. The two worked with students who created short films that were eventually shown at the Tivoli Theatre.

“We went in thinking we were going to work with students again, and then as we met other filmmakers in the community, we started to discuss really what the needs were in St. Louis,” Parris said. “We decided we wanted to work with adults, and we wanted to focus on diversity.”

About  200 applicants have applied for the program over the last two years, Parris said. Among them is Alana Woodson, who's gaining recognition for her documentary on the historically black neighborhood of Kinloch.

“Media production is very much the same heavily white-male-saturated industry,” Woodson said. “That leaves a huge void in creativity from other voices that would make the industry a whole lot better.”

Woodson said she’s inspired by the growing numbers of women and minorities in the film business, especially in Hollywood. Recent datafrom the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that 28 of the 100 top-grossing films featured leads or co-leads from underrepresented groups. That number is up from 21 films in 2017.

The St. Louis media-production industry also has work to do to increase the diversity of its ranks, Montgomery said. He cities the company's independent study, which found that African-Americans comprised about two percent of the local media workforce.

“Most people in the industry look like myself — I’m a white male.” Parris said. “It’d be really important to get other viewpoints, other life experiences, backgrounds, cultures telling stories about our region.”

Woodson’s film has attracted widespread local attention and received an invitation to screen footage at the St. Louis International Film Festival. The film will play at the Benton Park Film Festival at the end of this month.

“When you give us the opportunity, a little time and a little practice, and our space to use our voices in this industry, we can create great work,” she said.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.