Louisiana's Women in Film and Television

An organization just for local women in film and television is launching a new report line.

With March being women’s history month — International Women’s Day is March 8 — I thought it would be a perfect time to highlight a great organization geared specifically to women in the entertainment industry in New Orleans.

The Louisiana chapter of WiFT (Women in Film and Television) was founded in 2011; it is one of 46 chapters worldwide dedicated to advancing women in every field of these industries. Current president Carol Bidault de L’Isle says she started in the organization when she was 18 years old.

“Throughout my career, I was involved in many different chapters and helped found the chapter in France,” she says.

An award-winning producer, Bidault de L’Isle has now been in the industry for more than three decades. After growing up around the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, she lived in Paris for 15 years and D.C. for 15 before coming to New Orleans, where she was involved in setting up the WiFT chapter in Louisiana. Current honorary and advisory board members include Academy Award-nominated actress Patricia Clarkson and Susan Brennan, founder of Second Line Stages.

Bidault de L’Isle says that interest in WiFT Louisiana exploded during the industry’s recent downturn.

“It was like you were on life support,” she says. “There were of course those that picked up and moved to where the jobs were, like Atlanta, but then there were those of us that had parents, children, family down here that couldn’t just move. At that point you had to look at things and say, ‘Can I afford to live here for a few years without working?’ There were tough decisions to make but some of us were determined to stick it out.”

Bidault de L’Isle says the women who did stay in Louisiana were eager to do whatever they could to make themselves more marketable, which meant networking and educating themselves.

“Membership in WiFT tripled in those lean years,” she says. “Women needed to get information and training. We had a lot of focus on the tax credits, on understanding what was going on at the local and state government levels.”

As the industry has now begun to return, Bidault de L’Isle says WiFT has moved to looking at how to best support its membership.

“Before, we offered a lot more seminars,” she says. “But now we’re all, thankfully, busy working so people are more just looking to get together for drinks or something.”

But just because the jobs are coming back doesn’t mean women in entertainment aren’t battling problems.

“We want to make sure we are supporting women in whatever way they need,” she says, “but to do that we have to know what those needs are.”

In order to hopefully answer this question, WiFT Louisiana will be launching a report line in a few months — a phone number where any woman in the entertainment industry in Louisiana can call and report about any issue they may be battling in a way that’s completely anonymous.

“Are they facing safety issues on a set? Being pushed to work longer, harder hours than is allowed? Is there sexual harassment going on with a certain production? We want to know,” she says. “It’s by no means meant to be a crisis line — more a tool for data gathering so that we know what kind of issues women are battling here at home so we can work to address them.”

One issue Bidault de L’Isle says is a known problem in the industry is childcare.

“We have a lot of working single mothers, and in film and television you work a lot of long, strange hours,” she says, explaining that this scheduling leaves a real need for childcare that isn’t just for a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day.  

While the organization finishes up work on the report line, Bidault de L’Isle says their work continues to develop a local, indigenous community of filmmakers while hosting education and networking events.

“We’ve done a lot to support writers recently,” she says. “There’s a big need for that right now.”

For those interested in the organization, March is the perfect time to take a look. WiFT will be partnering with a variety of organizations, including the Loyola Feminist Film Festival, to present multiple film screenings in celebration of International Women’s Month starting on March 8. For more information, visit WiFTLouisiana.org.

Kim Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.