Ten years ago, Kerri Yost came up with the idea of Citizen Jane. Its creation was a collaborative process with other Stephens College students and faculty, and the name of the festival was even coined by a dance major at Stephens. Before the upcoming 10th anniversary, Yost reflects on some of the festival’s highlights and her most memorable moments as the fest has grown and changed through the years.
Q: Is there a specific year that is particularly meaningful to you?
Kerri Yost: The third year, 2010, sticks in my mind. Because for the first couple of years, people outside of Columbia didn’t really know who we were, so we spent a lot of time explaining our festival. At the time, people weren’t really aware of women in film and that need for more representation. I had been asking a producer that I really admire, Christine Vachon, for the past few years to come, and that year she said yes. We also really wanted to get who we thought was a new voice in film, Lena Dunham. At the time, nobody had heard of her, but she had this film Tiny Furniture. It was our opening night film, and that was a really magical year. It felt like finally we were no longer begging and explaining ourselves, but people finally believed us and wanted to be with us. It gave us some confidence that what we were doing was fulfilling a real need in our film industry, and people noticed. People appreciated the programming, and we realized that our job is to show films that maybe wouldn’t have been seen otherwise and voices that haven’t been heard and put them in the spotlight. It was also the year Winter’s Bone came out, so we had this nice Missouri connection with a filmmaker I really admire, Debra Granik. It was just a great year for film, and also I felt like we had an idea of our direction that year, our purpose.
Q: What has been a memorable film you’ve screened? Why did it affect you?
Yost: One of the most memorable screenings I’ve had was a documentary called Monica & David in 2010. It’s a film about two people with Down syndrome who fell in love and wanted to get married. It’s really following their life, and you get to know them. We had it in a theater, and we did a lot of outreach to make sure that people who might care about this topic would be able to come. I just remember the whole third part, the middle of the theater was full of people in wheelchairs, they came up to me later and thanked me for getting a theater that was so accessible, and they said that this was the first time they had seen a movie in years because they usually have a hard time getting in and out of theaters. Afterward, we had a community panel with people who represented people with disabilities, organizations and parents. The conversations held afterward were about how parents and adults try to have relationships and how their disability affects that and how our laws affect those relationships. It was very illuminating, and it reminded me of what a community film festival can be.
Q: Which director has most surprised you? Has there been a prominent director who attended?
Yost: Yvonne Welbon in 2013. We had been asking her to come very early in our festival, but she couldn’t, and then she had this new film that she produced called The New Black, which we screened our closing night. She also spoke at our Citizen Jane Summit panel discussion. It was like when you look up to somebody and then you meet them in person, and they’re even better than you thought they would be. She started this program and website called Sisters in Cinema where she documents African-American female directors because they’re so grossly ignored; that’s a big part of who she is. We try to bring in people who not only are great but are also very supportive and nurturing to other filmmakers, and she was very much that.
Q: Has visibility for women in film improved since Citizen Jane started?
Yost: In the very beginning of the festival, we had to explain that we were underrepresented, and now I think that’s more mainstream and these other issues are really known. You also see more women making more narrative films, not just documentaries. In general, most women have found their success in television, and I think now that television is basically better than film because people are gravitating toward that with streaming and cable. I think film is now realizing that diverse voices, not just women, but people of color, are important, and audiences want to hear it. Ten years ago, everybody thought everything was fine in the industry.