Long before the topic of the lack of female directors in Hollywood became the flavor-of-the-year issue, Tara Johnson-Medinger was on the front lines fighting against the status quo.
Johnson-Medinger has been a pioneer in the support of women in filmmaking for the past nine years as the executive director of POWFest: The Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival, and its little-sister program, POWGirls. I met Johnson-Medinger when my film Ending Up was at POWFest, and I was inspired by her infectious energy and uncompromising commitment to the support of women in film.
Johnson-Medinger was living in Los Angeles and working as a TV executive at Fox when 9/11 hit, and the tragic event left her questioning what she truly valued. She had a feeling that there was something more for her to do, and left her high-profile job, moving back to her home town of Portland to a career of uncertainty. In 2004 she started Sour Apple Productions, an independent film production company, and in 2008 she founded POWFest.
While many other women’s film festivals require a woman in only ONE of the lead positions—producer, writer, or co-director—POWFest requires that submitted films have a woman as director. I’ve spent enough time at Film Festival Q & As, standing beside 27-year-old white male directors, to understand that this is not only refreshing, but also important.
Since its beginnings, POWFest has created a community of women filmmakers and has brought in successful, pioneering women directors like Kathryn Bigelow, Amy Heckerling, Barbara Kopple, Gillian Armstrong, Allison Anders, and this year, Catherine Hardwicke, to inspire emerging female directors.
In 2014, Johnson-Medinger launched POWGirls: a youth-centered mentorship program designed for girls ages 15 to 19. Over the course of four to five days the girls develop, produce, and edit a film which is then presented during the Youth Shorts program at POWFest. It’s a truly empowering experience for the girls who participate, leaving them beaming with pride as they present their finished films.
A producer/director herself, Johnson-Medinger has experienced the glass ceiling firsthand. She works tirelessly to foster change by giving female directors a chance to shine and giving young girls a creative, empowering experience.
Music legend Johnny Cash in an excerpt from the film The Winding Stream – The Carters, co-produced by Johnson-Medinger.
These days, at 45, Johnson-Medinger has a full plate: two young children, a thriving film festival, POWGirls, and a production company. She served as a co-producer on the film The Winding Stream, a documentary about the Carter-Cash family that premiered at the South by Southwest Festival in 2014 and was released theatrically this past fall. She is currently in pre-production on her first film, My Summer as a Goth, which she will co-produce and direct this summer, learning firsthand what it means to be a woman director. During all this she managed to find some time to sit down with me and reflect on her accomplishments.