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Life behind the lens

Life behind the lens

Filmmaker Kerri Yost blazes a trail in her life and work

Getting through the door was the easy part for Kerri Yost and her Scottish friend. After bribing the employees of a film studio to let them use equipment for a film project after hours, the tough part for the two young women was convincing the male employees that they knew what they were doing. “They hung around for about an hour to make sure we knew how to work things,” Yost said.  “Once they figured we could do it, they left us alone. Of course we had no idea what we were doing.”

Yost has come a long way from the curious, young American girl living in Poland who persuaded employees to let her borrow equipment.  She still has that sense of curiosity for things she doesn’t understand and eagerness to figure them out. Now she is the associate professor of film studies at Stephen’s College, the only female college in the nation with a film department. She has produced several documentary films of her own that have won her both local and national recognition, including a series following Bosnian refugees and a short film, “Billy,” about a homeless man living in the Midwest.

After graduating from the University of Missouri, Yost moved to London to pursue writing, but struggled with her craft until she discovered film while living with several male filmmakers. “Writing I always grappled with it,” Yost explained. “It consumed my life and depressed me, if it didn’t work out. But I gravitated toward film, and I didn’t take it as seriously, which was probably why I was better at it.”

She was in London teaching English to immigrants and working at a local coffee shop owned by a Yugoslavian family, when conflict and war erupted in Bosnia. “That’s when I first got interested in this career,” Yost said of documentary film. “I knew people who had come from those countries. It was a way that I could help them. Not honor it, but help people understand it, give people the reality of what refugees go through.”

After studying film in London, she moved to Krakow, Poland, an artistic city under communist rule. The everyday artistic atmosphere in which she lived found its way into her films. “My films were more likely to be shown in a gallery than a theatre. I did very odd films,” Yost said. “I was very connected to the art side of it.”

Yost is at the head of Stephen’s film department, leading a generation of young, female filmmakers break into a traditionally male-dominated industry.  Only 15 percent of directors, executive producers, writers and editors working in the U.S. are women. The reasons behind the discouraging figure caused Yost to put the topic of women in film front and center. In conjunction with Stephens College, Yost is hosting a female film symposium October 17th through October 19th, called the Citizen Jane Film Festival.

It took Yost a long time to recognize the hardships women face in the film industry. In Europe her naivety and her energetic nature, pushed her forward when she faced challenges, but now she discusses the choices women make in pursuing a film career.  “It seems to be a combination of cultural things,” Yost said of the issues behind the lack of women in film. “Film is a business so it is reflective of other businesses too…but, it is a little alarming because film is actually way worse than a lot of seemingly stereotypical fields – there are more women truck drivers, women represented in congress and senate than female directors. And what is really disturbing is their numbers are decreasing.”

It’s an unspoken topic among women in the film industry that having a family will delay or end a film career, Yost said.  Besides showing films by female filmmakers, the festival will offer workshops and symposiums to discuss some of the reasons there are so few women in the industry.

In Yost’s office, underneath posters of foreign films and beside a desk spilling over with assignments, stands a crib.  Yost gave birth to a baby boy, Elliott Benjamin Bascom, July 21. “We’ll see,” Yost replied when asked how she’ll combine being a mother with her film projects. “Part of me is really lucky because I teach at a women’s college and my art is incorporated into my job. A lot of it has to do with the support you have, because I don’t think I would have entertained this idea without it. My husband’s really supportive, and he also understands having artistic outlets.”

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