Women help BI film industry come into focus

Bainbridge has a robust craft, design and literature scene, but another artistic pursuit is emerging: film.

The island is home to experienced and burgeoning directors and screenplay writers — and unlike other film scenes, the BI power players are mostly women.

Anisa Ashabi, Emma Cameron, Lucy Ostrander and Rachel Noll James are Bainbridge’s contribution to a statewide wave of independent filmmaking. Each of them share a connection to the island and find inspiration from BI’s unique history, community dynamics and environment; as locals, their work adds authenticity to the Pacific Northwest ambiance that is slowly becoming more prevalent in media.

Ashabi and Cameron’s work is grounded in the trials and tribulations of youth, as told through the lens of a Bainbridge Island upbringing. Both of their pieces wrestle with growing pains, empathy and social conflict that reflects life in Washington.

Ashabi, born and raised on the island, is BI’s youngest director. The script for her debut film, “Finding Chaz,” evolved from a story she used to write with her brother as a student at Woodward Middle School about a 13-year-old girl struggling with a bully.

“I wrote it mainly to make my brother laugh, on our clunky desktop Mac,” she said.

During COVID, she was inspired to return to the piece and rework “Chaz” as a screenplay. “It’s a time capsule of my world as a teenager, but I’m interested in writing about themes that anyone can relate to. It’s important to amplify local voices, and there’s so many heavy hitters living here,” she said.

Cameron’s piece takes a similar tack: her most recent screenplay “Detention” recalls “The Breakfast Club” with a particular Bainbridge spin.

“My current film script was written about Bainbridge and the people I know here. The themes are universal but it was inspired by Bainbridge and could not have been made anywhere else,” she said.

Cameron and her husband Mark have begun a filmmaking mentorship program for underserved youth via their independent production house, Future Line Entertainment. Based on her teaching experience, there’s evident interest in film on the island, she noted, and she anticipates much room for industry growth on BI.

It’s not just youth shaping BI’s stories.

While three of the four women work in fiction, Ostrander makes documentaries about the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim, and is best known for her film “The Revolutionary.” She was the first filmmaker to receive the Island Treasure award for her collaboration with Indipino historian and advocate Gina Corpuz on the film “Honor Thy Mother,” which is now a part of the Bainbridge Island School District curriculum.

“I feel very fortunate to be a documentary filmmaker. It’s a way to combine my interest in history and social justice, by finding these unknown stories and people who have made important contributions to society,” Ostrander said in a biopic created for the Island Treasure Awards. “To be able to tell these stories to a broader audience — it’s not easy, but it’s rewarding.”

James majored in theater in college, and spent years in show business in Los Angeles, but slowly became jaded by the lack of interesting roles available in Hollywood. She started to teach herself how to direct and adapt books to the screen, but found that she ultimately wanted some creative control over her life.

When she moved to BI and began her own projects, including her feature film “Ingress,” the community “became front and center,” James said. “I wasn’t prepped for the creative and artistic support I received here.”

Support for the film industry extends past BI’s borders. In the past decade, Seattle and Washington have each been campaigning to bring more film to the state through the nonprofit Washington Filmworks. The state agency offers incentives and resources for film projects by Washington-based filmmakers of every experience level. In order to compete with other film industry hotbeds, the city cites a wealth of talent on hand, proximity to dramatic locations and much lighter price tag than the industry standard.

Funding is the greatest obstacle for independent film projects, Ostrander said. In the past, she has recieved grants from the state Arts and Humanities association, now called Arts WA, for some of her projects, as well as commissions from local people and organizations like Islandwood.

All four women have been uplifted by the BI arts community, but filmmaking is still a very male-dominated field. James has hope that since Bainbridge’s film scene is so new, it might be able to grow with equality in mind.

“Women have been forced to compete in the film industry. As women artists, it’s important that we uplift each other,” she said. “There needs to be a mentality of, ‘her success is my success.’ We need to do that where we are.”

Washington Filmworks courtesy photo
Paul Dahlke, left, Austin Highsmith Garces and Rachel Noll James on the set of James’ film “Ingress.”

Washington Filmworks courtesy photo Paul Dahlke, left, Austin Highsmith Garces and Rachel Noll James on the set of James’ film “Ingress.”