Cat McClintock
Alyssa Christensen (Submitted photo)

Jessy Hegland (Submitted photo)

"Freedom Barrel" (Submitted photo)

In April 2013, Minneapolis producer Jennifer Kramer came to Bismarck to screen her film, "Looking Past You," at the Dakota Digital Film Festival. The 20-minute short starred veteran actress Margaret Shryer, Kramer's real-life mother, as an elderly woman who turns to crime.

The film was so popular that students and other festival goers surrounded Shryer after the showing.

"They were her personal fan group," Kramer says. "I went back to the hotel, and when I checked in on her at 11:30 that night -- my 85-year-old mother was still over at the theater talking to people. She was having a blast."

What's remarkable about this story is not that Kramer found a welcoming audience in Bismarck. There's no scarcity of nice people here. Rather, that attendees found a female filmmaker in North Dakota.

A surprisingly small number of women use film to tell their stories here -- or anywhere for that matter.

Just look at the Sundance Film Festival. According to Filmmaker Magazine, only 23 percent of the feature films submitted to Sundance this year were directed by women. Of the 119 total feature films accepted, women directed less than 30 percent.

You can see the disparity as early as high school. Alyssa Christensen showed two of her student films at last year's Dakota Digital Film Festival. But she says in her media class at Century High School's Career Academy, there were no more than two or three girls. Still, she wasn't discouraged.

"It's very rewarding to be recognized as a female filmmaker," says Christensen. "Especially in North Dakota, since not so many people are into it up here."

While opinions vary about why more women aren't making films, almost everybody agrees that we're missing out because of it.

"Filmmaking is such a powerful storytelling medium," says Kramer. "It's important to have perspectives told from non-mainstream points of view. It adds texture and richness to the film culture."

So how does a girl, or even a middle-aged woman, get started?

That's where I have some good news. Bismarck-Mandan seems hungry for video content and is willing to nurture and support those who want to make it.

"There are a lot of different organizations here trying to encourage filmmakers as a means of artistic expression," says Anita Casey-Reed, a member of the steering committee for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and the board of directors for Cinema 100 Film Society.

Besides local college courses, there are these opportunities:

* The North Dakota Filmmakers Association began as a Facebook page in 2012 to help anyone interested in film network and collaborate. The group held its first in-person meet-up just a few weeks ago.

More than 20 people attended, and the group plans to bring together its writing, acting, musical, artistic, shooting and editing talents to produce short films in the near future -- hopefully in time for the next Dakota Digital Film Festival.

You can follow the group and get information on upcoming events by liking the Facebook page, "NDFilmmakers".

* Cinema 100 Film Society is a group known for its biannual film series at the Grand Theater in Bismarck. But the group also provides grants and video equipment for emerging filmmakers. To contact the organization, send an email to

* Dakota Media Access oversees our area's community access television station. It offers training, equipment and volunteer opportunities. Plus, cable channel 12 can air your content once you've created it. Learn more at

* Dakota Digital Film Festival takes place April 24 this year and includes workshops for filmmakers. This year, look for sessions on storyboarding, wildlife videography, live products (think sportscasts), and mocumentaries. Learn more at

It's been a year since Kramer brought her film to Bismarck, but she's still making her mark locally.

"I loved "Looking Past You" when I saw it at the festival last year," says Jessy Hegland, a Bismarck resident. "I thought it was powerful, and it made me want to put together thoughtful, poignant commentary like that."

So, with the help of Cinema 100 film equipment, Hegland did.

Today, Kramer is back in Minneapolis finishing a new film called "Sandbox," due out this summer; Christensen continues to post videos on YouTube; and Casey-Reed is preparing for another Dakota Digital Film Festival ("Submit!" she says).

As for Hegland, her first documentary, "Freedom Barrel," is currently screening throughout North Dakota.

Cat McClintock is Bismarck-based freelance writer specializing in technology and product development.