The Empowerment Project: A Female Revolution Means “Anything Can Happen!”

The Empowerment Project mentees Sophie and Julia share their experience of what it was like working with an all-female documentary crew who are working to revolutionize entertainment for women!


After wandering around the 7/11 at the bottom of architect Kathryn Darnstadt’s building for about 20 minutes, I could officially say the anticipation was killing me ever since the train ride into Chicago. Ever since hearing about the Empowerment Project, I knew it was something I had to be a part of.

It all started with an application. “Why do you want to be part of an all-female crew for a day?” I paused. Umm…because I’m a female? Because I like film? The first things that popped into my head that night were far from enough. So I got to thinking about influential women in the film industry; and the thing was, I could only think of one or two. I started realizing that this project was not just a vital step for the five women in charge, but for a revolution. As I finished my application, I became more and more aware of how much change was needed, and that it was needed as soon as possible.

Julia Davis

Even before my mentee experience, I decided it was time to take the Empowerment Project to the streets. My best friend Victoria and I are active members of our school’s film club; most of the time doing more work for the club than the club-heads (*cough* two guys *cough*). It was time we stepped up for ourselves and all the time, effort, and girl power we put into the club on a daily basis. Suddenly we were standing outside the computer lab door, ready to present our changes. My heart was beating so fast I almost chickened out. A few awkward glances later, we finally spoke up about what we wanted to do with the club. Now we’re the first official female heads of film club, and it feels amazing. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to stand up to the guys if not for the Empowerment Project. And at that point I didn’t even know I’d been chosen as a production assistant! That was just the beginning of the Project’s incredible impact on me as a female and a filmmaker.

Walking into the apartment with the rest of the crew was like walking into a dream. A dream with a little more heavy lifting than usual, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Katherine’s apartment was breathtaking. But once everything was set up, it really hit me. I was on a real documentary set. All of the girls were incredibly welcoming to me, but the one I talked most with was Alana. All I had to do was mention that I was into cinematography, and she started showing me everything she was doing with the camera to set up for the interview, how she was deciding the lighting, and basically everything I needed to know to set up a pretty interview shot.

After Alana provided a multitude of camera-nerd information to me in a span of about ten minutes, it was time to start the interview. Filming Katherine was astounding. I knew I’d learn a lot about making films that day, but I hadn’t even considered how much I would learn from watching Sarah and Dana interview their successful woman of choice in Chicago. She talked a lot about not being afraid of failure, which really resonated with me because there’s a ton of pressure to succeed, that is put on people my age. Katherine’s words alleviated that pressure for me.

Not that I was less inclined to be successful, it just made me realize that on the road to success, it’s completely okay to fail a few times. You just have to pick yourself up and keep going.

Julia Davis is a senior at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. She likes Movies. You can find her on Facebook and Vimeo.


Hello! My name is Sophie Canino and I am a 29 year old college undergrad who is currently studying radio and television broadcasting. I live in Charleston, South Carolina with my best friend/dog Sam. When I am not at school or working in the studio as a production assistant at a local TV new station, then I can most likely be found at my favorite dog park with my number one gal Sam. When I initially heard of the Empowerment Project, I was unsure as to what I could expect. After reading about their cause for this project, I couldn’t help but want to get in on all the girl power action! A ticket was booked soon after finding out I was chosen, and I was getting ready to head to D.C. for my first real life professional interview!

Sophie Canino

On first meeting with the Empowerment ladies, I felt kind of intimidated and overwhelmed being a total newbie in a professional setting, but it did not last long. Every single one of these ladies made a huge effort to make me feel more comfortable and like I was truly part of their crew! It all started with Vanessa, where we gabbed like little girls about her Sony NEX VG10 and her recent journeys to Africa. It wasn’t long after getting set up when Dana, Alana, Ashley, and Sarah had quickly jumped in line to get to know me too. They gave me full hands on experience with all their equipment, as well as the freedom to ask as many questions as I wanted.They are all so knowledgeable in their jobs, equipment, and how to go about business in a professional setting. Being a Radio and Television student, I am currently learning how to do what these women do. I feel my knowledge is good – and as Dana put it “Girl, you already know the majority of this stuff! What can we teach you?!?”, that made me feel good to hear! However, these 5 women taught me more than they probably realize.

Just being able to observe how they interacted with everyone on set and how each of their roles came into play in different ways was a BIG deal for me. I saw first hand how difficult it can be trying to get a good shot in such a limited amount of space. Watching Vanessa constantly wandering around with her camera, grabbing a ton of footage, all from different angles and as she had to bend, kneel, twist, tip-toe, and Macguyver-rig things just to get a shot for all the behind the scenes is a lot harder than it looks.

I had such a blast and felt like a sponge, trying to soak up all the information coming my way. I learned about some different camera lenses, like LensBaby, and saw some cool effects that can be done with them. I finally understand just how challenging it can be to set up lights in such tight spaces, and how you must be able to bend and change, as well as be creative in order for it to work out. The professionalism of these ladies was awesome. It helps to observe things like this, so when it becomes my turn on day, I too will know how to handle myself accordingly.

By the end of the day, I had learned so much and had such an amazing time that I was sad it was coming to an end. However, during my on-cam interview both Ashley and Vanessa had learned that I am a disabled Army Veteran who has seen my deathbed on more than one occasion, during deployment and at home. So what came next was such a surprise to me! I was told that they were interviewing a three-star Vice Admiral in the Navy at the Women’s Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, and that I would be perfect to take part since I am a woman veteran. I was officially invited to help out in a second interview the next day! I truly couldn’t believe my ears! Me?!? How cool! Let’s just say my plane ticket home quickly got changed.

Sophie Canino, TEP crew, Michelle J HowardBeing able to sit in the same room with a real life pirate hunter is a pretty memorable moment in itself, but what made it even more memorable was the fact that this pirate hunter is a woman and a fellow sister in arms. The energy of just being in D.C. was already pretty high, but being at Arlington in the Women’s Memorial was monumentally heavy for me to be there. The Admiral spoke about hard times in a male dominant world, and I was able to 100% relate with her. After an amazing interview, we got the chance to wander around the memorial. Some of the ladies had questions about a lot of the memorabilia being displayed, so I guess the tables became turned and I was the one with the answers this time! But it was knowledge I was proud to share. I spent some very difficult, teary-eyed moments with Ashley and Vanessa as we wandered together where I shared some of my stories from Iraq with them.

It wasn’t particularly easy to open myself up to people I had just met yesterday, and I had to fight my tears a lot, but I am more grateful than they know for giving me the opportunity to be there with them on the second day. Not only did I learn so much about filming, interviews, and cameras, but I learned a lot about myself in the process. Without this project, I would not have learned that the six of us are all pioneers… willing to go against the grain, take chances and fight for our dreams. Nothing beats embarking on a journey starting as strangers, and ending up as friends in the end. These five beautiful women have shown me that it can be done and for the record – they totally kicked ass at it!

I now have five amazing friends as well as mentors to look up to. Thank you Sarah, Dana, Alana, Ashley, and Vanessa. And remember what Ellie Goulding says: “Anything could happen!”


  1. Ah, the lives you ladies have touched and changed for the better! Thanks for sharing your thoughts Julia and Sophie! I kid you all about the fact that it looks like all you do is have fun, but I know that is the reward you get for the long hours and hard work you all do! What awesome hard working ladies you are!

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