How Documentary Filmmaker Erin Bagwell Is Encouraging Women And Girls To Dream Big

"This sounds really cheesy, but I want every little girl in the world to see this movie."

Erin Bagwell fulfilled a lifelong dream when she directed her first film, a documentary about inspiring and ambitious female entrepreneurs aptly titled Dream, Girl

Funded through a 2,000-women-strong Kickstarter and brought to life by a six-women-strong film crew, the final product might as well be called Empowered Women Empower Women — at the very least, it could be the tagline. 

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Not only did Bagwell first meet many of the women featured in her film through her blog, Feminist Wednesday, but while she was pitching the movie to female entrepreneurs for financial banking, she was also interviewing them on the DL. (Active angel investor Joanne Wilson, for example, supported the film behind the scenes while making her onscreen debut.) 

"I took a lot of calls and met a lot of women, and really just tried to figure out who this cast was gonna be," Bagwell told A Plus via phone. "I don't think one film can speak for all women's business experiences, but I did want to try my hardest to make it the most inclusive and diverse community of women, not only in their backgrounds but in their industries." 

The interview process also doubled as a learning process for Bagwell as she was becoming an entrepreneur herself. "I did not know the journey and the struggles, so it was really helpful for me to tune into our audience and figure that out as well," she said. 

Photo Courtesy Erin Bagwell

Since finishing the film, Bagwell has screened it in 80 countries, as well as a little-known travel destination called the White House. One of Dream, Girl's Kickstarter supporters also happened to work for the National Women's Business Council, and asked if Bagwell would like to screen the film during the Women's Summit at the White House. "And I was like, 'Yeah, I do,'" Bagwell jokingly recalled to the members of Lean In NYC, her most recent screening audience. 

"We weren't sure if it was actually gonna happen, which sounds weird, but I just kept thinking like, 'There's no way they're actually gonna let us do this.' ... I was freaking out. But it was honestly one of the best days ever because we got to give that experience to the entrepreneurs [featured in the film]." 

Bagwell and "Dream, Girl" producer Komal Minhas with the women featured in the film at the White House. Photo Courtesy Erin Bagwell

That experience confirmed one of Bagwell's hopes for the film — simply that she'd made something "good," something she could be proud of. "I have had such a growth of confidence through this process," Bagwell told A Plus at the Lean In NYC event. "I truly am just a girl who went to film school who had a dream, and to see the fruition of everything that's come from that — not only making the movie, but how it's inspired and impacted people — has totally changed my life." 

As her confidence has grown, so have her dreams. "This sounds really cheesy, but I want every little girl in the world to see this movie," she added to the audience of Lean In NYC. "I feel so inspired by the young women. We'll do screenings at high schools, and they're always my favorite because these girls are on fire … I truly made this for a high school version of myself, and so our goal always has been to try to make this mainstream in some capacity so that other women can see it." 

Photo Courtesy Erin Bagwell

Not only can other women see the film, but every woman — regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation — can see themselves in it. "I think we're really seeing an understanding how important representation is in the media, and so I think we're dipping our toe in, which I'm excited about ... but I'm ready for us to totally take over," Bagwell said. 

Taking part in that takeover, she and her crew were mindful "to create these safe spaces onset" that encouraged each woman to be vulnerable in sharing their story and, consequently, showing their true strength. "I think it's a common misconception that vulnerability is not a strength. I think that being able to ... connect with people — that's really what vulnerability is at its heart. And so, I wanted to create a set that people felt comfortable sharing," Bagwell explained. "And I wanted people to know that they could talk about nuanced topics or discrimination that they faced. I think sometimes it's hard for women to be taken seriously when they have those cases, and so I wanted to make sure that they felt when they came on to my set that they were the authority." 

Photo Courtesy Erin Bagwell

Bagwell has also become an authority in her own right, writing "A Gal's Guide to Making a Movie" on Feminist Wednesday to teach her fellow female filmmakers that if she can do it, they can, too. That, along with Beaver Talk, her podcast giving Hollywood "unsolicited advice about feminism," are just some of the ways she contributing to change in the filmmaking industry. "I think we're making strides and having people like Greta Gerwig be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director [is great], but I'd like to see us dominate that category, and people of color, too," she said. 

To support women, people of color, other marginalized groups telling their stories, she encourages everyone to see a film as soon as it comes out to become part of its opening weekend box office numbers. "I'm so psyched to see Blank Panther this weekend and to support its release. That's such an easy thing you can do, just to make sure you're showing up and being there," she explained. "My brother always says your dollar is your vote, and I truly believe that. We make everyday decisions with our money that could really impact and help and shape our culture, so I think we just need to be thoughtful about where we're putting our money." 

Photo Courtesy Erin Bagwell

Those interested in supporting women entrepreneurs, including but certainly not limited to filmmakers, can learn more about hosting a screening here

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