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Trailblazers: Girls in Film’s Nikola Vasakova

Posted on Mar 4, 2024 by Katie Kasperson

Definition hears from producer Nikola Vasakova about founding Girls in Film, championing young creatives and eradicating gender bias, one woman at a time

Words Katie Kasperson

Girls in Film (GiF) is a production company run by women, for women. Founded by Nikola Vasakova in 2016, GiF links women, non-binary and transgender people in the film industry, with chapters in London, New York City, New Zealand, South Africa and Prague. What’s now an international network began as a simple idea: “To create a space where we could all connect,” says Vasakova.

ALL THE WAY UP

Vasakova’s own career began in 2012. “I started in production and worked my way up the ladder, from interning through to producing, in a fairly traditional way,” she explains, with production secretary, coordinator, manager and producer all listed on her CV. Despite her success, she often felt like the odd one out. “I worked on some sets where I was the only woman in a crew of 30+ males, and those experiences definitely stuck with me.”

A few years later, Vasakova noticed two trends: “The rise of digital publishing and the democratisation of filmmaking,” as cameras became more widely accessible. “I set up Girls in Film because I suddenly saw more people coming into the industry – not just in traditional roles,” she explains. “I saw more women in branded content, music videos and the horror genre, which has brought some amazing stories to the mainstream.”

GiF began as a social network – a way to ‘connect, promote and elevate’ creatives in an industry that can appear intimidating. “We have always focused on people at the start or midway through their careers,” Vasakova shares. “Our goal is to create opportunities for career development and finding collaborators.”

In 2018, GiF expanded to include its own production company. Since then, the team has produced music videos, shorts, documentaries and commercials, working with clients like Lululemon, Calvin Harris and Audi. GiF also partners with the Dr Martens film fund and runs the GiF Film School with Vans to encourage and empower young filmmakers.

BATTLING BIAS

An unfortunate reality for almost every industry, Vasakova talks about the extra hurdles that certain groups are forced to navigate. “There’s a lot of unconscious bias that women, working-class people and people of colour have to deal with,” she states. “It doesn’t always show, but it’s there, and it’s harder to fight because it’s often a barrier created in a person’s head without them even realising it – for example in the recruiting process. It’s improved since I started in the industry, but there’s still work to do.”

As a child to immigrant parents, a non-native English speaker and from a lower socioeconomic class, Vasakova has first-hand experience of battling this unspoken bias. “I had to work on trusting my instincts with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years, and not let impostor syndrome destroy my confidence,” she admits. “Let’s be honest – I still do.”

There have been circumstantial challenges, too. “A post-pandemic and post-strikes world is pretty hard for a lot of crews out there,” Vasakova details. “It’s been tough and it has driven a lot of people out of the industry.” She’s hardly the first to raise this issue. As people are more open about their struggles, “there’s a recognition of the need for support,” says Vasakova, “both for mental health and helping marginalised people enter and stay in the industry.”

LITTLE THINGS

Despite the obstacles, Vasakova and her team remain positive. Girls in Film’s success continues to gain speed, with new projects showcased every year. The various regional branches have bustling communities and busy schedules, with events hosted in major metropolitan areas around the world.

Vasakova is proud of the work they’ve done so far. “We’ve seen some wonderful collaborations and great films created by women who have met at our events or were connected through our network,” she beams. “We have also supported films financially with our grants and equipment schemes.”

Though GiF has seen its fair share of grand accomplishments, it’s the small triumphs which matter most. “Even a person leaving our event inspired and then letting us or their friends know – that’s a huge success, too.”

This story appears in the March issue of Definition. Read the full magazine here.

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