Evanston Township High School alumna screens her documentary to empower women

Hal Jin, Reporter

An Emmy-winning filmmaker and Evanston Township High School alumna returned to the school Friday to screen her latest documentary featuring the success of various women in their careers.

Sarah Moshman, 27, showed her movie “The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things” with producer Dana Cook to an audience of about 100 at the ETHS auditorium.

“We really wanted to talk about the film. It’s just a jumping-off point,” Moshman explained. “We want to keep the message special.”

The film follows five female filmmakers as they travel across America and interview women who have achieved notable success in their fields. The full version of the movie includes interviews with 17 women. Moshman and her crew talked with several notable figures, including Miss USA 2012 Nana Meriwether and Adm. Michelle Howard, the first African-American woman to achieve three- and four-star rankings in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“When we were doing our research, we found that age 8 is the peak age that girls want to be a leader,” Moshman said. “That’s really sad.”

Moshman has served as the field producer for 10 seasons of the television competition “Dancing with the Stars” and won a Chicago/Midwest Emmy in the human interest category last year for her documentary “Growing up Strong: Girls on the Run.”

Moshman and Cook are currently on tour with their movie making stops in Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C., Cook said.

A panel discussion followed the screening, where accomplished women who work at ETHS talked about their own experiences with gender discrimination.

Gretchen Livingston, District 202 Board of Education president, spoke about her work in a male-dominated field when she was a partner at Jenner & Block law firm in Chicago. She recalled a time when she interrupted a meeting to present her research to a partner.

“The client said to my partner, ‘It’s so nice of your girl to bring you that,’” Livingston said. “It was just wrong on many levels.”

Mary Nguyen, an owner of three restaurants, was also interviewed. In the movie, she explains her struggle in leaving her career in investment banking to pursue her passion for food. Nguyen attributes her success to being Vietnamese, a culture in which women are seen as the backbone of the family.

Nguyen recalled facing discrimination in her role as kitchen manager and and discussed accusations from staff that “you let your period affect you too much.”

An audience member questioned Moshman on her opinion of beauty pageants and her decision to include the Miss USA winner in the film.

“In general, I don’t care for beauty pageants. I don’t favor the way they have to be put on display,” Moshman said. “(Meriwether) was so much more than that. She used it as a way to start a nonprofit and help others.”

A member of the audience asked Moshman what the goal of her documentary is.

“We want to use film to empower girls and boys,” she said. “This was our dream and we achieved it. Our purpose is exactly what we’re doing here.

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