agnès says goodbye

Article by Alexandra Hidalgo
Developmentally Edited by 
Nathaniel Bowler
Copyedited and Posted
 by Heaven Infinity

How do you start an article about the end of a publication you loved—and still love—so very much? It’s not an easy question to answer. Particularly when you’re the one who made the decision to shut down what for 14 years has been a source of possibility and inspiration to yourself and countless others. Not to mention that your reason for bringing the publication to a close is that your professional bandwidth can no longer sustain it. I co-founded agnès films in April of 2010 with my friend Caitlan Spronk as a project for our “Archives and the Digital Humanities” class. At the time, I was a second-year English Ph.D. student at Purdue University with no films, books, or articles to my name. But, man, did I have dreams.

agnès films helped me achieve many of those dreams. I now have my share of documentaries and publications out in the world, which led to me becoming a tenured English professor at the University of Pittsburgh. The more my career evolves, though, the harder it is to find the time to get this publication to you week after week, year after year. So this is a goodbye and an infinite thank you to our readers and to everyone who made these 14 years possible. We will keep our social media going, and we’ll experiment with broadening the scope of our content to the entertainment industry in general. Everything we’ve published will still be here for you to enjoy, but this is our final article.

I don’t like sad endings, and even if I did, it would make no sense for a publication as positive and vibrant as agnès films to have one. Thus, I want to end our publication’s run by celebrating what agnès films has accomplished and what it has stood for since Cait and I feverishly cobbled it together in time for finals week. Not to be too didactic, but here is our publication’s history told through the key lessons she (agnès has always been a she in my mind) taught me:

Caitlan Spronk and Alexandra Hidalgo a few years after co-founding agnès films. Photo by Nathaniel Bowler

You can be a lover and a fighter

Our mission has always been an activist one. We wanted to fight for women and feminist filmmakers and the content they created to be valued, seen, respected, analyzed. Our fighting tactic, however, included way more honey than vinegar. We love women-centric and feminist work, and we hoped that if we poured that love into words with enough oomph and intelligence, it would be catching. And it was.

We love hit TV shows like Broad City, Orange Is the New Black, Gilmore Girls, Never Have I Ever, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and One Day at a Time. We love the work of established, big-name filmmakers like Ava Duvernay, Petra Costa, Greta Gerwig, Shonda Rhimes, Almudena Carracedo, Alice Wu, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lulu Wang, Lynne Sachs, Dee Rees, Sandi Tan, and, of course, our godmother Agnès Varda. We love groundbreaking filmmakers whose work is emerging, like Chelo Alvarez-Stehle, Chachee Valentine, LeeAnne Lowry, Therese Shechter, Kana Hatakeyama, Nicola Rose, Pamela Green, Bat-Sheva Guez, and Karen Skloss. We hope that love will inspire you to follow our rallying cry for these stories to transform the world one scene at a time.

agnès films staff members Savannah Smith, Sarah Shaw, William Hidalgo-Bowler, Lindsey Spitzley, Shell Little, Alexandra Hidalgo and Santiago Hidalgo-Bowler celebrate the end of the school year. Photo by Nathaniel Bowler

2. Plant the Seeds of Women’s Talent and They Will Bloom

For the first few years, Cait, our Experimental and Fringe Film editor Denah Johnston, and I ran agnès films on our own. It was quite a thing for three already overworked women to juggle running a whole publication as their side gig. However, after graduating from Purdue in 2013, I was hired as a professor at Michigan State University, and MSU generously (see lesson #4 below) provided funding for me to hire undergraduate students for the publication’s editorial team.

As I was preparing this farewell, I took stock of where the young women who graced our editorial staff with their brilliance and wit are today. Did my eyes water? Of course, they did. Our former editors, web designers, social media managers, and staff writers are out in the world, making the journal’s mission a reality.

About half of them work in the entertainment industry: Skywalker Sound (Sarah Shaw), HarperCollins (Sophie Schmidt), Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s 2022 campaign multimedia production (Mimi Anagli), Detroit Public Television (Megan Elias), Townsquare Media Radio Stations (Jessica Gibbons), Interlochen Center for the Arts (Savannah Smith) MOCEAN Entertainment Marketing (Olivia York), Storilicious (Allison Costello), and Summit (Jessica Kukla). The other half work in digital communications: Detroit Institute of Art (Shannon Roe-Butler), Michigan State University (Kara Headley), Pillars Fund (Katie Grimes), Owens Corning (Lindsey Spitzley), Metric Marketing (Tiffany McIntyre), Valeria Obando (Nationwide), and Hannah Countryman (TRAILS). Shell Little, who designed our logo with me, is an in-demand keynote speaker, senior accessibility specialist, and inclusive design consultant.

To have known and worked with these women as they were in their early 20s (some of them still are!) and to know they are now out there creating content and changing their industries from within has been one of the greatest privileges of my career. Hell, even my life. I can’t wait to see what the staff who have kept our publication running since I started working at Pitt last fall—Heaven Infinity, Alina McMahon, Izzy Garfinkel, Emily Vaiz, and Shannon Seidel—will do when they too graduate and take the world by a storm.

A Twitter postcard aftertising an ERA webinar featuring Rosie Couture, Alexandra Hidalgo, Akhila Mullapudi, Ariel Dougherty, and Barbara Ann O’Leary

3. Sisters Doing it Together Is Where It’s At

We loved watching and raving about films and TV shows, and we loved working with what we affectionately call our Sister Organizations just as much. These are publications and activist groups whose missions intersect with ours. Collaborating with activists like Barbara Ann O’Leary, So Mayer, Ariel Dougherty, Kate Birdsall, Marian Evans, and Melissa Silverstein, we ran campaigns inspiring people to figure out who their favorite woman filmmaker was, requesting the Cannes Film Festival be more welcoming to breastfeeding mothers, and supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. The results of the campaigns were thrilling, but the magic lay in the process—the back and forth and collective thinking that got those results.

I apologize for all the lists, but it’s hard to summarize 14 years of transformative work without some level of enumeration. So indulge me as I thank our beloved Sister Organizations for the exhilaration and ideas we shared: Directed by Women, Raising Films, Media Equity Collaborative, Women and Hollywood, Films for the Feminist Classroom, Wellywood Woman, Equal Means Equal, Generation Ratify, Women Occupy Hollywood, and The Cube.

agnès films staff members Hannah Countryman, Jessica Kukla, Jessica Gibbons, Alexandra Hidalgo, and Valeria Obando during a staff meeting

4. The Money Game Pays, So You Should Learn to Play It

I wish we could have paid our luminous non-student staff writers—Mitch Carr, Jennifer Dean, Shewonda Leger, Denise Pappas Meechan, Irene Meltzer Richard, Julie Casper Roth, Allison Simpson, Moira Sullivan, Sabrina Vetter, and Danielle Winston. However, it was hard to argue to our funders—MSU and Pitt—that they had much to gain from that practice. What I did get really good at was explaining why paying our student editorial staff was as good an investment as a university can make. It’s hard for departments to provide the kinds of learning experiences that live and breathe in the world, the kinds that are not class assignments and internship projects but rather professional jobs. agnès films was a professional job, but it came with mentorship, community building, and plenty of room to experiment and grow.

I won’t repeat my “why agnès matters” spiel here, but it involves a blend of Google analytics data with an impassioned argument for the value of our mission as a publication and as a breeding ground for students to hone their talents as they create something everyone—the students themselves, the faculty, the university, the readers, the filmmakers whose work we cover—can be proud of. I have a short version for cocktail parties and a long version for one-on-one meetings, written versions for grant applications, and Google-slide versions for presentations.

The arguments are not so different from the ones I make to finance my films or even the ones I made when getting hired at Pitt: what we’re doing matters and you should honor that value by funding it. There’s money out there, and we definitely deserve it, so let’s ask for it (in the various ways different funders and occasions require). Then let’s share those funds with our collaborators as we create something wondrous.

agnès films staff members Allison Costello, Megan Elias, and Mini Anagli presenting about their collaboration at a conference. Photo by Alexandra Hidalgo

5. Things Are Going to Change, and You’ll Change with Them

Fourteen years isn’t a long time in human history, but it’s a long time in our digital spheres, not to mention in our own lives. When you’re dealing with websites and social media, you have to be ready for strategies to work only for a little while. We spent a couple years hosting Twitter Chats with filmmakers, which we collected into a chronological document we could link to in our website through Storify.

Now Twitter is called X (X? Really?) and Storify has been gone for so long that when I mentioned it to our current editorial staff, none of them knew what I was talking about. You can fall in love with the mission and spirit of your enterprise, but you probably shouldn’t fall in love with the digital strategies you use to make it all happen. Or if you do fall in love with those strategies, know they will change on you, and you’ll then have to fall in love with some other transitory approach.

While some things change very fast, others take their time. In 1998, Martha Lauzen began tracking women’s roles behind the camera in The Celluloid Ceiling Report. For the top 250 films in 1998, women made up 20% of editors. By 2022, we’d gone up one percentage point to 21% (Yikes indeed). And yet, women directors doubled from 9% to 18% in that same period, while cinematographers went from an egregious 4% to a still-egregious-but-substantially-higher 7%. All these percentages are egregious if we remember that women make up half the population. But still, women’s participation behind the camera is growing, and that’s encouraging. As demographics change, so do our creative practices and the stories we choose to tell, and we need to change with them. Trying to stay true to our identity while adapting to these changes is tricky, but it’s a dance we all have to perform if we want to keep making work that matters to us, so we might as well embrace it and maybe even enjoy it from time to time.

Kara Headley, Alexandra Hidalgo, Megan Elias, Mimi Anagli, Sophie Schmidt, and Tiffany McIntyre during one of our pandemic Zoom meetings

6. Optimism May Be a Naïve Philosophy, but It Can Make Things Happen

If you’d told me back at Purdue how many sleepless nights, meeting marathons, and stressful malfunctions and crossroads agnès films held in store for me, I might have chosen a different project for “Archives and the Digital Humanities.” But I’d never run a publication before, so I had no idea what I was getting into. I was (and hope to always be) an optimist, and I felt certain that whatever it took, I had it in me. And I did. Until I didn’t.

Now it’s time for all those seeds we planted over 14 years—in our staff, in our readers, in the filmmakers we loved and raved about—to bloom. And they will. And I will bloom too. In other ventures, I should know better than to take on but will take on anyway. I can’t wait to see what we all accomplish together and apart. I still have a lot of dreams, and so do you, so let’s go after them.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us. See you all soon. Somehow. Somewhere.

To learn more about Alexandra, visit her profile.