“We are sisters in a band. Making changes. Taking stands,” intones one of the young campers in Jess Colquhoun’s new short “Drum As You Are.” Her lyrics capture the vibe and ambition of this inspiring film, which profiles Mona Tavakoli, a Los Angeles-based drummer, singer and performer as well as co-founder and co-director of Rock n’ Roll Camp For Girls Los Angeles. The film explores her passion for helping girls find their groove — both musical and personal — behind a drum kit.
“Drum As You Are” is part of our #IShapeMyWorld film series, launched in the collaboration with Girlgaze, an L.A.-based company that is determined to close the gender gap by creating opportunities for its global community of creators. (Read our interview with Amanda de Cadenet, founder of Girlgaze.)
We spoke with Colquhoun about her film, #IShapeMyWorld, the rising generation of women and more.
How did you choose your subject for this #IShapeMyWorld film?
I’ve been following the Rock Camp movement for a few years, and I was really moved after visiting one of the camps to see how they’re empowering young girls. Mona spearheads the Los Angeles Rock Camp and is such a unique voice and role model.
What message are you hoping it conveys?
I hope the film reflects Mona’s mission with Rock Camp by encouraging girls to express themselves, feel confident in their own skin and to support the women around you.
Did anything happen on the shoot that affected you?
I witnessed firsthand the impact women like Mona make on the campers. By the end of the week, there’s a radical difference in their confidence, independence and sense of self. I loved seeing Mona on set, working her magic to inspire all the girls. She’s able to completely transform the environment around her. It becomes a safe and welcoming place to make noise, express your voice and take up space. Her energy and fearlessness is so infectious and was so exciting to capture.
What does #IShapeMyWorld mean to you?
I believe the #IShapeMyWorld campaign speaks to being brave enough to carve out your own path and use your voice in a unique way that feels most authentic to you. Remember: everyone has their own mark to make and, if the outcome is more important to you than failure, it’s worth the risk. Author Martha Beck worded it in a way that resonated with me, “keep stepping into the fire, every time you go into the fire, you come out with a new life and it’s better than the last one.”
Who are some of the powerful women you look up to and/or have had the opportunity to work with?
Other than this film’s group of amazing women — both on-screen and the crew that helped make it happen — I’ve been surrounded and raised by powerful women who are all badasses in their own ways. So many close friends, my mother and female filmmaking mentors over the years who I look up to enormously. Most significantly Leitah, the subject of a previous film I shot called “The Black Mambas,” who was the same age as I was — 23 years old — when we filmed together, yet her resilience and fearless outlook was so admirable and powerful to witness.
Tell us more about “The Black Mambas”?
“The Black Mambas” was a short documentary I filmed last year about the majority-female anti-poaching unit who patrol the Balule Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, to prevent poachers from breaking in and hunting the rhinos. The women were all so brave, compassionate and are radicalizing what is achievable for women in their community. They’re setting new rules for the next generation of girls to follow.
What conversations are you hoping to see happen this Women’s History Month?
This year feels like it’s kicked off to a strong start for women shaking up the system. I’m hoping to hear more developments on pay equality and how the #metoo movement develops. It’s already significantly helped many people close to me.
If you had one piece of advice for young women, what would it be?
I’ve been so inspired by the next generation of young women, from listening to them at the Women’s March and Rock Camp, I feel like they’ve got this! Mona put it nicely in the film by saying that being the truest version of yourself is the most radical act you can do.
What’s next for you?
I hope to be shooting as much as possible, telling stories I care about and working towards feature-length films and long-term photo projects. I’m developing a feature documentary with another female director which I’m really excited about. It’s been amazing to watch how the the industry has turned a new chapter this year, pushing what’s possible for women filmmakers.