A Citizen Jane Film Festival 2016 volunteer proudly brandishes her badge Photograph by Melissa Lewis

Wanna be a rock-star for the weekend? Make a film and get it into the Citizen Jane Film Festival.

From the hospitality, to the decadent accommodations at the Tiger Hotel, this festival rolls out the red carpet. And it is all. About. The. Filmmakers.

From the moment I set foot in Columbia, Missouri, I was instantly smitten. This quaint and lively college town is the home of both the University of Missouri, affectionately known as Mizzou, and Stephens College. The latter is also the backbone of the entire festival, the heart of this outstanding four-day event.

Barbie Banks is the director of the festival, and I recommend that you only ask the staff about her if you have an hour to listen to them gush. It’s clear from my weekend at CJFF that this brood of organizers is more like family than co-workers. Stephens College is the hub for all festival activities and, in the way a car runs on gasoline, this festival runs on passion. As the writer and director of my film, I felt the embrace of the staff and the audiences at both of my packed screenings (“packed screenings” being pretty much the norm for this festival—the community comes out in droves).

The weekend kicked off with the 4th annual Citizen Jane Summit, attracting big-name female advocates such as Melissa Silverstein, Destri Martino and Melinda Fox. From there, the festival flew by with a combination or parties, live events, outdoor screenings, a nature hike and panels. The panels, by the way, are top-notch. They’re recorded at the CAT-TV Studios at Stephens College and very well attended. (As was the late-night dance party!)

The film program was stacked with brilliant, funny, heartwarming, sad, inspiring, educational and moving films—a true array of the “something for everyone” model. And since the festival takes place on four screens in a 10-block radius, the town is crawling with filmmakers, staff (“Janies”) and audience members, creating a festive and friendly conversation on every street corner.

But the true uniqueness of this festival is its commitment to bringing together and sharing the work of female-created projects. In an industry so heavenly dominated by testosterone, and in a culture that propagates the myth that there are very few female directors, CJFF is creating a platform for women to share their voices. CJFF is making a difference. Those CJFF laurels are a feather in my cap and one of my most prized takeaways from my festival run. MM

Rainy Kerwin is the writer-director-star of the feature film The Wedding Invitation (coming 2017). She is also the creator of buywomen.com, a platform designed to drive audiences to films written and directed by women.

Citizen Jane Film Festival 2016 took place October 2016. This article originally appears in MovieMaker’s Winter 2017 issue. Photograph by Melissa Lewis.