Sarah Moshman, an alumna of the University of Miami, is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker on a mission to spread the word about female empowerment.
Her most recent film, “The Empowerment Project,” features the stories of 17 career women who not only have made it to the top in their industry but are also inspiring role models. For the documentary, Moshman and her all-women crew traveled across the country, from Los Angeles to New York, on a budget of $28,590 raised through Kickstarter.com.
The team is now touring with the film and will be making a stop at UM on Monday.
School of Communication professor Sanjeev Chatterjee facilitated Moshman’s visit to the university.
“It is great to see that Sarah has been able to carry over her positive personality and high purpose from her undergraduate days into her professional career,” Chatterjee said. “She has made bold choices that I hope will inspire other at the School of Communication and elsewhere.”
Moshman is a 2008 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in film and psychology. Shortly after graduation, Moshman landed an interview for a story assistant position for the reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” Within four days of the interview, she had packed her bags, moved to L.A. and began her first job.
“College is this place of fun where you can learn and grow,” Moshman said. “To be thrown into this professional environment and to be seen by 20 million people is very overwhelming.”
Moshman made her way up to a field producer position, working closely with the celebrity couples each week.
“As filmmakers, we appreciate being the eye of the camera,” Moshman said.
“A good filmmaker has to know when to ask the right questions at the right time.”
In 2010, Moshman wanted to put her filmmaking skills to work and teamed up with her friend Dana Cook, a communications graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, who had worked as a field producer for networks like HGTV, ABC and The Food Network.
The two came up with the idea of filming a documentary following the story of a few musicians and songwriters from an all-girls rock and roll camp. The film, “Girls Rock! Chicago,” was such a success that they were contacted by the Girls on the Run organization to create a documentary on the group’s preparation for its first 5K race. The documentary, “Growing Up Strong: Girls on the Run,” aired on PBS and was awarded an Emmy in 2013 in the Human Interest category in the Chicago/ Midwest region.
It was around this time that Moshman began to notice the sexualization of women in the media and the lack of positive role models for young women on TV.
“Once you turn on that awareness, you can’t really turn it off,” Moshman said. “As someone who can make good media, I thought, ‘Why not put my skills to use and go against it?’”
One day, Moshman recalled, she came across a question in a book, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?” She said that the question made her feel empowered and eager to get her message across.
Moshman and Cook made a list of the women they wanted to interview, hired three women as crew members and set off on their 30-day filming adventure. They put out a call for essays for aspiring young women filmmakers at each city they stopped in and put together a mentorship program to teach them how to work with the cameras.
One of the women featured in “The Empowerment Project” is Admiral Michelle Howard, who became the first African American woman to be promoted to the rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy.
Also featured is Teri Fahrendorf, who became the first female brewmaster west of the Rocky Mountains.
Moshman says that one of the biggest struggles in creating the film was managing the big traveling production.
“Keeping up the energy was hard and so was figuring out where to go and where to stay and whom to hire,” Moshman said. “You do this to make a movie but you really become an entrepreneur.”
Moshman and Cook wanted this documentary to involve the audience on a more personal level and decided to bring the production to different communities to exchange thoughts and ideas post-screening.
“We wanted to show this film in a large group to spark conversation,” Moshman said. “Ultimately, we are doing this to empower the next generation of strong women, and I really think we are taking the necessary steps toward that goal.”
Moshman will be at the Shoma Hall auditorium in the School of Communication for a screening of “The Empowerment Project” followed by a Q and A session on Monday, Nov. 10 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all UM students and faculty.