Catching up with Christen Marquez


“Because of Reel Grrls, I am one small but powerful change to the abysmal statistics of women of color in the media.”


In Reel Grrls’ 15th year of youth media programming, we decided to reach out to past participants to see how they’ve been navigating and conquering the world since their days at Reel Grrls! First up is Christen Marquez, an *original* Reel Grrl from our first year of programming! She’s since gotten her BFA in Film and Video Production from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, directed a feature documentary in partnership with PBS Hawai’i called E Haku Inoa: To Weave A Name (nominated for Best Documentary at the 2013 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), and was awarded the ‘Through the Soul of an Artist” grant for Artistic Innovation from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She’s incredibly accomplished – and busy – but we were able to catch up with Christen and learn about her current projects, her experience in the industry, and how Reel Grrls helped put her on her career path.

Name: Christen Marquez

Years at Reel Grrls: 2001 and 2008

Current Location: Based in Los Angeles, currently in Oakland, CA.

Hey Christen! Tell us a little bit about what you’re currently up to! 

At the end of last year, I was a Shooter/Producer on the third season of a show called Southern Justice for NatGeo which will be premiering on April 20th of 2016. I am also currently producing two documentaries, with a couple others in earlier development. In late March I will begin running at a program called Digital Dove at the Hollywood branch of the Covenant House with HBO.

Wow, that’s really impressive. What’s it like to be involved in so many projects at once?

Shooting and Producing in the field

Shooting and Producing in the field

I feel like to be an independent producer you have to be involved in many projects at once. Personally, I like to keep a balance of independent projects and projects where I work as a “hired gun.” Independent projects are difficult financially because they are unstable and you can never be sure if or when they will be funded and when you might be able to pay yourself. It is definitely a balancing act, but in my experience it has been the only way to make life work.

Of all the things that you’ve accomplished so far, what would you say you are most proud of since your days at Reel Grrls?

I am just proud that I have survived this long in the industry. Its a tough industry and there have been some terrible moments for me as a woman – there are so many systematic barriers. But I have come pretty far and the life I have now is what I had hoped for as a teenager when I first came to Reel Grrls. My dream wasn’t really specifically to be a TV and documentary producer, although I do remember the year that I went to Sundance with Reel Grrls thinking to myself “If I could be anything I would be a documentary filmmaker,” and thinking that was something that people didn’t actually do for a living, which my 19 year old self was actually pretty spot on about! 😛

I’m also proud that through my job, I have been able to live a life that has satisfied me as a person who is constantly curious. It is my job to constantly discover how people who might not be anything like me think and feel about the world. My life is filled with all kinds of wonderful and inspiring people that I have met either in front of a camera, or people that I have worked with behind the scenes. That was the general dream I had for myself to be able to experience as much of the world as I can as deeply as I possibly can with the limited amount of time that I have. Looking through a camera is one of the ways I have been able to do that.

Christen with the team of Story Producers on Southern Justice

Christen with the team of story producers on Southern Justice

Has mentorship continued to play a role as you’ve navigated the industry? Or has it at all?

Yes, mentorship has definitely played a role as I have made my way through the industry. But I don’t think mentors necessarily come from formal programs, except for Reel Grrls because I still do list Malory Graham as one of my mentors. When I look at who I consider to have been mentors, it is never formal. I will say that most of the people who I think of as mentors that I have had have been women, although I owe a lot to a man named Robert Pennybacker who helped me finish my first feature documentary film. Recently, I feel like I have worked with a really strong team of majority female story producers, who were very supportive and knowledgeable. I feel very grateful to have been able to work with them and develop over the last few years. 

Can you tell us a time when you took on a leadership role since Reel Grrls? How did Reel Grrls prepare you for you for that?

I am regularly responsible as a shooter/producer for capturing all of the story, visual, and audio content to create shows and also manage crews of 8 – 10 people. Reel Grrls gave me a safe space at the beginning of my career to begin learning technical aspects of film with cameras and editing which allowed me a base to grow from as I progressed through film school and into the field.

That’s really powerful to hear, considering how far you’ve taken those skills with your career. How would you finish this sentence, “Because of Reel Grrls,____?”

I am one small but powerful change to the abysmal statistics of women of color in the media.

From your perspective, why is it important for women of color to be represented working in the media industry?

I have had experiences working in the industry as the only person of color in a room or the only woman in the room. I have relatively light skin as well so I don’t think I always am perceived as a women of color or for whatever reason people have at times felt empowered to say things around me that I would categorize as racist, bigoted, or at the very least ignorant. Having voices of people of color and women in the room when decisions are being made about what is transmitted via mass media changes everything. Its a slow process but in many subtle ways having women and people of color behind the scenes changes the stories that are told, which changes the stories we see and hear, and greatly impacts the stories that we internalize believe about ourselves.
Christen camera assisting on her first network gig, Martha Stewart Apprentice 2005

Christen camera assisting on her first network gig, Martha Stewart Apprentice 2005

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