Slog: Mathilde Dratwa and Christy Lamb on Providing Mobile Childcare for Festivals

The biggest takeaway from our experience providing free childcare in a mobile unit we named the Wee Wagon, at SXSW 2017, was this: it’s possible. That may seem unremarkable compared with the incredible response from parent-filmmakers, who called the Wee Wagon “an oasis for families,” “dope,” “a necessity” and “a game-changer for gender equality!” And while we are grateful for the kind praise for the Wee Wagon we’d like to stress the nature of the question we heard most on site: If it’s possible, why doesn’t something like this exist already?

(C) Mathilde Dratwa.

It’s a good question. We’re not sure why it doesn’t exist yet. Maybe because the powers-that-be are typically male – but even dads would benefit from on-set childcare, wouldn’t they? There is a fairly large number of divorced dads in film and television, perhaps because of the pressures that their 12-15 hour work days place on their spouses, left alone to mind the children before and after daycare, before and after the nannies leave – or all the time, if the spouse is a stay-at-home parent.

When we ask decision-makers why flexible childcare solutions for filmmakers don’t exist, most scrunch up their faces into an apologetic frown, and then mumble something about insurance, or about changing locations, or long days. The implication is simple: the logistics of this crazy industry make childcare impossible.

But we just did it. With limited funds and a lot of good will, we provided pop-up childcare at a major film festival, in a unit that could easily be used on a film set. It took a lot of work, but in some ways it was also remarkably easy. We couldn’t have done it without Collab&Play, a Los Angeles based freelance membership workspace that provides childcare for members. Their mission is closely tied to ours; many of their members, freelancers in LA, are filmmakers. The outstanding quality of their care was the single most important component for the Wee Wagon’s success.

(C) Mathilde Dratwa.

On-site, we were able to find other like-minded partners whose mission aligned with ours, like Luna Bar, who provided some much needed funds to supplement the SXSW community grant. Finding other groups, companies and organizations that share a similar mission is helping us grow as an emerging non-profit, and reach a wider audience. We’re thrilled to begin a new collaboration with Fashion Mamas – more details on that partnership will be unveiled soon.

The nice thing about the Wee Wagon was that it was very visible – and thanks to its presence outside one of the larger movie theaters, the Wee Wagon doubled as an advocacy tool. It served as a reminder: “Oh, right, some people have children. How does that work?” It gave us a physical space for parents to connect, thereby building a community of filmmakers who might otherwise find the festival experience overwhelming. They were given a space to pump and nurse, but also to chat with others: Where are you parking your stroller in town? How do you deal with transportation with a toddler? Which screenings are kid-friendly? What other activities are there for families in Austin?

(C) Mathilde Dratwa.

We realized, however, that the physical unit is only one aspect of this work. There are many ways festivals can make the festival-going experience more parent-friendly. It starts small – by clearly labelling events where children are welcome, or by providing a list of local family activities for out-of-towners. Any step is a step in the right direction. Ultimately, even providing childcare is not as big a hurdle as it may seem.

Providing childcare at a film festival allows more women to participate fully in the industry; to network, and build relationships, to find collaborators, distributors, or mentors. There is a direct link between childcare and gender equality; there’s also a trickle-down effect with unexpected results. It helps keep families together, and leads to better representation of parents (and especially mothers) on screen. Childcare at a festival provides community and doubles as an advocacy tool, paving the way for childcare on set – which in turn, leads to gender equality, happier families, and richer stories.

(C) Mathilde Dratwa.

Moms-in-Film is working on strategies that would allow the Wee Wagon to be used more widely; lobbying for tax incentives to encourage productions to provide childcare, offering program evaluation, and embarking on some research of our own, following in the steps of Raising Film’s comprehensive survey on parenthood and filmmaking across the pond.

After the successful launch of the Wee Wagon at SXSW, our message to the powers-that-be regarding on-set and festival childcare is simple: just do it. It’s possible. If you need it, we can help.

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