Women of the Now ignites a “Femme Pyre”

The East Coast networking collective “Women of the Now” will bring its passion for empowering female filmmakers to Chicago with an upscale carnival-themed event entitled “Femme Pyre” at Pilsen’s Camera Ambassador on March 4.

Featuring body painters, fire dancers, tarot card readers and many more attractions, the event will combine a roomful of femme-identifying artists and supporters with a bar full of signature cocktails and late night dancing to the grooves of DJs Karol Fox and Chanté René Linwood.

“The purpose of the party is to not only raise awareness of the organization, but also to showcase femmes supporting other femmes and their work,” explains founder, president and creative director Layne Marie Williams. “There’s no reason that we can’t become a contender that creates videos and events and lifts women into positions of power that provide opportunities that they might not have had.”

Anyone who supports the community is welcome, including men. “Of course,” she says. “We deeply value the men in the Chicago community that come out and show support for us.”

Layne founded Women of the Now two years ago in Philadelphia while directing “The Stonebirds,” a documentary short about the impact of sexual violence against women and men. She says that the remarkable crew of femmes working on the film and other related projects at the time inspired her to launch and name the organization.

“It was a versatile group: all walks of life, all races, varying ages,” she recalls. “It was intersectional, femme-identifying, non-binary… all that wonderfulness. We started calling ourselves ‘women of the now.’”

Layne Marie Williams (photo: Jim Luning)

Although she had originally arrived in Philadelphia to pursue acting — and earned a BFA from the city’s The University of the Arts — Layne expanded her objectives on the fuel of the feminine synergy.

While Stonebirds wrapped, she and an associate, Phuong Nguyen, created The Women’s Film Festival in Philadelphia, PA. Celebrating its third year this March 16-19, the event will screen shorts, features, music videos, and the like from more than 400 submissions, including two of Layne’s films — “Dollface” and “Bild Lilli Splash.”

Then she brought her passion west, to the “giant” city of Chicago, because it was the best place to continue working on both sides of the camera and both ends of the production schedule.

“If I just wanted to be an actor, I would have gone to New York,” she explains. “But to be a film fest cofounder, it wasn’t going to happen there. The renaissance of the industry here in Chicago is really cool.”

Although the journey was bittersweet — “I sobbed my eyes out because I remember feeling that I’m leaving behind such a palpable group of women,” she remembers — it was worthwhile. She launched a two-year networking “whirlwind” and now feels “confident about the connections of people I have in the city.”

Among those connections are Susan Kerns of the Chicago Feminist Film Festival, with whom Layne says, “there’s a lot of love and respect;” and Carrie Hunter, President of Women in Film Chicago, for whom Layne created a role in “Scutly,” a film that she plans to shoot this spring.

“’Scutly’ is about a group of young girls who decide to befriend an elderly man only to discover that he is dying from Alzheimer’s Disease” she explains. “The girls are called The Pastel Girls and they wear nothing but pastels.”

A promo trailer starring The Pastels will play at “Femme Pyre.” Besides helping to generate funds for the film’s budget, Layne hopes that it will encourage others to share their passion with the organization.

“I never thought I would find myself in this position,” she muses. “I thought I was going to be a Shakespearian actress. That was my forte. My favorite role was definitely Imogen from ‘Cymbeline.’ What a complicated, 3-dimensional character she was. We’re overdue for some of those and I’m here to help change that.”

Saturday, March 4, 9 p.m. · Embassy Studios Chicago, 2425 W. 14th St., Chicago, IL 60608 · For tickets ($15-$25), click here.