Midtown Raleigh News

Documentary tells the story of Business and Professional Women groups

A mother-daughter pair is behind a new documentary that tells the story of an international organization for working women through the eyes of members in North Carolina.

Director Ashley Maria and her mother, Lea-Ann Berst, decided three years ago to explore the Business and Professional Women organization, a group that has advocated for and supported women in the workplace since 1919.

The group has a long history in North Carolina, where a chapter started even before the national organization was officially formed. The organization has since also grown to include international branches.

“Not many women my age know the history,” said Maria, a 2004 graduate of Millbrook High School and a filmmaker in Los Angeles. “And so I wanted to make this for them.”

The resulting documentary, “Business and Professional Women: A History, A Movement,” premieres Oct. 20, at the IMAX Theatre at Marbles. A panel discussion with Maria, participants in the documentary and local women will follow.

The 20-minute documentary tells the stories of women such as Lois Frazier, who became a member of the group in 1945 and went on to help create the MBA program at Meredith College, and Joyce Hamilton, the first female assistant district attorney in Wake County, who later became a judge.

It also looks more broadly at the organization’s difficulties and successes over the years and how women’s roles in the workplace have evolved.

The idea for the documentary came after Berst, a global marketer and longtime member of the organization’s Raleigh chapter, mentioned to Maria that she thought the history was a story that needed to be told. Maria agreed and said she would move forward with the project – if Berst would work alongside her as a producer.

The two teamed up for the years of bicoastal research, filming and editing required for the documentary.

“I am so proud of her because she was not familiar with the industry but she learned so much to help me,” Maria said. “I can honestly say she was the brains behind everything.”

Berst said the “huge learning curve” was worth it to complete the project with Maria and see how she brought her vision to life as a director.

“I think it was interesting for her to see how much I respect what she says,” Berst said.

The project also has helped launch Maria’s next project, “Pioneers in Skirts,” a feature-length documentary that will examine how women worked together in the past in the workplace, what those efforts look like today and how they might evolve in the future.

“It’s when we support each other, mentor each other and educate and advocate for each other that things happen,” Maria said.