Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Zealand women playwrights


The latest issue of the Playmarket magazine has an article by playwright Branwen Millar. There she is in the pic. (She also wrote one of the Short Film Fund films I wrote about the other day, and we both did the scriptwriting MA with the wonderful Ken Duncum at Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters, but in different years, so I don't know her.)

In her article, Branwen starts: "As an emerging playwright, I'm excited by the huge talent and diversity of our writers. As a woman, I'm disheartened".

She acknowledges that she has "a massive amount of support for my writing" but is "at a loss when I look at the landscape I'm entering". She provides some grim statistics about women playwrights' representation in productions and awards and writes:
Where are the female voices in our theatres? Is it that men are better writers? Do men write faster and therefore have more plays? Receive more support? Are women one-hit wonders? Why do they stop writing?
This is so like the questions I have about women who write films. And the statistics surprise me, although I'd read some posts about women playwrights having problems in the States, on Women & Hollywood.

I'd thought that because it is so much cheaper to stage plays the "gender problem" doesn't exist for women playwrights here—I have a mate who writes film scripts and plays and talks about the advantages of the difference between a potential budget of hundreds of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands, or millions. I'd grouped plays with novels and poetry, where New Zealand women just do it if that's where their interest lies and there are few problems connecting with an audience.

Branwen Millar goes on:
And why is it important to have female playwrights? "This isn't the eighties," a friend said to me when I told her what I was writing, "feminism's done."
(Oh Yes! Almost exactly the response I've now heard many times when I've talked about my film statistics.) She continues:
Yeah right. I'm not arguing for women writers for equality's sake (though I could). I'd advocate for all writers to sit down and write good plays regardless of gender or anything else; this is about all people being deemed worthy of having a voice worth listening to. It's striving for the richest and most vibrant arts industry we can have, and that comes from a multitude of perspectives.
And she's curious to know more about what others think. What answers does anyone have, to her questions? This morning, as I work on another thesis chapter, I worry a little that even though I know more than I did, I have lots and lots of questions I still can't answer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Women @ Cannes

A great roundup article here, by Sophie Ivan. Tx Little White Lies; Truth & Movies.

She also wrote about a Birds Eye View panel of women filmmakers. Tx Birds Eye View.

And there's another article here, by Abigail Tartellin. Tx Women & Hollywood.

And finally, a couple of articles about a party given by documentary director Angela Ismailos. She has just made Great Directors, and included two women among the nine directors she interviewed: Agnes Varda and Catherine Breillat.

I liked these articles because both writers talk with/about Catherine Breillat. I have a very beautiful poster for her Sex is Comedy in my hall, right opposite one for Agnes Varda's The Gleaners & I. I've read and been told that women writers and directors are represented much more strongly in France than elsewhere, and I can't remember reading anything a French woman has said about sexism in their industry. So I heard Catherine Breillat's voice like a tiny exciting whisper, and look forward to hearing more when Great Directors gets here.

The first article, by Karin Badt, from the Huffington Post, includes the following exchange:
"The French don't like me," said Catherine Breillat (who is French) tout court. " It is only thanks to the Americans that I am still a filmmaker."

"And why don't the French like you?"

"Because I make films that are outside their limits. I make films where women talk about sex."

"But the French say they LOVE sex!"

"Only if a man is talking about it," Ms. Breillat said.

The second article is by Anne Thompson in Variety, and includes a brief video interview about Great Directors with Angela Ismailos.

Women artists in public museums


Tonight, elles@centrepompidou will open at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It includes over 500 works from its collection, by 200 women artists. elles@centrepompidou will last for a year, with periodic additions and rotations of artworks. A fine addition to any woman traveller's itinerary, along with the European women's film festivals. I've often wondered if somewhere there's travel agent who specialises in women's culture tours. Anyway, you can read about elles@centrepompidou in a great article from the Los Angeles Times by Suzanne Muchnic, & buy a ticket online.

I so wish I could be there, after a week spent writing far too much about We are unsuitable for framing at Te Papa Tongarewa , our national museum and art gallery (until July 27). We are unsuitable for framing, like elles@centrepompidou, includes only works by women, but is presented as an exhibition about identity rather than a women's, or feminist, exhibition.

And, in Suzanne Muchnic's article, Camille Morineau, curator of elles@centrepompidou identifies a problem that reminds me of a problem I had, writing about We are unsuitable for framing. Although, unsurprisingly, the women's works in the Centre Pompidou's collection "show that the history of 20th century women's art is quite similar to what we have in the general permanent collection" some contemporary art movements were largely defined by male artists or critics.
You have to show women who didn't want to be part of a movement or who were formally part of the movement but were not associated with it by critics. So what do you do with that? Do you stress the fact that the women wanted to be out of the movement or do you integrate them? There's a paradox we had to deal with.
The related problem I had was trying to decide whether Unsuitable for framing was a feminist exhibition.

We are unsuitable for framing groups works by women who define themselves as feminists but not as feminist artists with work by women who do not want to be exhibited only with women (some of these are the same women) and work by women who are not feminists. Is an exhibition of women artists only always or ever a feminist one? If some of the artists prefer to be associated with (say) conceptual art does that mean the exhibition cannot be feminist? Does the curator decide if an exhibition is feminist? Or the audience? And I guess that institutions like the Pompidou Centre—where only 17% of the 5,000 artists included in its collection are women—and Te Papa tend buy women's work only if it fits strongly within a category not labelled feminist. So that limits the 'feminist' possibilities from the beginning, for any exhibition selected from their collections.

How does this connect to filmmaking? At the moment, I'm reading about literature and evolution. One study, by Jonathon Gottschall (in The literary animal: evolution and the nature of narrative, 2005) compared data from Western European fairytales with data from many other cultures. It shows, among other things, that the percentages of active male protagonists significantly exceed those of active female protagonists in all cultures.

Gottschall concludes that distinct regularities in behaviour, psychology and gender predominate across human populations and are reflected in the world's folk literatures. This gave me another perspective on scriptwriting and why women may struggle with making movies about the stories they tell about women's lives. And why they may succeed, often, only because they manage to 'fit' a story into a category not viewed as 'feminist'.

Morineau found that as her exhibition evolved, "some segments paralleled mainstream art history, and others--particularly performance, representations of the female body and works with a strong feminist viewpoint--deviated sharply." I guess that in film, as in public galleries, some kinds of women's performance, some ways women represent women's bodies and any strong feminist viewpoint, may be unwelcome because we deviate from the mainstream. Not a new thought of course, no new thoughts here at all, but I was interested in the visual art context.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Out Takes 2009: A Reel Queer Film Festival

Out Takes 2009 has started in Auckland and will run there till 1 June. It starts in Wellywood—at my favorite movie place, the Paramount—28 May, and ends 7 June.

I'm looking forward to writer/director Shamim Sarif's The World Unseen (2007) and I Can't Think Straight (2008), both based on her own novels. How amazing that we can see them both in the same week. And how does any filmmaker manage two features in a year or so?

Shamim Sarif explains how she did it in a Women & Hollywood interview with Melissa Silverstein. And it probably helps that she and Hanan Kattan own their own multi-media entertainment company Enlightenment Productions, based in London and Los Angeles, a kind of autonomy that I hope hope hope will become more common.

Here's the I Can't Think Straight trailer:


Auckland Tuesday 26 May, 8.35pm. Wellington Tuesday 2 June 8.35pm.

And here's a "Making of" about The World Unseen.





The Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust For Lesbians will host a gala event in association with a screening of The World Unseen, at the Paramount, Sunday 31 May. Bar opens 7.30, screening starts 8.30. I think it's wonderful that the trust's making this celebration possible, along with quietly supporting a whole lot of other good things (including a project of mine, in the past).

The World Unseen will screen in Auckland, Sunday 24 May 8.30pm.

For more details about other great films written and directed by women, check out the Out Takes site. Or take a look at Out Takes on Facebook.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Short Film Fund decisions: NZ Film Commission opts to fund men and women equally?


It's that logo again! And more great news for women filmmakers.

Every year, the New Zealand Film Commission appoints three executive producer groups to select and  manage a total of nine projects funded through the Short Film Fund. Over the last few years, this programme has invested much less in projects written and directed by women than in projects written and directed by men (see 28 April post).

In this year's short list, of twenty-seven films, twenty-four had only male or only female storytellers (writers and directors). But just seven of these single gender projects (29%) had only women as the storytellers. Seventeen single gender projects had only men. So I sighed, and thought, oh, nothing's changed. 

But the Film Commission has now announced eight of the nine greenlit projects—the ninth due shortly—in its latest newsletter. And YAY women wrote and directed four (57%) of the single gender projects selected and a woman will direct a fifth project, that she co-wrote with men. Here's the list:

Hitched
writer Branwen Millar (also a playwright; & graduate of Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters scriptwriting MA) director Katie Wolfe, producers Rachel Lorimer and Felicity Letcher

Amadi
writer/director Zia Mandviwalla, producer Owen Hughes

Sweetness
writer/director Suzy Jowsey Featherstone, producer Annelise Yarrell

(Do they know about writer/director Rachel Davies' Sweetness, one of my favorite short films ever? A classic: here's a still. View Sweetness here.)



The Winter Boy
writer Kylie Meehan, director Rachel House, producer Hineani Melbourne

As well, Jane Shearer will direct Bird, one of the other selected projects, which she co-wrote with Greg King and Steve Ayson.

And it's great news for us scriptwriters that two of the four women's projects are written by women who are primarily writers, always good to see that.

It seems that the Film Commission may be moving towards equal funding for men and women writers and directors in all their programmes, and that's wonderful. The Commission may be the first state-funded film agency in the world to do this. But, because the changes have been so rapid, I have a few questions, & would be interested in yours:
  1. Will the new balance of representation be sustainable without appropriate legislation? (I doubt it, and so does a gender expert/public servant I spoke with the other day.)
  2. Is the Commission thinking strategically? Does it have a coherent gender plan? Is it thinking about women as film audiences or only women as storytellers? Are some women writers and directors going to be encouraged to experiment? Are they (we) going to be allowed to fail—artistically and/or commercially—and then get another chance, as some men have done in the past?
  3. What about Maori women? A older, highly-networked, Maori woman told me yesterday that Pakeha women writers and directors who want to make features may face a glass (or celluloid) ceiling, but Maori women writers and directors face a heavily steel-reinforced concrete wall.
  4. Has the Commission considered how to advance the careers of women writers and directors in their thirties and early forties who missed out over the last decade or so when the Commission could 'only cope with one of us women at a time' as feature writers & directors? There's a large cohort of these talented, skilled, women, who've made their successful short films and—I imagine—have feature scripts ready to go. I want to see their stories up there on the screen soon, along with those of the younger women now making shorts. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (cont'd)

After four weeks in New Zealand cinemas, Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls has taken $1 million. That's a big audience for a country with a total population of around 4 million and takes it almost into the dozen all-time top grossing New Zealand films (domestically).

In comparison, last year's big hit Secondhand Wedding reached $1million after seven weeks. And back in 2003, after four weeks, Whale Rider had grossed around $1.5million. I'm fascinated by what will happen next, especially as I've got lots of mates who haven't yet seen Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls and really want to go. Will it sell into the United States and other countries at Cannes? I hope so.

And now the Topps have a YouTube channel. Lots of great clips.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tweet tweet tweet, or as an NZer might say Tui tui tui


OK, I'm sold. Twitter's got my big gold star, because it's giving me more than enough useful info to make it worthwhile.

A little while ago I met Grietje Keller through Twitter, and admired the visual images in her blog but couldn't read it because the words are written in Dutch. Grietje referred me on to a Netherlands International Women's Centre and Archive with a site in English, a wonderful place. Then Grietje sent out a tweet about a US exhibition, of new feminist videos, called Reflections on the Electric Mirror: New Feminist Video, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York (May 1, 2009–January 10, 2010—Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, 4th Floor— with an 'interesting' New York Times review and a New York Magazine article about one of the artists, Kate Gilmore.)


Jen DeNike (American, b. 1971). Still from Happy Endings, 2006. Video, color, sound, 1 min. 5 sec. Courtesy of the artist and Smith-Stewart, New York

This is the image that appealed to me most, because it made me curious about the rest of the story. (I have a mate who needs to know the ending before she starts a script. I don't but I always hope the ending will be happy.) 

For a while now, I've been ambivalent about calling myself a feminist. 'Feminism' had become, for me, a meaningless term and a source of irritation as I read bits of poststructuralist feminist theory and psychoanalytic theory, both a long way from my experiences as a woman and a scriptwriter and not very useful to me. 

But, when I followed the tweet string (the 'stweet'?) from Grietje, about the exhibition, I found another interesting feminist activist I'd never have found in any other way, MadamaAmbi. And felt delighted to know about new feminist videos. And amazed that they exist, named as feminist. Will these artists, born between 1968 and 1975, make features? Do they already? This show inspires me to come out as a feminist again, because it's a great shorthand for connecting with women filmmakers in the rest of the world.

And then, when looking on YouTube for one of the new feminist videos to share, I found this instead. It's for Erica, Development's producer—especially—and for the students who're using this blog as a resource.



Video and (edited) text below produced by the Brooklyn Museum. 
Korean-born, New York City based artist Sun K. Kwak is shown creating a site-specific work composed of approximately three miles of black masking tape in the fifth-floor Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery. The mural-like piece is affixed to the walls and pillars until July.

The exhibition's title,
Enfolding 280 Hours, references the number of hours the artist estimated it would take her and her assistants to install the piece in the gallery. Work on the installation began in early February, and Museum visitors were able to view the work in progress. At the end of the Brooklyn presentation and after photographic documentation, the masking tape will be peeled off the columns and walls and discarded.

Drawing with masking tape has become her signature form of expression. Kwak continues to challenge perceptions of familiar surroundings with this technique, which for her is both meditative and performative.
And tui, tui, tui? In Maori—te reo—with long vowels, it's the name of a bird, native to New Zealand, that sometimes imitates other birds. You can hear its call on this site, for White Heron Tours, and at our place, most days. 

Here's a pic of a tui, on harakeke/flax plants, like the ones in our garden. 

With short vowels, tui means to sew, or thread, and that's how I think of Twitter now, as I am threaded into a network that includes new feminist videos from New York. 

And then there's Tui beer, and the Tui beer billboards, but they're another story-- 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A short master class... & women as producers and decision makers



Love this Clare O'Leary ScreenTalk interview with the versatile Vanessa Alexander (producer, writer, director, academic, one of two women on the eight-person NZFC Board). Writer/director of the female buddy film Magik & Rose. Producer of the multi-award-winning Being Eve, nominated for an Emmy. And so on.

The interview's like a short master class about what's worked for her as a filmmaker. She talks about:

· Being persistent;

· Taking risks; and

·  How men helped her early on.

The help from men especially interests me at the moment. One of my research findings (to be written up for mid-September) is that women producers, and other women decision-makers, are often not interested in films written and directed by women, or in helping develop women’s scripts with women as strong central characters. It’s the same in other parts of the world.

I learned a little bit about how this happens last year. I was concentrating hard on a challenging left-brain task. And someone in the industry interrupted me with a question: “Does it make a difference that women producers don’t prioritise working with women writers and directors?” I blinked, slightly startled. And from deep inside out flew a spontaneous response that shocked me. “Well,” I said, “if I were a producer I’d choose a man’s project, because it would be more likely to succeed.” I knew immediately I’d told the truth.

Now I know about my own ingrained bias I’m less judgmental of women producers and other women decision makers who prioritise projects that men write and direct. And even more supportive of women writers and directors who want to tell stories about women. And very appreciative of the men who support my work, like my wonderful supervisor who’s been right there for me over the last few years as I slowly learned to write a story with a single protagonist—which I found hard—and experimented with other ways of writing that suit me better.

Sometimes, women producers, who are strongly represented in the film industry in New Zealand and elsewhere, are grouped statistically with women writers and directors to show that women’s participation in the industry is high. However, because women producers so often prefer projects that men write and direct, I think it’s essential to keep the storytellers separate from the producers, however creative the producers are, though some film writers and directors are also producers of course.

See Clare's Docobug blog for another great interview, with legendary editor Annie Collins, one of my heroes.

Vanessa Alexander's ScreenTalk interview was produced by NZ On Screen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Simone Horrocks' After the Waterfall; & A special day


A lovely day!

A new feature with a woman writer/director starts production! Have put a little button on the sidebar and will add more links when they're available.


After the Waterfall is Simone Horrocks' adaptation of Stephen Blanchard's The Paraffin Child.

And there's an historic moment to celebrate. The NZFC site lists fourteen recent features —including docos—it has funded, either in production or released. Six have women directors (a seventh is in pre-production). This is a long way from a comment I heard from a woman filmmaker almost three years ago: " 'They' can only cope with one of us at a time." 

Another filmmaker said then: "If the NZFC knows there is a gender problem, the decision-makers will fix it." Has this happened? Has it made any difference, measuring and writing about the NZFC gender statistics? I may never know. When I started, probably all of these films were already in development. But now, as I write up my thesis, I have a lot more hope than I used to have. 

But I'm still convinced that there should be legislation for ongoing transparency about, and accountability for, NZFC's investment in women's stories. So that this positive trend is monitored and acknowledged. And any future counter-trend is identified and addressed.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Interview with Agnès Varda - Les Plages d'Agnès


Yes, the interview's in French & I struggle to understand some of it, but Agnes Varda's eighty year old joie de vivre inspires me and reminds me that filmmaking is fun. And —what a treat—her latest film, The Beaches of Agnes, is coming to the New Zealand International Film Festivals, traveling the country from July 10-November 26, here in Wellywood from July 18-August 3.

NZFF director Bill Gosden writes:

Agnès Varda was the lone female amongst the New Wave directors who shook up French cinema and helped set the agenda for the cultural revolution in the 60s. At almost 80 she has created a playfully idiosyncratic memoir of her sentimental education and life as an artist. Responding eagerly to the possibilities offered by digital technology, she sets up tableaux that recall her earlier work and places herself within her old photographs and extracts from her films (Vagabond, The Gleaners and I and many more). She revisits old haunts to reminisce fondly with collaborators she's not seen for decades. She discusses the years spent with her husband/soulmate, the late Jacques Demy, her feminism, her romantic adventures and the rewards of independence. It's an illuminating account of a wonderfully full life and the best possible proof of her perpetual, instinctive reinvention of herself as an artist.

Interview d'Agnès Varda pour la sortie de son film les plages d'Agnès le 17 Décembre 2008: ITW Agnès Varda - Les Plages d'Agnès
Video sent by
troiscouleurs.