Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading women's scripts

A while ago, I wrote an article about how it’s harder for New Zealand women to make feature films than it is for men. And I discussed how having women as script assessors and decision-makers appears not to help women filmmakers. And how I came to realise that I, too, tended to favour men’s work (as I also wrote here). The editor took those bits out and I wondered: Is this reality sometimes too hard to acknowledge?

I also invented two ‘Queen Bees’ for Development-the-movie, powerful women in the industry who privilege men. Readers from the radio broadcasting, television, and film sectors recognise these characters immediately. And some women say to me, about scenes I invented: “I didn’t tell you that story. It’s my story. Who told you? How could you use it?”

The Queen Bees and I are not alone in privileging men’s projects, so I've been thrilled to read some recent public discussion about this. Last week, Ela Thier wrote in Women & Hollywood, within a post about her own difficulties getting her scripts produced (& yes, there's a post about her article further down this page, too):
I teach screenwriting and consistently notice the different regard that I feel for my male and female students. No matter how ‘enlightened’ I think I am, I find myself having higher expectations of the guys. I just assume that they have more experience, more confidence, more intelligence…? I’ve recently noticed that when I receive quality work from a woman, I feel a sense of surprise. When I see amateur work from a man, I think “hmm… for some reason I had him pegged as an experienced writer.” For some reason.
Pnc commented in response to the post as a whole:
Boy do I relate. My first attempt at making a feature…I only sent out contribution letters to people I thought cared about me and wanted to see my dreams come true. I learned soon enough that if you’re female and a filmmaker, most people won’t support your dreams. In that same year I saw five of my male counterparts raise money in the exact same way, successfully, and went on to make their features.
I wondered, where Pnc refers to ‘people’, how many of them were women? Does the way women privilege men's projects sometimes extend to our responses to requests for film funding from women we know?

In new research, reported in the New York Times (thanks for the tweet MadamaAmbi) Emily Glassberg Sands, a Princeton economics student, shows that the Queen Bee problem exists in theatre too. Emily sent identical scripts to artistic directors and literary managers around the United States. Half named a man as the writer (e.g. Michael Walker) and half a woman (e.g. Mary Walker). Women artistic directors and literary managers gave ‘Mary’s’ scripts significantly worse ratings than ‘Michael’s’ in terms of quality, economic prospects and audience response. Men rated ‘Michael’s’ and ‘Mary’s’ scripts the same.

(Emily also found that plays that feature women—more commonly written by women—are less likely to be produced. And when she measured plays and musicals produced on Broadway over ten years, plays and musicals by women sold 16% more tickets each week and were 18% more profitable overall, but producers did not keep them running any longer than less profitable shows written by men—evidence of discrimination. However she did not investigate the producers' genders, lots more work to be done.)

Here's Emily's Powerpoint presentation, thanks to Off-Stage Right, so you can read the details.

Let’s hope that Emily’s research will help us women to talk more about our responses to scripts with other women’s names on. And help us to take action, encouraged by the information in Accelerating Change for Women and Girls: The Role of Women's Funds, from the Foundation Center and the Women's Funding Network. The report shows that philanthropic giving by and for women is on the rise. "This study underscores that investments in women and girls can have big social returns," said Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center.

Perhaps philanthropists—including people who know and care about us—don't yet see women's storytelling as a vehicle for change for women. But imagine the big social returns from investment in women's films. Could this imagining motivate us all to support women's projects as strongly as men's?

One of my Queen Bees redeems herself. Maybe the rest of us can, too.

(Playwright Julia Jordan, herself a keen researcher into the issues, in some way facilitated Emily Glassberg Sands' research.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

NZFF again

So what else will I go to in the New Zealand International Film Festival, for sure (along with the Animation For Kids programme and the twelve animated films in Animation Now 2009, selected from a gob-smacking 2,300 entries)? Some years I get too many tickets and the rush to the next film gets in the way of absorbing the last one. Amazing that the festival starts in Auckland 9 July and travels round. Then ends in Whangarei 25 November. Do tourists come here for it, I wonder.

I'll be there for The Strength of Water written by Briar Grace-Smith—until now best known as as a playwright—and directed by Armagan Ballantyne. I've been waiting for a film written by a Maori woman since Once Were Warriors (1994) written by Riwia Brown. I think we need lots of them. There's a group of Barry Barclay films in the festival, and I'm remembering what he wrote, ages ago: “We shall get to know what a Maori film is when we get a chance to make more films”. Just as we'll know more about what women's films are, and Maori women's films are, when women and Maori women get the chance to make more films.

Agnes Varda's The Beaches of Agnes, and Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) which I've never seen.

Nandita Das' Firaaq, because I have this thing about actors who write and direct, and because New Zealander Shuchi Kothari co-wrote it.

Sarah Watt's My Year Without Sex (always a sucker for a 'mother' story).

Before Tomorrow made by the Arnait Video Collective, dedicated to honouring 'the unique knowledge and perspectives of Inuit women' (always a sucker for a women's collective).

Flame & Citron, a thriller with Mads Mikkelsen, one of my favorite actors, is my 'boy' choice.

Wendy and Lucy, directed and co-written by Kelly Reichardt, been waiting for this for a long time.

So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain. Here's an interview with So Yong Kim:



BUT, where is Sally Potter's RAGE? I was looking forward to it. From the stills I've seen I thought it would teach me lots I want to know about cinema for a small screen—as well as for a large one. And there's other films about fashion in the fest, so it would have fitted from that perspective, too. I'm SO disappointed.

NZFF's must-see art movies (for me, anyway)

Seraphine, because Seraphine de Senlis is a 'forgotten' woman painter and they always interest me. Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine because her work fascinates me; and I'm always especially happy when women make films about women artists (this time Marion Cajori—who died in 2006 and who made the wonderful Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter, and Amei Wallach).

The Man in the Hat
about Wellington art dealer Peter McLeavy, have always had a soft spot for him. He has always supported women artists, one of those quietly feminist men, and I like his intrinsic elegance.

Bright Star Alert; & Matariki


Sometimes 140 characters can say a whole lot. This Tweet from melsil (Women & Hollywood) on Friday:
Bright Star was one of the most emotional and fulfilling films I have seen in a long, long time. That Abbie Cornish can really act. Amazing.
And then I finished work for the day (a couple of thousand thesis words and a pruned apple tree) & went in search of a New Zealand Film Festival catalogue. Got the last one downstairs at the public library, then the last one upstairs (for a mate who gets out even less than I do). Took them home and found that Bright Star will open the festival on 17 July. Great.

Bright Star
has a lovely production scrapbook. It reminds me of an Advent calendar, lots of little windows that open to surprises and pleasures, some photographs in satisfying black and white. And it's winter solstice, & I've had an email about Matariki, the Pleiades. Matariki rose in our sky a little while ago. So Bright Star and a kind of Advent calendar are just the thing. As well as an image of spring & bluebells, with Abbie Cornish in it.

Can't wait for 17 July.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Open Letter from a Woman Director


In today's Women & Hollywood, there's an open letter from director Ela Thier (pictured). Her story's so familiar; it could have come from New Zealanders I've spoken with. Good on her.

Development-the-movie producer Erica and I have formulated our dream:

Imagine… a world where women write and direct half of all movies.
And New Zealand does it first. Just like women’s suffrage.

(And we were encouraged the other day when we saw Jane Campion at the Cannes press conference for Bright Star, talking about New Zealand being first to have women's suffrage.)

I so hope that Peter Jackson's review of the Film Commission will help our dream come true.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peter Jackson to head Film Commission review: Only in New Zealand

It could only happen here. It's extraordinary, wonderful news. Instead of an earnest contract worker with a tired agenda—always a possibility—we get a distinguished local filmmaker who has criticised the Film Commission AND no longer needs it to fund his films. Here's the press release. I'll write about the Terms of Reference as soon as I have my head around them. At first glance, there's nothing specific about gender, but various places where it can be considered.
Oscar award winning director and producer Peter Jackson will lead a ministerial review of the New Zealand Film Commission to ensure it is best able to serve the needs of the local industry and community, Minister for Arts Culture and Heritage Christopher Finlayson announced today.

“National promised a review of the New Zealand Film Commission during last year’s election campaign,” Mr Finlayson said. “The act was passed over 30 years ago, and during that time the face of the local film industry has changed dramatically.”

“The film industry has been one of New Zealand’s highest profile successes of the last 15 years. This review will ensure it is receiving the support needed to continue that growth.”

“The Commission plays a part in every stage of the industry from funding start-up productions to helping market and distribute the end product. It’s vital to establish how the Commission has been performing in each of these mandated areas, and whether it has been providing the best value to industry.”

“Peter Jackson is the most successful director and producer in New Zealand film, and is uniquely qualified to lead this review. Film in New Zealand is a creative sector, but also an industry. He has achieved success both critically and commercially, and has done so at all levels of production represented in the local industry from DIY low-budget movies to record-setting international blockbusters.”

David Court, Head of Screen Business at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School, will work with Peter Jackson to examine the Commission’s legislation and the constitution, function, powers and financial provisions it provides.

“The NZ Film Commission is a vital and indispensable component of our film industry,” Mr Jackson said. “I'm looking forward to making positive and constructive suggestions to ensure that it remains effective in what is a rapidly changing international movie climate. David and I intend to consult with many local filmmakers, so the review reflects the thoughts and opinions of the writers, producers and directors the Film Commission was created to support.”

The review will look at the challenges facing the Commission in a rapidly changing domestic and international film industry context. Key issues are how the Commission can most effectively help industry meet New Zealand cultural content objectives and reach a domestic and international audience. It will consider whether the New Zealand Film Commission Act 1978 needs to be updated to ensure that the Commission is responsive to the challenges that the organisation and the industry faces in the current environment.

When the email came I was out, watching Russell Crowe in State of Play, enjoying the subtleties of his performance and the tight script. Needed a break as I slog through the last hard bits of my thesis draft. And it was that, The Proposal, or The Merchant of Venice. Promised a friend I'd do The Merchant of Venice, but am just too knackered for anything that needs any brain power.

And on the way home dropped by the Paramount to see if they have an NZ Film Festival catalogue. Yes, there were some there, in big brown paper bags with what seemed to be other things, like boxes of cornflakes. And it looked like they were preparing a party. I asked for a catalogue, didn't need cornflakes, just a catalogue. "Are you with the Film Festival?" the woman asked. "No," I said. "Come back in the morning," she said. I'm imagining that down there right now the Minister for Culture and Heritage is being congratulated, in person or in absentia. As he should be. And Peter Jackson. WOW.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Insatiable Moon


I've been avidly following Mike Riddell's blog about The Insatiable Moon, a feature film based on his novel—the wonderful story of Arthur, boarding house resident. I love reading about another New Zealander's development processes and I've especially enjoyed Mike's blog because he seems so upfront and courageous. A great case study for every New Zealander wanting to make a feature, and probably for others as well.

And his project's especially close to home today because Mike hopes that as well as telling a great story, The Insatiable Moon will help reduce the stigma of psychiatric illness. And yesterday, a couple of mates sat at my kitchen table talking about their family members who'd been through the psychiatric 'system'; and I had a long letter from another mate who has post traumatic stress disorder. So when I saw that The Insatiable Moon needs a bit more money and Mike's set up a page at GiveALittle I wanted to help. Maybe you do, too.

The Insatiable Moon's is a co-production with Britain's Blue Hippo Media (synopsis etc here), Gillies MacKinnon will direct, and it will be shot in Ponsonby (Auckland) in November, starring Rawiri Paratene, Tim Spall, James Nesbitt, John Rhys Davies.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Returning us imaginatively to the event of violation, & allowing it to affect us


Thank you Yoko Ono. I found details about this exhibition on her Imagine Peace website. Off the Beaten Path will open at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo next week. (And thanks, Twitter, for pointing me to Imagine Peace.)

The
exhibition document says that the Art Gallery of Wellington New Zealand is one of the 'target galleries'. Is this Te Papa, or the Wellington City Gallery?


In the meantime, it's possible to take a virtual tour of the exhibition.

The curator, Randy Jayne Rosenberg, writes:
When we encounter violence against women, we often experience a kind of blindness... The stories that underlie these artworks by 32 artists from around the world return us imaginatively to the event of violation and allow it to affect us.
I've just been reading a report on my second draft of Development-the-movie, and trying work out what I still need to change. I want the audience to be deeply engaged with and moved by the story and the characters who live in it. And part of that means I have to make sure that the story returns the audience's imaginations to the "event(s) of violation" that affect women who want to make feature films. So I'm thrilled to be able to walk around Off the Beaten Path.

Off the Beaten Path satisfies me in a way that other recent exhibitions of women's work has not. Many of the images affect me viscerally. And grouped together they make me think. Maybe because the show's been created to "create awareness...and address systems for positive social change and action".

The United Nations may be about to create a new fund for women. I hope that Off the Beaten Path inspires advocates for the new agency to consider and to provide for women's storytelling, because it's an essential element in women's development, and of our participation in public life.

This image, from the Violence in Politics section of the show is from Sweden's Amnesty International campaign, Rose Petals.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Seraphine

Been getting Tweets about a French film called Seraphine, about a woman painter. It looks beautiful. Hope it gets here soon. "Have you ever been in love?" someone asks Seraphine. "A painter," she responds, "loves differently."

Earth Whisperers/Papatuanuku


Earth Whisperers/ Paptuanuku is about to open, down the road at the Paramount. I found the Earth Whisperers flier there the other evening when I went to Shamim Sarif's I Can't Think Straight (I'm such a sucker for rom coms, and this was different than any rom com I've ever seen, really enjoyed it, in an almost full theatre, on a very cold night).

And then I found that the Earth Whisperers/ Paptuanuku director is Kathleen Gallagher, a poet and playwright whose work I loved in the past, but someone I haven't seen or heard of for ages.

And then I found a website, full of details about her other films: He Oranga He Oranga: Healing Journeys about people with cancer, Caed Mile Failte: A 100,000 Welcomes about Villa Maria, a Sisters of Mercy school in Christchurch, A Peaceful Pacific about a peace conference in Christchurch in 2004, and Tau te Mauri/ The Breath of Peace.

According to the website:
Tau Te Mauri/ The Breath of Peace tells the story of of effort towards global peace, featuring eight peace people of Aotearoa New Zealand - spanning some seven decades - peacewalkers, petitioners, and folk in small boats and on the surfboards sailing out into the harbours in the face of huge warships.

A unique documentary, bedded in the movement of aihe (dolphins), tohora (whales), kotuku (white herons), toroa (albatross) and with an original score blending contemporary waiata and traditional Maori musical instruments.

This film tells the story of how Aotearoa New Zealand became nuclear free and anti-war.
All the films are available on DVD.

Earth Whisperers/ Paptuanuku focuses on ten visionary New Zealanders out to prove that a shift in consciousness can heal our environment. Another perspective to add to those of The Age of Stupid & An Inconvenient Truth.

I'm thrilled to hear about a whole group of docos I hadn't heard about before and look forward to seeing them soon, especially Earth Whisperers/ Paptuanuku. And thrilled that a poet and playwright has made them. Here's a Christchurch Television (CTV) Good Living interview with Kathleen talking about Earth Whisperers. It starts with an extract from the film. And the website lists the dates you can see it, all round the country. The DVD will be available after the theatrical release is over.