Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pratibha Parmar & Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth

Alice Walker’s life and work have inspired me, shown me that it’s possible to be a writer and a global citizen with love, spirit, courage and laughter. There’s The Color Purple and Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, as well as the Broadway musical. And there’s so much more: poems, essays, short stories, novels like Possessing the Secret of Joy—about female genital mutilation—and her latest book, The Chicken Chronicles. So when I heard that Pratibha Parmar of Kali Films was making a documentary about Alice Walker, called Beauty in Truth, I was very excited. And, because this is Alice Walker here, and there's a huge audience ready and waiting for a film about her, I was very surprised to learn that Kali Films needs funds to complete the project (like Arwen Curry with her doco The Worlds of Ursula Le Guin, though she has recently received some grants).

Pratibha Parmar is a multi-award-winning filmmaker with a family heritage of protest. She has lived and worked on four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, America, and has created many “filmic spaces where women of color can reach each other across the various diasporas”. These spaces include her very first video Emergence (where Palestinian, South Asian, African-American, and Chinese women speak about their art), A Place of Rage (about June Jordan and Angela Davis within the American Civil Rights movement, shortly to be re-released on DVD), an earlier film collaboration and accompanying book with Alice Walker, Warrior Marks, also about female genital mutilation, and a feature, Nina’s Heavenly Delights, “a surprising love story where Scottish humor meets Bollywood spectacle”.

Pratibha kindly answered some questions while she completed preparations for Beauty in Truth’s Indiegogo campaign. The campaign's going well. It's heartwarming to read the lovely things people have written about the project and see that almost fifty people have already donated. And I love reading the updates from Pratibha, and (just now) an update from producer Shaheen Haq:
Today I was invited by director Pratibha for a sneak preview of ‘work in progress’ on one of the ‘chapters’ in the film; the official reason for my inclusion into the edit room (normally barred) was, ‘for comments’. Without giving away too much (no spoilers here) I have to say I was blown away. The issues around women’s oppression raised in the film are as pertinent today as they were 30 years ago. ...To watch archive footage of the vilification Alice received from speaking the truth, despite the dangers and the constant attacks on her psyche was a revelation.

Flowers for the New Zealand Film Commission: Fresh Shorts 2011




I love working with Kyna Morgan of Her Film. And from over there in North America, she keeps me in line, often through Twitter. Today, she tweeted about the New Zealand Film Commission’s (NZFC) Fresh Shorts decisions. Fresh Shorts is the NZFC's new low budget short film scheme, run in-house. It aims to identify the next generation of New Zealand feature filmmakers by nurturing and inspiring up-and-coming talent and it has just funded eight films at the $10,000 funding level and eight at $30,000 each. Kyna had been reading OnFilm online and found the NZFC press release. Here's what she wrote:

@devt ur staying up on this, yeah? Looks like gender parity reached for funding. NZFC has no gender mandate, does it? bit.ly/oCRRWT
@HerFilm Actually, I've kinda abandoned it, almost totally fruitless effort-- What's your take on this list? [I was cranky, because I HAD given up, and my mind was elsewhere.]

Kyna didn’t respond. So—of course—I took a look. And she’d done the maths and her addition was correct, so she didn’t need to respond. Women writers and directors are attached to four of the eight green-lit Fresh Shorts projects, at each level.

According to the information on the NZFC website, in 2011—its second year—Fresh Shorts attracted 292 applications, an increase of 68 applications from 2010, 160 applications at the $10,000 funding level and 132 at the $30,000 funding level. The submitted projects conveyed a very diverse range of topics and a wide range of cultural perspectives–reflecting the fresh voices the NZFC hoped the scheme would attract.

A panel from the industry and NZFC staff selected the final sixteen projects: Ainsley Gardiner, Jason Stutter, Peter Salmon, Chris Payne & Kath Akuhata-Brown (NZFC Development Executives) and Lisa Chatfield (NZFC Short Film Manager). This is what Lisa—who was a strong presence at V48Hours, accompanied by a Fresh Shorts video which included a reasonable number of women—said:

The increase in applications this year is a fantastic result for Fresh Shorts and I think relates to a closer connection between Fresh Shorts and V48Hrs this year. Of course it did make the task of choosing just 16 films very challenging! There was plenty of debate amongst the panel and the decisions weren’t all unanimous—the strength of the projects and the film makers involved made the process exciting and challenging.

This year the funded projects include three animations, one documentary and twelve narrative films that range from drama to comedy to horror and are set in the past, the future, the present and even inside cardboard boxes.

The NZFC has supplied no details about the proportion of applications that had women writers and directors attached. If I learn more details, I’ll add them here.

The four short films with women writers and directors that have been green lit at the $30,000 budget level are:
Blankets - Director: Louise Leitch, Writer: Casey Whelan, Producer: Melissa Dodds
Soldier Boy – Writer/Director: Jess Bluck, Producer: Sarah Cook
Taniwha – Writer/Director: Asuka Sylvie, Producers David White & Melissa Dodds
Two Eyes, Two Hands, Two Feet – Director: Kirsten Green, Producer: Stephen Lovatt
The four short films with women writers and directors at the $10,000 budget level are:
Airmail - Writer/Director: Prue Cunningham
Friday Tigers – Writer/Director: Aidee Walker, Producer: Julia Parnell
I’m going to Mum’s – Writer/Director: Lauren Jackson, Producer: Jeremy Macey
Purerehua – Writer/Director: Renae Maihi
Good to see some male producers in there, too, time they invested in more women's stories. Many congratulations to everyone: the writers and directors, the producers, the decision-makers. I'm excited to think that this may lead to a change in the present gendered allocation of feature film funding, which primarily benefits men who are writers and directors.

(And, Kyna, you’re correct again, the NZFC has no gender policy. But New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985. Because of this, the NZFC, like all state agencies must encourage the participation of women in public life on equal terms with men (article 7). It has to consider how to encourage women's access to its state-funded filmmaking programmes, because story-telling on screen is participating in public life. But its track record hasn’t been good, so the flowers are to congratulate them! That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your heads up. Again, yet again, my warm thanks to you.)

And this week, the Swedish state film funding gender model is back in the news, in Variety, with a slightly different take than this one, about Swedish women behind the camera, and  Satyen Bordoloi’s last year. Now that’s a great ongoing story!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Is It Still So Bad? And What Could We Do About It?


A poster for Lynn Hershman's !Women, Art, Revolution

I.

Last Saturday, film writer Thelma Adams moderated the annual Amazing Women in Film Panel at the Woodstock Film Festival, with three women directors – Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Susan Seidelman (best known for Desperately Seeking Susan) and Nancy Savoca (her latest, Union Square just at Toronto), critic Lisa Rosman, philanthropist Meera Gandhi, and activist Robin Bronk.

Before the panel, Thelma blogged about questions FB and industry friends had raised. And when I read the post and saw ‘B. Ruby Rich’ I was hooked; she’s my hero, a long-time writer about women and feminism and film, and staunch activist — her book Chick Flicks is a classic. Furthermore, many of the questions offered to Thelma are relevant to Kali Films' Indiegogo campaign for funds to complete Pratibha Parmar's feature documentary on Alice Walker, Beauty in Truth. My next post is an interview with Pratibha, and somehow Thelma's post feels like a good introduction. So here it is, with a couple of wee interjections from me, and with many thanks to Thelma. It's followed by extracts from Lynn Hershman's interview with B. Ruby Rich for the documentary !Women, Art Revolution, to provide a broader context, and some suggestions for change.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Zarcquona's story, read by Meryl Streep

In a moving performance, Meryl Streep reads the words of  “ordinary, extraordinary” Afghan woman Zarcquona. This is the best 14 minutes and 51 seconds I've spent this year. I cried. I cheered. I am inspired. And loved the way Meryl Streep contextualised her reading.



Meryl Streep's reading was part of the launch of the Women in the World Foundation, a movement dedicated to advancing women and girls through stories and solutions. I hope that the Women in the World Foundation will link to and support women who tell stories on screens large and small, who are working hard to tell stories by, about, and for women. This morning, I'm thinking about Afia Nathaniel's Neither the Veil Nor the Four Walls, which addresses one aspect of Zarcquona's story, expressed in another woman's life. I'm thinking about Pratibha Parmar's Beauty in Truth, about Alice Walker.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Andrea Arnold and Wuthering Heights at Venice

Andrea Arnold's one of my favorite filmmakers. One of the most exciting women writer/directors in the world, I think, for all kinds of reasons. Remember Wasp (2003) which won the Academy Award for Live Action Short 2005 and was described by the Guardian as 'social realist film poetry'? Red Road (2006), which won the Prix du Jury at Cannes, and many other awards? Fish Tank (2009) which won multiple awards including the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film last year?

Andrea Arnold at Cannes
Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights has just premiered at the Venice Film Festival. According to the Guardian, Wuthering Heights is
...stripped of its period frills and sweeping score. It comes caked in grime and damp with saliva. The script is salted with profanities, while the plot finds room for brief moments of a nudity and an animalistic al-fresco sex scene. Heathcliff, the Byronic forefather of English romantic fiction, is black.
And the first reviews, in a nice roundup here on Shadow and Act, show that the film's receiving critical acclaim. I'll be first in line when it reaches New Zealand.

Because I've been following the festival's press conferences on YouTube, most recently the one for Tusi Tamasese's O Le Tulafale/The Orator, this morning I watched the Wuthering Heights press conference. I know that a press conference with two people (Tusi Tamasese and producer Catherine Fitzgerald) and about a first feature is always going to be different than one for a third feature, where actors are also present. But I was sooo disappointed and frustrated, by the comparative lengths of the clips (23 minutes 34 seconds for O Le Tulafale; 3 minutes 38 seconds for Wuthering Heights), in the way Andrea's responses are presented (her voice accompanied always by the simultaneous translation and some distracting camera movements), in the way the entire clip's shot, though I guess the sexism, especially in shots of the photo opportunity, is not unusual. Is this an example of women writers and directors being taken less seriously than men? Would love to know what others think. But, at the end of the clip, some shots from the film itself. That part's a treat.