Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Women Directors. Globally.

After I completed my survey of New Zealand feature directors by gender, I wanted to put the New Zealand statistics alongside those from other countries. It's impossible to do this globally. The figures are unavailable for Lebanon, for instance. Lebanon has about the same population as New Zealand, but a very different cinema history and no state funding. And it's impossible to make exact comparisons between countries; the available figures often measure something different or differently.  In the United States, the volume of filmmaking of all kinds makes it impossible to establish a comprehensive picture. But here's some information which gives a general idea, for directors of narrative feature films only (Nicola Depuis' thesis on Irish women screenwriters offers related research on women in that country's industry).

Australia (five years to mid 2011) 18%
(theatrically released features only, probably most state-funded) via Screen Australia
Canada (2010) 16% (all state-funded) via Women in View
France (2010) 21% (state-funded, but with lower budgets than men-directed films) my research
New Zealand (2010) 16% (same percentage in both state-funded and not state-funded lists) my research
Norway (2010) 19% (from the Norwegian Film Institute database, not known if all state-funded)
Sweden (2010) 11% (19% of all state-funded films) via Swedish Film Institute
United States (2011-12) 18% (films from round the world shown at selected United States festivals) via Martha Lauzen at the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film
United States (2010) 7% (250 top-grossing films, a steady decrease from 9% in 1998; 5% in 2011) via Martha Lauzen at the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film. I better understood this especially low percentage and the decrease when I saw this graphic.

For the first time, I feel confident that although there are some local differences the percentage of women directors of narrative features is about the same everywhere in the world. Consider these figures in association with the percentage of films with women as protagonists (thank you, Miss Representation!), 16 percent, and it's obvious the problem is serious as well as complex.

But there's hope! By chance I received an email that shows that women who make decisions within the entertainment industry are not only aware of the problem but trying to analyse it and seek solutions. The notes helped me think and I hope they're helpful for you, too.

I don’t know where these women met, two middle-aged women, two Queen Bees. They live on different continents and they work in different sectors of the entertainment industry. Each is a major decision maker with a biiiiig budget. Was it an airport lounge? A conference? A film festival? An awards ceremony? A party? Anyway they were talking and the conversation turned to women directors. And one of them took notes which, much later, she sent to me. (I get many more emails from people I don’t know than I get comments here, even though there’s an ‘Anonymous’ option.) My understanding from the brief email  – this is a very busy woman – is that both participants in the conversation have a strong commitment to women who write and direct feature films. But I have no idea whether they want 'the loud trembling unspoken story of women can break through' or simply to ensure that more women are employed in the industry. The good news, however, is that these two appear not to be like those to whom Jodie Foster referred last year, when it was mentioned that many studio executives do, in fact, look like her — a 48-year-old white female veteran of the industry:
...the lists that come out of the female studio executives: guy, guy, guy, guy. Their job is to be as risk-averse as possible. They see female directors as a risk.
After I read the notes I asked to publish them without attribution. Here they are, with warm thanks to the women concerned, in three parts, slightly edited for clarity (I hope).

1. Women's commitment
Do women directors really want to make movies? Some women take time out for childrearing and then won’t make the commitment required.

2. Women often have specific needs – more intensive support, to be enabled, to have their confidence built
Each one requires a bespoke pathway and mentoring.  There’s a need to ‘curate individuals’.

3. At the moment the pathways don’t always work. [These are pathways established within 'the industry' presumably, because that's where these women are located, far away from processes like crowdfunding.]  What kinds of structures and pathways might work, eg short films to one-hour films?

I've thought a lot about these notes over the last few weeks, as I consider the motivations of the writer characters in my Muriel Rukeyser play, Throat of These Hours. My thoughts are below the jump if you want to read them. But I hope that when you look at the stats and read these Queen Bee notes, you'll have your own thoughts. And I'd love to hear what they are!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Amy Seimetz & Sun Don't Shine

Amy Seimetz
This weekend, there's a group of five films being shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A woman directed one, Amy Seimetz's Sun Don't Shine. The five films are nominated in the Best Film Not Playing a Theater Near You category at the Gotham Awards and were selected by the editors of Filmmaker magazine. None of the films have theatrical distribution and the winner will receive a one-week theatrical run next year. I looked at the trailer for Sun Don't Shine, and then tracked down a rich Anne Thompson two-part interview with Amy Seimetz. There's so much in these clips – a discussion of Amy Seimetz's move from acting (including Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture and Megan Griffiths' The Off Hours) to directing, of how she raised her funding, of why she doesn't engage with social media. (Incredibly, Sun Don't Shine hasn't even got a Facebook page or website I can find – has that affected its distribution chances?) Here's the Indiewire assessment of Sun Don't Shine.
Amy Seimetz's directorial debut is a vivid, suspenseful noir set against a sweltering backdrop of a barebones Florida crime saga. "Two-Lane Blacktop" by way of "Bonnie and Clyde," Seimetz's pulpy tale follows lovers Crystal and Leo (perennial character actress Kate Lyn Sheil and microbudget filmmaker Kentucker Audley) on the lam for mysterious reasons only vaguely made clear near the end of the first act, but even then much of the drama remains deeply ambiguous. Sheil's performance, all scowls and muffled shrieks, provides the ideal counterpoint to Audley's muted delivery. From the shock of its opening shot to the tension of its closing moments, "Sun Don't Shine" conveys mood so eloquently that it's easy to get lost in the proceedings without realizing that so little has happened. It's one of the most impressive debut features to come along in years. Criticwire grade: A-
 I'm really glad to learn about this writer/director and the way she works! An original? Yep! I think so.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gaming Behavior, Gender & Screen Entertainment

Anita Sarkeesian is best known for her Feminist Frequency video series and blog that explore gender representations, myths and messages in film and other media. If you’ve seen a clip about the Bechdel Test in film (to pass the Bechdel Test a film needs to have two women having a conversation with each other about something other than men), it was probably Anita’s. This year, Anita set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund her video game research. She attracted intense harassment as a result, as well as intense support and many more donations than she expected. That process exposed the anti-woman culture in gaming.

Canada’s Global News has interviewed Anita about her experience and the wider epidemic of harassment women face in gaming spaces, with Grace from the website Fat, Ugly or Slutty which offers a space for people to share offensive online messages and laugh about them, Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, founder of game studio Silicone Sisters Interactive and James Portnow from the gaming web show Extra Credits.

As I watched this excellent program, I kept thinking that gaming harassment and bullying amplify common but less ‘blatant’ patterns of behavior towards women and towards images of women in other contexts, including the film and television industries. It’s not hard to imagine that similar but more subtly expressed behaviors underlie investor resistance to providing resources for women to tell our stories on screen and affect the content of other screen-based entertainment. The courage, clarity and good humor of the programme participants seem inspirational for anyone who works imaginatively towards better representation of women and by women.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A New Zealand Problem, Or Two

The information in this post was updated in November 2014 and is further updated on the Writer & Director in Gender in NZ Feature Films page.

Loren Taylor in Existence
This week, to write what I've agreed to write, I’ve had to come back to New Zealand gender statistics, after eighteen months of learning from countries’ figures, most of them supplied by others – France, Sweden, the United States (including films by women from around the world shown at festivals there), Australia and Canada.

New Zealand has such a small population that – with help – I’ve been able to identify most features made and written and/or directed by New Zealanders, 2003-2014. Co-productions funded by the taxpayer-funded New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) are also included, because I want to be able to track the NZFC's overall investment in women writers and directors.

Most on the list have been released in cinemas or shown on television. But some have been offered taxpayer production funding and are somewhere in the process between early pre-production and post-production. They are undated.

The list excludes feature documentaries but includes a group of hybrid works – Home By ChristmasRain of the ChildrenLove StoryThe Red HouseBeyond the EdgeGiselle, The Deadly Ponies Gang.

I don't include features that New Zealand women writers and directors filmed overseas and New Zealand taxpayers didn't fund at all, like Niki Caro’s North Country and now McFarland, USAChristine Jeff’s Sunshine Cleaning and Miro Bilbrough’s Being Venice. And some New Zealand women directors aren’t represented on this list  of features– Jane Campion, who recently came home to make a teleseries Top of the Lake, Alison Maclean who will return to Christchurch to shoot her adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, which she’s writing with Emily Perkins, as well as Christine Jeffs and Miro Bilbrough.

Please let me know of any additions and if you’d like your information amended.

TF: Taxpayer Funded – for development and/or production and/or post-production, by the New Zealand Film Commission, New Zealand On Air (NZOA), Creative New Zealand or other central government or local body film scheme. NZFC features are usually also NZOA funded.  
TM: Telemovie 
TFCP: Taxpayer funded international co-production 
*: written &/or directed by men, with a female protagonist 
This list shows that we have a gender problem (or two). A related post, inspired by an unexpected email, will come soon and consider  a couple of possible new solutions (Women Directors. Globally., now here, though I'm not sure about the 'solutions'.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Question Time: Women & Screenplays

Nicholl Fellow (2012) Nikole Beckwith onstage at a talkback
This week, I'm writing for someone else, about New Zealand women directors. It's a challenge to write 'academically' again and to ensure I'm up to date. Constantly, I find myself asking about details and I've returned to the statistics I developed a few years ago. If there are few women's features made, where in the process are women writers and directors choosing not to participate? What factors in the process hinder or support their participation? And what individuals or organisations are best placed to provide information about the essential details?  I've grown used to the New Zealand Film Commission's (NZFC) lack of gender statistics (in contrast to state funders in Sweden, Australia and, Canada). But The Black List and the New Zealand Writers Guild (NZWG) provide the latest examples of organisations who could help with some details but at the moment do not. The Black List is a commercial enterprise so it has no obligations except to its shareholders. But the NZWG is partially funded by the taxpayer and I think that, like the NZFC, it has a human rights obligation to engage with issues around gender and screenwriting. It's tiny compared to the Writers Guild of America West, which has an discrete Diversity Department  and puts out a Hollywood Writers Report every two years, but it could do more.