Monday, November 25, 2013

Jane Campion's Workshops # 4 – Participants Speak

Jane Campion, Circa Theatre 4 November 2013

My capacity to report my perceptions of Jane Campion's workshops was limited. So I asked some mates about their responses (plus Steve Barr because I enjoyed his tweet, below). I sent three questions–
Why did you go to the Jane Campion masterclass (this was before I understood why Jane Campion called these workshops)? Which session(s) did you choose? What did you get from it (them)?
And yes, the last one is a typical eight year old's birthday question: 'Whaddya get?' Embarrassing.

I was interested that those who responded to my call for help are those I think of primarily as writers and/or theatre workers, not those I think of primarily as filmmakers.

Many thanks to these kind people, here in alphabetical order, linked to their Twitter accounts if they have them. And thanks to the person who missed the No Cameras message and took the photo of Jane Campion onstage at Circa. I was at first ambivalent about including it. But it's already out there on the net and it gives you an idea of what the stage looks like; and of Jane's engagement with us, her seriousness within her play and her laughter.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Jane Campion's Workshops #3 – My Notes


WARNING. As you know if you read Jane Campion's Workshops #1, I went to her workshop day at Wellington's Circa Theatre as an eager, attentive eight year old, as a terrible note-taker with an unreliable memory and as a writer who sometimes directs and produces films. I was there to learn and I learned heaps. But this is NOT an authoritative account of the day. Nor of Jane Campion's views on anything. It's a chat over a cuppa, with you other practitioners who visit here regularly, in case there's something useful for you. An extended tweet feed that partially covers three sessions of about ninety minutes each: Starting Out; Writing & Directing Film; Performance. If you perceive a gap in what follows, just insert (Laughter) or (Thought).  Because there was lots of laughter, lots of thoughtful moments. And when I laugh or think or feel I don't take notes. Tomorrow, with much gratitude, I'll post comments from others who were there, whose perceptions were different and possibly more coherent. Then, in a while, maybe a final post about my question and Jane's response. Many thanks to Melissa Dopp who read a draft, suggested some changes and supplied some info from her own notes (but the awkwardness etc is entirely mine – this was much harder than I expected it would be).

So.

Jane asked us each to bring a question to the first two sessions and to learn a poem by heart for the third. I had them ready. But it took me so long to find some out-in-the-world clothes that I missed breakfast. Put an apple and banana in my wonderful new bag (thank you, Cushla P!). Added my Moleskine diary and Clever Kiwi Company Activity Book. Pencils. Etcetera. The questions and a copy of my poem (to revise at lunchtime, that memory again...).

Strode around the waterfront to Circa Theatre, met Melissa Dopp (who'd come all the way from America!), joined the queue to get in, met a mate who likes to sit near the aisle, waved to other mates. And settled in, sharing my question with my neighbour and reading hers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Zealand Film Awards (The Moas)


The New Zealand Film Awards, the Moas, have announced this year's nominations.

To some extent, the list's a celebration of New Zealand women's writing and directing talent and of stories about women. Four of the five nominees for Best Documentary Director are women and two of their stories are about women, Gardening With Soul and Finding Mercy. Three of the five nominees for Best Short Film Screenplay are women and two of the nominees for Best Short Film. And two of the nominees for Best (Feature) Screenplay are women.

But there's no woman-directed film in the Best (Feature) Film category. No woman director nominated as Best Director.

The New Zealand Film Commission’s (NZFC) gender policy failure means that Dana Rotberg’s White Lies is – I think – the only 2013-released New Zealand feature film about women which has a woman writer and director. And now, although it has eleven nominations in other categories – more nominations than two of the Best Picture/Best Director nominees and the same number as a third one – White Lies is excluded from both the Best Picture and Best Director lists. How did Whirimako Black, nominated as Best Actress for her first film role, and Antonia Prebble, nominated as Best Supporting Actress, do their work so well, if not directed by Dana Rotberg? How did the cinematographer, editor and composer – each nominated in his category – do so well, if not for their collaboration with the director?

Like all behaviours – private or public – that help silence women's voices, New Zealand’s ongoing failure to treasure feature films (and other art works) by and about women is, I believe, a significant – and usually unacknowledged – issue for discussion within the #rapeculture debate. #rapeculture doesn't value the integrity of women’s bodies, minds and spirits. And nor does the culture that fails to attract, fund, support and celebrate diverse feature films that women write and direct, alongside those that men write and direct.

With that out of the way, warm congratulations–

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The A-rating for Activists: Interview with Ellen Tejle

Ellen Tejle & an A-certificate

Last week in Sweden, four independent cinemas launched an A-rating system. It's for films that pass the Bechdel Test: they include at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men. The ‘A’ stands for ‘Approved’ as well as for ‘Alison’ [Bechdel], who created the test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure, in her Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip, in 1985. (See below for Anita Sarkeesian’s classic discussion of the Bechdel Test and a collection of responses to the announcement. Please feel free to add yours in the comments.)

I’m not surprised that this is a Swedish initiative. Sweden probably leads the world in its film gender equity programmes. Sweden’s National Film Agreement contains an equality directive for the Swedish Film Institute, which funds four-fifths of Swedish films: its funding “shall be divided equally between women and men" in the key positions of director, screenwriter and producer (it used to be that the proportion of women and men in key positions be at least 40 percent). The Swedish Film Institute has produced an excellent Towards Gender Equality in the Film Industry flier, aimed at other countries. Sweden has a ‘feminist film fast’ movement, too, led by journalist Wanda Bendjelloul who made the first public attempt to stop watching films made by men.

A group developed the A-rating – people at the four cinemas, all part of the Folkets Hus och Parker/National Association of Peoples Parks and Community Centres;
 WIFT Sweden; Rättviseförmedlingen/ The Agency Equalisters. As with the recent French Charte D’Egalité, as an activist I wanted to know how this initiative happened, why it worked in a specific culture, at a particular time. Could this A-rating work outside Sweden? Ellen Tejle, from one of the cinemas, kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jane Campion's Workshops #2 - Negative Capability

The idea of negative capability ran through the Jane Campion workshops and I've thought a lot about it since, linked to her suggestion that we learn a poem a week.

I had an almost-memory of negative capability in relation to Bright Star and later found this interview, where Jane Campion refers to it. I imagine that there are more Jane Campion statements about negative capability out there and I believe that a better understanding of it will enhance my appreciation of her work and help my own work. (The interview also states that–
On the set of Bright Star, she told Whishaw that for her poetry means 'openness to the divine'; her films open us all to that possibility that such a realm might exist.
Before the workshops, I might have skipped reading what Jane said about poetry. But I won't do that again.)

This post is for those like me who lack basic info about negative capability.

And it started on Facebook.



Now that the world's celebrating Lorde's writing, music and performance and Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize it'll be no surprise to you to see LOTS of interesting poems (and prose) by women, in the latest edition of New Zealand's 4th Floor Journal edited by poet + +  Hinemoana Baker, about to spend a year as Writer-in-Residence at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington.

And as I thought about Jane Campion's weekly poem-off-by-heart idea I was intrigued, as you can see, by 'Raining From Everywhere' by Sian Torrington, who 'until recently described herself as an artist who writes but is currently coming out of the closet as a writer'.

And I tagged Sophie Mayer, because like Sian Torrington she too is a poet and a queer (who writes for Chroma), as well as an academic, author of The Cinema of Sally Potter: A Politics of Love and co-editor (with Corinn Columpar) of There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond. And then we had a little chat that included reference to negative capability and my ignorance of it, which ended just before a friend came over and also explained negative capability.



So, a warm welcome to Sophie Mayer.

OK! Negative capability. Weirdly, it's one of those terms where I always have to look it up to remind myself, and then I go 'Oh, of course.'

It's Keats' formulation in a letter dated 22 Dec 1818 (I'm sure you've found this out or know it already, but it's good to have a run-up). It's how he describes what sets apart literary genius. And it's not easy to define, because he then lists a whole bunch of things.

What connects the qualities that Keats identifies as part of negative capability are their contrast to Enlightenment rationality and positivism, particularly to the idea of the world as stable and knowable that persists in our scientistic discourse today. Keats suggests that writers such as his primary example William Shakespeare were 'capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.' He doesn't say that art should be mystificatory or portentous, but that it is at its richest when it entertains productive ambiguities and multiplicities. He says that makes such writers capable also of exploring a wide range of characters, situations, feelings and ideas for their variety and fluidity. For the poet or artist, the act of creation has primacy, not moral lessons: 'What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the camelion [sic] Poet.'

This in turn – via the range of formal devices demanded to create and maintain such a dwelling in possibility – creates or draws readers/viewers who are 'camelion,' willing to enter into sympathetic communion with characters, narratives and meditations. Rather than being directive or didactic, for Keats the best art creates a space in which 'uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts' are present, soliciting the audience's 'negative capability' to engage with them aesthetically and ethically. In the 60s, American artists after John Cage turned to Zen Buddhism and the koan for similar reasons.

The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, a Buddhist university in Colorado, uses Negative Capability as its slogan for exactly that reason -- but also because while seeming to mean something close to Bart Simpson's resistance to education and achievement (i.e.: I'm capable of nothing) it means the opposite. Being capable of holding a negative space of both imaginative sympathy and a comfort in paradox, rather than reaching for positivism's dual myths of progress/forward motion and perfectibility/closure, is still not either valorised or common in mainstream culture.

(worn by Sophie while writing this)

Interestingly, Dziga Vertov suggests something similar about film in his concept of the interval, where he argues that the viewer's experience of the film (and thus its meaning) is actually constructed in the interval, i.e.: the black leader between celluloid frames, the gap between the images that provides the illusion of movement and offers a space for contemplation and interpretation.

Not sure I have a poem that exemplifies negative capability specifically, but I'm attaching a part of a serial poem written in response to Top of the Lake that is certainly about the reader's imagination working in the gap and being capable of uncertainty! Should be quite easy to learn by heart as well.



(My enquiries continue. As I try to wrap my head and heart around negative capability and relate it to what I know – especially my 'irritable reaching after fact and reason' –  I'm very grateful to Sophie; and to my mate.

Next up, next week, after a couple of other things, some substance of the workshop enquiries, the responses of some participants and my own question.)

Sharing The Love (the workshop announcement)
Jane Campion's Workshops #1 - Starting Out

Jane Campion's Workshops #1 – Starting Out

Jane Campion

Last Monday was a special day in Wellington, celebrating Richard Campion (1923-2013). As distinguished actor and co-founder of Wellington’s Circa Theatre Ray Henwood wrote–
Richard was the leading figure of New Zealand theatre during the latter part of the 20th Century and we are privileged to remember him as an important part of our history and the first man of New Zealand professional theatre as we know it today.
At the Paramount Theatre at 4pm there was ‘a celebration of Richard Campion’s work and the life force of theatre’ and before then one of Richard Campion’s daughters, Jane Campion, ‘shared the love’ at Circa, where he had often been in the audience. This is how she announced the workshop programme–
My father, Richard Campion, was passionate about theatre, about performance, about creativity, about people having a go. He was a wondrously generous man who breathed warmth and belief into my fledgling hopes of making film and television. In his memory and honour, I am offering three free workshops at Circa.
The three workshops were intended for different audiences, but lots of us crossed over. They've been referred to as a masterclass, and I've referred to them that way, too. But because Jane describes them as workshops and they were profoundly about work, I'm sticking with 'workshop' here.

The first was Starting Out
Writing and directing for film and television for people who are starting out (not yet made three short films). During these 90 minutes Jane Campion will answer your questions and discuss how best to build strength and vision as a film maker. Please come with a question personal to your own struggle, written on a piece of paper.
The second was Writing and Directing Film
An in-depth inquiry into writing and directing film and mini series, aimed at people who have directed or written one or more feature films or equivalent e.g. directed theatre or made short film works. This is an exploratory and sharing session where you and I will address issues arising from your work. Please come with one or two questions or topics that interest or confound you written on a piece of paper.
The third was Performance
When acting is not enough; when realism is not enough. An enquiry into performance for film and television. This workshop is suitable for everyone. Please memorise a poem you love, or a part of a poem.
I was excited to learn about the workshops: enquiry, inquiry, strength, struggle, vision, sharing, questions that confound, poems, performance. Delighted that I qualified for all three sessions. Tapped 'Join' on Facebook. Wrote about my delight and excitement. Was further delighted to read this from The Casting Company, an alert, sturdy and warm presence throughout the workshops–
In an age where everything is recorded Jane would like these sessions to be live and would like those taking part not be constrained by delivering for camera. These sessions will not be recorded and we ask everyone attending to be respectful of that. Thank you all.
And then, in response to suggestions, particularly one from the inspiring Shaula Evans (no relation) I emailed the Casting Company to ask if I could write about the workshops. And Jane said 'yes: just no recording devices in the room except YOU'. (I'll call her 'Jane' here although I don't know her except as someone who's been generous to me).

But now I’m nervous. Because the day's shared inquiry was a beautiful and transformative gift, I want to share it here as well as I can.  But I may get it all wrong.

One reason for my nervousness is that I’m in the same cranky space today as I was a week ago, with two scripts that are troubling me. Because of that crankiness, although I prepared for the workshops – my question, my memorised poem – on the evening beforehand I was undecided about whether to go, or to stay at home for another solitary day at the keyboard. Because of that crankiness I'm wasn't too sharp on the day and I'm not too sharp now.

The other reason for my nervousness is that I took my eight year old self to the workshops. On Monday morning, I woke up and knew I was going. And I tweeted:
And at the end of the day I tweeted again:
— Marian Evans (@devt) November 4, 2013 

Eight year olds love to play. Love laughter. And that day there was plenty of playfulness and laughter. But my eight year old self is also a particularly unreliable narrator; she's the precursor of the person who cannot simultaneously listen, engage, and take notes (which is why I didn't at first want to write about the workshops at all).

So to compensate for my crankiness and my eight year old presence,  I've asked for help, from a poet mate and from others at the workshops and am going to divide this post into several parts, starting with this.

Next up will be an extension of this intro. Written by poet Sophie Mayer, it's about negative capability, a concept explored by the poet John Keats (1795-1821) and referred to by Jane in the workshops. I would have found it helpful to be familiar with this idea before the workshops, and feel particularly blessed by Jane's references to it.

Then I'll share what I remember of the workshops, using my uncertain memory and inadequate notes. Next will be a post with the diverse responses of others, which I think are wonderful. Many thanks to all those who contributed and if you went to the workshops and are reading this and have something you'd like to share, please feel free to add your bit, in an email so I can post it, or in the comments. The last post will be about Jane's response to my question. 

In the workshops, Jane talked about a practice she likes – and learned about from Mark Ruffalo – memorising a poem a week. I love this idea, as a life- and work-enhancing discipline. Jane told us that learning a poem a week helps us to attune to a sense of the poetic, to distillation, to looking for essence of things. A poem is a vehicle for mystery, she said (back to, on to, negative capability). A poem seduces, with rhythm, rhymes, images, she added. So each post about the workshops will include a poem or part of a poem. And because the scripts that make me cranky are inspired by American poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), and because Jane appeared to be 'listening with the whole body' at the workshops, here's an excerpt from Muriel Rukeyser's The Speed of Darkness, to start. It was first published around 1968.


I

Whoever despises the clitoris despises the penis
Whoever despises the penis despises the cunt
Whoever despises the cunt despises the life of the child.

Resurrection music,         silence,         and surf.

II

No longer speaking
Listening with the whole body
And with every drop of blood
Overtaken by silence

But this same silence is become speech
With the speed of darkness.


III

Stillness during war, the lake.
The unmoving spruces.
Glints over the water.
Faces, voices.         You are far away.
A tree that trembles.

I am the tree that trembles and trembles.


IV

After the lifting of the mist
after the lift of the heavy rains
the sky stands clear
and the cries of the city risen in day
I remember the buildings are space
walled, to let space be used for living
I mind this room is space
this drinking glass is space
whose boundary of glass
lets me give you drink and space to drink
your hand, my hand being space
containing skies and constellations
your face
carries the reaches of air
I know I am space
my words are air.


Jane Campion's Workshops #2 – Negative Capability, by Sophie Mayer
Jane Campion's Workshops #3 – My Notes
Jane Campion's Workshops #4 – Participants Speak

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kathryn Bigelow, by Jennifer Ehle


Jennifer Ehle, Ralph Fiennes, Kathryn Bigelow

Jennifer Ehle gave this illuminating speech last night, when Kathryn Bigelow received the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing, at the Britannia Awards in Los Angeles. It's a beautiful tribute from an actor to her director and she's kindly allowed me to share it here.

I so admire Kathryn. Kathryn is a dear friend of mine. But I know almost nothing about her. I know that she brings her umbrella to share with you in the rain – as she did the first time we met; my taxi pulling into her driveway.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ava DuVernay's Masterclass

Ava DuVernay and her Independent Spirit Award

I'm a huge Ava DuVernay fan. A feature film and television director, writer, producer and distributor, founder of the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), she also makes branded entertainment. She won the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, and was honoured with the 2013 John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award and the Tribeca Film Institute 2013 Affinity Award.

I think of Ava DuVernay as a visionary, from whom all filmmakers can learn. Take AFFRM for example, a distribution collective of black arts organizations dedicated to quality black independent films. Is this a model that could work for women's independent films, too? And what about her smart approach to branded entertainment? If we're concerned with the way women are represented, and the compromises of 'commercial' work, what can we learn from her work for Miu Miu and Fashion Fair?

In this Film Independent Forum keynote address, Ava DuVernay shares the principles that inform her rich, diverse and highly successful practice, principles we all can use. It's a masterclass, including a Q & A. Don't miss it! (I feel very lucky because it's my second masterclass of the week – on Monday I attended Jane Campion's masterclass here in Wellington – a wonderful day. More coming about it soon.)

If you're not familiar with Ava DuVernay's work – as far as I know her features have not yet reached cinemas outside the States – some trailers and the complete Miu Miu and Fashion Fair works are below.