Saturday, January 18, 2014

Isabel Coixet

Isabel Coixet (photo: Mauricio Retiz)

Spanish women directors are amazing. I love them. They make lots of films that we don't see enough of outside Spain (see women nominated in Spain's Goya Awards 2014 here, for some of the most recent). And – I believe – they're collectively the most activist group of directors in the world. Spanish women directors founded CIMA (Asociacion de Mujeres Cineastas y de Medios Audiovisuales), and then EWA, the European Women's Audiovisual Network, which is going from strength to strength – an interview with EWA's director Francine Hetherington Raveney, coming soon.

Isabel Coixet is one of the visionary directors involved with CIMA, EWA's current president and director of seven features and many shorts, docos and commercials. She was a member of the Camera d’Or jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and her latest film, Panda Eyes, is due for release shortly. This is what Isabel says on the EWA site–
Every time I teach in a film school I face the same challenge: How to teach girls to believe that they really can be film directors, that they will be able to reach their goals and their dreams, when I know very well it`s going to be much more difficult for them than for the boys? I always use a very graphic example: the film industry is like a rocky mountain; boys climb the mountain with boots and sticks, girls must climb naked except for a pair of really high heels and a suitcase full of stones.

For a man, directing a movie is a fierce challenge, for a woman it is like winning the lottery. There`s also something very upsetting, something we must fight every single day: the cultural dismissal of women is so ingrained that the public, including some women, don`t seem to perceive a problem.

What do we need? What we really need is to change our cultural attitude towards women 180 degrees. We need Female super heroes. We need Big budgets. We need the right to be bitchy if we feel like it. We need to stop apologising for being bitchy. We need to alert the audience, if they are not watching films directed by women, they are missing the point of view of the other half of mankind (did I say 'mankind’?)

EWA can't change the mountain, but we will try to make women much better prepared for the climbing. At least the suitcase will be lighter and we'll be able to wear our Louboutins when we get to the top.
Irresistible! So of course I asked EWA if I could cross-post this interview between Isabel and Francine Raveney. Warm thanks to you, Isabel and Francine!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Moving Forward?

Meryl Streep & Emma Thompson have fun
This year feels like a turning point. Many countries with state film funding are now recording gender data about their funding and making it public. This data verifies whether women writers and directors are attached to projects that apply for public funds for filmmaking (and encourages questions if they are not); and whether taxpayer funds are allocated equally to projects directed by women. And the data so far confirms that except in Sweden the allocation of funds is inequitable. In some of the countries that keep data, notably Sweden and France, institutions and activists are experimenting with multiple strategies for increasing the numbers of women-written and -directed feature films (see below). In Sweden, where gender equity policies are most developed, the list of nominees for the Swedish Film Institute's 19-category 2014 Guldbagge Awards is full of women's names, so it seems that those strategies are beginning to work.

In the United States, where there is no contestable state film funding, various academics and organisations now present data and analysis about American women screenwriters and directors. Many individuals and organisations also experiment with strategies for making change. In 2013 I was particularly impressed with the Academy Nicholl Fellowship's data-keeping and concern for diversity and with the The Black List and its Black Board community diversity debates, led by Shaula Evans.

And, even though there are few women-directed features coming out this year in the United States, the issues are being discussed more widely there. And by men, in unexpected places. Matthew Hamett Knott's Heroines of Cinema series in Indiewire culminated in  Heroines of Cinema: An A to Z of Women in Film in 2013 and continued this week with a feminist discussion of co-director credits in Heroines of Cinema: Kátia Lund, the Oscar-Nominated Director Who Never Was. Ramin Setoodeh wrote Hollywood Sexist? Female Directors Still Missing in Action in Variety recently. And the other day Bennett Marcus of Vanity Fair was the only writer to report verbatim Meryl Streep's and Emma Thompson's wonderful speeches at the National Board of Review gala, under the headline: Meryl Streep Slams Walt Disney, Celebrates Emma Thompson as a 'Rabid, Man-Eating Feminist'.

New Zealand, alas, is way behind all this – almost six years after the then-CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission acknowledged that it has a gender problem, nothing has changed there. And when I look back on my posts in 2013 I notice a shift of emphasis that reflects my feelings with this dispiriting situation and the reality that 95% of Wellywood Woman readers come from outside Australasia.

I've posted more often on Pinterest, here and here. I've interviewed more practitioners and activists outside New Zealand, written more in-depth posts about my own shifts in thinking, often linked to my Muriel Rukeyser project, Throat of These Hours. I've begun to include guest posts, and what a pleasure they've been! And it's been wonderful to have exceptional access to direct and generous advice about how to work, from Ava DuVernay in an inspiring video and Jane Campion in a group of equally inspiring workshops. So here's a wee roundup. A big thank you to everyone who contributed in 2013. The posts with asterisks are among the top ten most-read posts ever (I'm always surprised when one post becomes more popular than others).

Interviews with Practitioners  (in alphabetical order)
Would like to do lots more. There's a wonderful diversity out there and all kinds of innovative ways of working.

Annie Collins: NZ editor extraordinaire, on doco Gardening With Soul and the principles that drive her work
CampbellX and her Stud Life feature
*Dana Rotberg, director of Tuakiri Huna/ White Lies
Dragging Our Heads Back– Throat of These Hours composer Christine White
Laura Thies – An Inspiring German Director
Min Young Yoo and Cho De|Invitation at Venice
Nathalie Boltt, Clare Burgess & The Silk
Robin Lung and her Finding Kukan doco

Interviews with Activists
I've tried to elicit information that will help others who seek models that work for women. More coming.

The A-Rating for Activists – interview with Swedish activist Ellen Tejle
The Bitch Pack and the Bitch List – interview with activist Thuc Nguyen
*French Feminists Make History – interview with activist Bérénice Vincent of the French activist group Le Deuxième Regard
The London Feminist Film Festival and its Director Anna Read

Guest Posts

Director and activist Maria Giese on 13 Myths Hollywood Uses to Discriminate Against Women Directors and Women Directors Can Sue Everyone
Actress and activist Belinde Ruth Stieve and Women Behind the Camera in Germany
Actress Jennifer Ehle on Kathryn Bigelow


Ava DuVernay

Jane Campion's Workshops #1 - Starting Out
Jane Campion's Workshops #2 – Negative Capability, by Sophie Mayer
Jane Campion's Workshops #3 – My Notes
Jane Campion's Workshops #4 – Participants Speak

My Own Work
In 2012, after a Teju Cole workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters, I published a long piece called 'The Singer May Be Innocent; Never The Song', about subtle influences that may undermine women writers and directors, even in environments that otherwise welcome them. In 2013 I explored similar themes in a series of posts, in this blog and elsewhere. Here's a chronological list, in case you have similar obsessions.

*They Might Have Completely Forgotten Us
*Zero Dark Thirty: The Director As Backing Singer?
*Under-Representation In Screenwriting (again)
The Audience, Media Convergence & Audiences (probably the post closest to my heart because it's about problem-solving)
Throat of These Hours: The Verifiable and the Unverifiable
*Beyond 'Career'
Running on the Spot
*Sharing The Love

Looking forward, 2014 feels like a year for finishing things – Throat of These Hours, a novella. And maybe closing off the Development Project. But it's been such a rich and transformative experience that it's hard to let go. I may just take some elements forward in a different way.

New Zealand, summer 2014. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Saving Mr. Disney: A Lesbian Perspective By Carolyn Gage

To stay focused when I'm writing intensively, I go to the movies in the afternoons. It's a kind of meditation that includes the walk down the hill to the cinema and back up again afterwards. And a few weeks ago, I saw three women-directed movies in three days: Rama Burshtein's Fill The Void, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's Inch'Allah and Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. Maybe things have changed, I thought to myself, ever optimistic. But I also noticed that men wrote and directed Catching Fire, from a novel by a woman, about a young woman and produced by a woman. And then I read Vocativ's analysis of 2013's 50 top-grossing US releases. This shows that almost half were Bechdel Test-passing films and that they did better at the US box office than those that weren't. BUT except for Frozen, which Jennifer Lee co-directed (and wrote) men directed all 50. And then at the weekend, all three of the new releases reviewed in our local paper (with enthusiasm) told stories that centred on women– August: Osage County; Philomena; Gloria. And men wrote and directed all of those too. And today Monica Bartyzel published a fine piece about films to be released in the United States in 2014. Of 149 films, there are only six that women directed (I'm thrilled that one of them is a new Niki Caro: McFarland). It's great that at last investors recognise the power of women as audiences and are backing films about women. But yet again, it looks like women writers and directors are missing out.

And there are other ongoing issues too, as Carolyn Gage shows here. I hesitated to to ask Carolyn if I could cross-post this because women wrote
Saving Mr Banks (directed by a man). But I love her analysis and as a woman writer I'm interested in what we do when we work in an environment dominated by men, where women and our stories are often misrepresented, if represented at all. Many thanks to you, Carolyn!