Sunday, March 23, 2014

Women Directors of Feature Films in New Zealand

Dana Rotberg shooting White Lies|Tuakiri Huna

Last week, two lovely people questioned me about my work. I don't look back at it often, but returned to my PhD thesis and various statistics-oriented posts I'd almost forgotten, like this one and this one. And then remembered a survey that I wrote for Geoff Lealand, the New Zealand editor of the second edition of the Directory of World Cinema: Australia and New Zealand. When I looked at it again, I realised that even in the year since I wrote it lots has changed. (I think you can also tell that I don't enjoy writing 'academic', am much happier in real-time immediate responses). 

So here it is while some of it's still relevant and to accompany Matthew Hammett Knott's interview with me, for his Heroines of Cinema series (blush). 

If I were writing a survey today, I'd include all the short films New Zealand actresses write and direct and their potential as multihyphenates. I'd include Marama Killen's self-funded feature, Kaikahu Road. I'd add more about webseries. And more--

And I'd love to know what you question, or think is missing. That would help me as I research and write a New Zealand chapter for a book about women screenwriters around the world. Have at it, please, in the comments, emails, tweets, on Facebook, on the phone, in the supermarket.

Whenever women directors are grouped together in an international context, New Zealand’s Jane Campion is always among the first mentioned. Niki Caro, Christine Jeffs and Alison Maclean are often included too. This global reputation is remarkable when New Zealand’s population is only 4.4 million. Within New Zealand, Gaylene Preston is prominent as well, with a career that outstrips that of any director of her generation. These women’s collective presence is so strong that until very recently it was generally believed that New Zealand had no woman director ‘problem’. But the low numbers of feature films directed by – and about – women are similar to those in many other countries. In the ten years to December 2012, women wrote and directed 12 per cent of feature films made in New Zealand by New Zealanders, men wrote and directed 72 per cent and the balance had mixed gender writer/director teams. Five per cent of feature films had women as writers and directors and a female central protagonist and a further 5 per cent that men wrote and directed also told stories about women.

The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), the state funding body, has no gender equity policy and, unlike Screen Australia, it does not generate gender data [September 2014: I now know that it has the raw data but does not publish it]. Recent research, however, shows that it consistently invests far less in women-directed narrative feature films than in men’s. It also invests much less in women’s projects on the pathways to feature film-making (short films, feature development funding and talent investment programmes). The research also shows that women directors tend to be represented in NZFC investments in the proportion that they (or their producers) apply to the various programmes, with occasional exceptions. For example, although women were attached as directors to 27 percent of the successful NZFC Fresh Shorts programme in 2012 and this roughly reflected their representation in applications, in 2011 when the applications were at the same level, half the successful projects had women directors attached. Outside NZFC-funded projects, women directors tend to be better represented in telemovies funded by NZ On Air (NZOA) than in NZFC-funded features. Many women direct documentaries, some of them with a global perspective, but there are no documentary-specific statistics. (In 2013 the NZFC and NZOA established new documentary funds so it will soon be possible to track those.)

New Zealand women directors are also profoundly under-represented in ‘self-funded’ feature film-making, undertaken with an un(der)paid cast and crew and dependent on in-kind support of equipment and other resources from individuals, institutions and crowd-funding. In a recent list of New Zealand feature films made over the past decade, of all the features written and directed by women, just one was self-funded, Athina Tsoulis’s Jinx Sister (2008), 6 per cent, while of the films written and directed by men the proportion was 36 per cent. Two more, Astrid Glitter’s John (2005), and Rosemary Riddell’s The Insatiable Moon (2010) were written by men. Andrea Bosshard co-directed two, Taking the Waewae Express (2007) and Hook, Line & Sinker (2011). Alyx Duncan’s The Red House won the Sorta Unofficial New Zealand Film Awards (the MOAs) Best Self-Funded Film Award in 2012, but was partially funded under the Screen Innovation Production Fund – a now defunct Creative New Zealand programme – by Asia New Zealand and by the NZFC for post-production. There is to date only one New Zealand webseries written or directed by a woman, Roseanne Liang’s Flat3 (2012). Women directors are a tiny minority in the local 48 Hours competition; and in a recent major Make My Movie competition organized by people also involved in 48 Hours, women directors’ representation in the twelve finalists was limited to one co-director.

It is not possible to identify definitively the factors that affect women’s participation as feature film directors in New Zealand. The starting point is always that a film director’s life is very demanding for anyone, woman or man. Gaylene Preston has speculated that there are few women directors in the 48 Hours competition because women participate strongly in ‘director’ roles alongside men right up to the moment that shooting starts, but at that point they tend to take one step back and the men take one step forward. She suggests that this stepping forward/stepping back could be negotiated so that more women get directing experience and take responsibility for what appears in the frame. If this ‘stepping back’ exists in 48 Hours, perhaps its presence supports the view that it is pervasive on all the pathways to feature film-making, because many women are less ‘competitive’ and less ‘obsessive’ than men. It may also help explain why many more women are producers than directors and why many women prefer to produce projects by and about men.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Autumn Multi-Tweet & Two-Question Day

my garden 
It's harvest time. I'm also pruning fruit trees, sanding window frames, sewing clothes. And fulfilling some obligations. Overwhelmed. So overwhelmed that I gave away my tickets to Alison Bechdel's events at Writers Week. (Knowing that she provides some wonderful online clips helped me make the decision.) Need to stay very quiet for a bit.

But today was special. Surprises. Too many awesome moments to tweet.

And when I wrote the day in tweet-size I found I had to add two questions that are not tweet-size.

1. EARLY. Woke from extraordinary dream. Ate a big breakfast in bed, read the paper and went back to sleep.

2. 10.30 Up, quick shower & to desk to start to assess stranger's script. Forgot what fun it can be. What Will Happen Next? followed me to

3. Happy Lunch With Beloved Family. They delight me. Filled with gratitude for their generosity. Then quick walk up Cuba Street to

4. Rendez-Vous with Visiting Beloved Director at Cuba Lighthouse. Rich heart-&-mind experience, with ticket in hand for Stories We Tell.

5. It too has all the brilliance, warmth & courage I could hope for. I love the space & the respect Sarah Polley gives to the participants & to the narrative.

6. Home via Moore Wilson's (turbot) and Commonsense Organics (brown rice). In Tory Street I see a kind-of-familiar couple.

7. Alison Bechdel's head-down. Her gorgeous girl friend & I exchange warm smiles & little waves. Lose last regret that I gave away my tix. #ttrtpt

8. As I walk past the monastery, the sound of the sea, the late sun and the rich smell of dak reinforce my feeling that it's a party day.

Lorde & Taylor Swift
9. After dinner, I read what Lorde says in answer to questions about her relationship with Taylor Swift. Feel much love & respect for her, another stranger.

10. Think about the other woman writer for whom I feel similar love and respect: Patricia Grace.

11. See that the New Zealand Film Commission has announced a new initiative–
He Ara (Māori and Pasifika film pathways).

He Ara is aimed at assisting established New Zealand writers, producers and directors of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage to express authentic Māori and Pasifika film perspectives in creating distinctive feature film drama or documentary projects, shaped through their chosen development framework.
And the combination of a beautiful, satisfying day and these experiences encourages me to ask these questions.

Q1. How did Patricia Grace's major essay Inherited responsibilities; On matters of national significance – He kōrero end up in the second, free online, eBook-only volume of the literary journal Pacific Highways 43?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Get Your Hopes Up

Get Your Hopes Up (Ballance St Wellington) photo: Phantom Billstickers
I'm at the bus-stop. Feeling gloomy. Ages ago I agreed to write about New Zealand women screenwriters, for an international guide. And now the deadline's looming and I've lost interest.

In the eight years of my Development project, nothing has changed in New Zealand. Creative New Zealand and the New Zealand Film Commission, the organisations that distribute public funds to filmmakers and other artists, have no gender policy. They don't record gender statistics consistently. And they never publish them. Nor does New Zealand On Air, which funds some movies for television, and is required to consider women as an audience. The film guilds – publicly funded – don't make diversity statements or produce diversity reports.

And change is slow everywhere. Callie Khouri knows what she's talking about, from a career that stretches from Thelma and Louise to Nashville. She said the other day, in response to a question about conditions in Hollywood in general and for women who write feminist content–
Clearly there’s much more awareness about it. …I’d love to be able to point to one thing that says it’s better, I’d love to be able to. It’s really beginning to be the world’s most boring conversation, you know? I think everybody’s sick of talking about it, I just wish it would change.
In New Zealand, but differently, I feel the same. Yep! I'm bored with the conversations about women screenwriters – and women directors. As well as gloomy.

And then, across the road from the bus stop, I see this poster, from poet Lucy Orbell's The High Point project, where she takes the 'don't' from negative clichés. Here she asks 'What's the worst thing that can happen if you do get your hopes up?'.

So what's the worst thing that can happen if I abandon boredom and gloom and get my hopes up (again) on Oscar day, here in a culture infused with screen offerings from the United States and Europe, living a bike ride along the shoreline from Hollywood-in-New Zealand, Peter Jackson's base, where other men who direct and produce come and go with their own projects, like James Cameron, now living an hour away, 'over the hill' in the Wairarapa? (Peter Jackson writes and produces with women. He’s directed interesting films about young women and girls. He employs many women. He engaged Amy J Berg to direct West of Memphis. He’s very generous in providing access to his resources to many New Zealand filmmakers, women and men. But as far as I know no woman, except possibly Fran Walsh, has directed a second unit on his big projects.) Disappointment’s the worst thing that can happen if I get my hopes up? I reckon. Worth a try.

Get Your Hopes Up (Cuba Street Wellington) photo: Phantom Billstickers