Sunday, January 18, 2015

Driven By Complex Female Protagonists


Filmmaker Kate Kaminski founded the now-legendary Bluestocking Series, of films with complex female protagonists that pass the Bechdel Test.  Her ideas in this piece are American-oriented, but they inspire me to consider similar stories set in New Zealand. Maybe they'll inspire you too, wherever you are?

by Kate Kaminski  

Yesterday I was asked by @Winstonwrites on Twitter “What female-driven films would you like to see in 2015?” Because discovering films driven by complex female protagonists are a personal obsession, I knew immediately if I tackled this question, it would take much more than 140 characters so here we are.


But I still had to narrow the topic down. As somebody who sees stories wherever she looks, let’s just say, I have enough story/novel/film ideas scribbled on bits of paper to fill several notebooks.
I also run a women’s film festival called Bluestocking Film Series and this year, one of our short film categories is The Blue Collar Heroine Challengewhich focuses on working class women under-represented onscreen.
So to narrow down my response to the question posed, what follows are just a few of my ideas for films I would love to see about working women.And just for the record, I’d like to imagine that 2015 would only be the beginning of a new rosy future of female-driven films, a utopia that would see 50% of films featuring complex female protagonists.
First up, the biopics.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jane Campion: "Let's Really Say 'This is Enough'"

Steven Joyce (Minister of Many Things), Jane Campion, Maggie Barry (Minister for Arts & Culture), James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Jon Landau
New Zealand has a heavyweight Screen Advisory Board, appointed by the government just over a year ago: Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, James Cameron, Jon Landau, Andrew Adamson.

The board was appointed to help the New Zealand screen sector create the skills and connections to be able to generate their own intellectual property, compete internationally, attract overseas finance and to assist the New Zealand Film Commission, Film New Zealand, and the New Zealand screen sector to market and promote the New Zealand screen industry overseas. A huge ask. But something these imaginative, generous and enterprising board members can deliver on.

Last September, Dave Gibson, CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission, announced that the board members would each follow particular interests
Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have identified early talent and connections as theirs. James Cameron and Jon Landau are keen to help with US connections and a push we hope to make into Los Angeles next year. Jane Campion is interested in gender equality.
At the press conference that followed the board's meeting this week, where according to one report Jane Campion confirmed that one of her goals was encouraging more women to become filmmakers, she restated her interest in gender equality in strong terms (watch her here, about 46 seconds in – no longer found, December 2015)–
It's kind of completely disgusting and teeth-clenchingly irritating that [only 9% of New Zealand films are directed by women]. But that's not just New Zealand, it's a worldwide issue. And my challenge to this group, the board, is "Let's be the first. Let's really say 'This is enough'."
The board has ideas that include offering – presumably paid – internships and collaborating with film schools. And Sir Peter Jackson (when o when will we be able to refer to 'Dame Jane Campion'?) described New Zealand as an untapped mine of fantastic stories–
The history, the culture here is just unbelievable, so rather than see another cowboy movie or another Chicago gangster movie or another Elizabeth I film from other people's cultures how do we get really great looking films that are telling our stories?
I fervently hope that each of the board's members – and those politicians – strongly support Jane Campion. I hope each has said 'Yes! This is enough! Let's engage with diverse women writers and directors, with all of the talent pool, because that makes it more likely we'll compete successfully at an international level. It makes sense'. I hope too that each board member has explicitly acknowledged that women are 50% of those New Zealanders with access to an untapped mine of fantastic stories, many of them about women. I hope each member has myriad new ideas about how to welcome and support women's participation in every initiative they propose.

I dream that the board members remembered New Zealand's human rights obligations, so they added 'Regardless of our other concerns, we have to find ways to distribute taxpayer funds equitably. Shall we try the British Film Institute's 'three ticks' policy?' And that when they heard this, Steven Joyce and Maggie Barry gave them a standing ovation.

And I wonder whether the board's considered investing in a formal, rigorous  'talent audit' of women already identified as part of that 50% of the national talent pool, from Aidee Walker and Andrea Bosshard to Zia Mandviwalla, with a view to accelerating these women's progress. (It's such a simple idea that probably the board members have thought of it.) Because many of these women are feature-film-ready or can become so quite quickly. But until now they may have been affected by implicit bias, particularly in late development, when it's been hard to attract the crucial commitment from investors and distributors because they've tended to define women directors – and women protagonists – as risky and women as audience as insignificant. (Internationally, this may now have changed to some extent, because of the recent commercial successes of films with women and girls as protagonists, but we have yet to see any evidence of this shift in state-funded or other New Zealand filmmaking.)

There are so many gifted women storytellers who are already dedicated and sometimes award-winning screenwriters, already dedicated and sometimes award-winning directors and/or producers. As well as the women who've made their first features, I'm thinking of women like writer/director Fiona Samuel and writer/producers Donna Malane and Paula Boock, who have all made successful telemovies. I'm thinking of all those women – including lots of Maori women – who've made successful short films, most recently Kate Prior and Abigail Greenwood with Eleven and its 70%-women crew. I think of one writer/director in particular, whose feature script the late, great New Zealand screenwriter Graeme Tetley described as the best New Zealand script he'd ever read. There's the prolific Briar Grace-Smith. There are women best known as playwrights, like Pip Hall. Versatile, risk-taking and film-making artists like Alyx Duncan, Lisa Reihana, Rachel O'Neill and Sally Tran.

There are film and scriptwriting graduates like Becca Barnes, consistently honing their skills and getting all kinds of experience, on their own projects and on international projects, well beyond the internship stage. There are the Candle Wasters – Sally Bollinger and Elsie Bollinger, Minnie Grace and Claris Jacobs (aged 17-21) who have produced an astonishing 76 episodes of Nothing Much To Do, a YouTube webseries inspired by Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, with a strong following in the United States. They've just raised around $23,000 for their next series, Lovely Little Losers, based on Love's Labour's Lost. And Roseanne Liang must be just about ready to make another feature, after her successful webseries, Take 3. There's Lorde, too, who might want to diversify? (I imagine her directing one of  Miu Miu's Women's Tales, to start with.)

What would happen, I wonder, if the board made this audit? What if they then asked all the women writers and directors: "How can we help you? How can you help us? What interests you? Any thoughts about animations, hybrids, docos, video games, adaptations, new era television, webseries, co-productions?" (remember, this is the Screen Advisory Board, not the Film Advisory Board).

My guess is that there'd be some surprises. And, before too long, some fine work that would compete internationally.

Hoping and dreaming and wondering. Sending Jane Campion much gratitude. And every good wish, for everything, including the next series of Top of the Lake.

Monday, January 5, 2015

In The Garden

A beautiful moment in herstory. Kathryn Bigelow and Ava DuVernay converse after a showing of Selma.
Hoping someone recorded it. 

Half-way through some longish posts. But there are some thoughts I can't resolve. And it's mid-summer here so I'm also gardening and watching the bees (see Bee-Loved blog at right), hoping that the physical work will help me articulate what I think and feel.

Sending you every good wish for a beautiful 2015. And warm thanks for being there for me to write to and for your responses, which I always love to bits.

I may be gone for a while.