Wednesday, December 30, 2015


I'm delighted that Jane Campion's now Dame Jane. Here are my other local highlights from 2015. What have I missed?

Those who spoke out in support of gender equity in allocation of film funding

Karin Williams, Briar Grace-Smith, Libby Hakaraia, Chelsea Winstanley at the Big Screen Symposium (photo: @multinesia on tumblr)
This is undoubtedly the highlight of my ten years' thinking and writing about this issue, as well as of 2015. First, at the annual Big Screen Symposium, producer/director  Chelsea Winstanley made  unequivocal statements about the need for gender equity in New Zealand Film Commission's allocation of taxpayer funding.

Huge respect to Chelsea, the first high-flying New Zealand woman director/ producer to speak up publicly and staunchly on this issue, except for Dame Jane. May others join her in 2016.

Then two men directors spoke out, writer/director Jonathan King and actor/writer/director Jemaine Clement. The first I noticed was Jemaine, in support of the Australian Directors Guild's call for gender equity.
And then Jonathan King let me know that he supported gender equity too–

Niki Caro

On set: The Zookeeper's Wife
Best known as director of Whale Rider and North Country, 'our' Niki Caro directed this year's McFarland, USA (not yet released in New Zealand). It is 57 on Box Office Mojo's 2015 Box Office Results, has grossed almost $45m and is one of only five women-directed films this high on the list. The others are Fifty Shades of Grey (16); Pitch Perfect 2 (12); The Intern (57); and Jupiter Ascending (54).  That's pretty amazing.

Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board's Gender Equality Plan

Annie  Equality for Women, Acting Chair of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board

It seems to have happened so quickly. In early November, Dr Susan Liddy sent a letter to The Irish Times–

Women and the Irish Film Industry

Sir, – I write in response to Una Mullally’s article ('A century on, Abbey [Theatre] still gives women a bit part', Opinion & Analysis, November 2nd) which highlights the woeful under-representation of female playwrights in the Abbey’s centenary programme.
Unfortunately, this dismal picture of exclusion is not the exclusive preserve of the theatre. It is also echoed in the Irish Film Industry, which is overwhelmingly male-dominated and lacking a strong female voice and vision. My own research suggests a mere 13 per cent of produced screenplays in the period 1993 to 2013 were written by Irish women. 
When women are missing behind the camera there is often a knock-on effect in front of the camera. So only 24 per cent of all produced films from 1993 to 2011 with a male writer had a female character at the heart of the narrative. In comparison, 63 per cent of produced films with a female writer lead with a female protagonist. 
Having more women writers and directors increases the likelihood of more female-centred stories. And, importantly, it sends out a strong signal to girls and young women that there is a place for them in Irish cinema – that their vision and their stories are valued.

Dame Jane Campion – A Celebration

Warmest congratulations to Dame Jane Campion. At last. A beautiful moment.

This is a special addition to her other New Zealand honours, like her honorary Doctorate of Literature from Victoria University, back in 1999.

The announcement I read didn't say much. So here are some of the things I celebrate about Dame Jane Campion.

I celebrate her global reach as a teller of powerful onscreen stories, of course. From her first short film Peel (1982), which won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. To Sweetie, one of my all-time faves. To The Piano, which won many awards, including – the only woman winner to date – the Palme d’Or in 1994 and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, one of only seven ever won by women. Dame Jane – doesn't it sound perfect (partly because adding 'dame' in this context carries a teeny Raymond Chandler-type suggestion?) – was also nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director for The Piano, the second of only four women ever. To all those features after that. To her most recent work, Top of The Lake, which she wrote with Gerard Lee, directed with Garth Davis and executive produced.

I also celebrate because Dame Jane's work provides us with a consistent inquiry into women’s lives. It always embodies her well-known question… "Women may be 50% of the population but they gave birth to the whole world, why wouldn't we want to know what they think and feel?", and is absolutely about much more than women-as-mothers. I celebrate that her inquiry is so wide-ranging. Not long ago, I saw her After Hours (1984) for the first time, when it was briefly online, the most nuanced short film about sexual harassment I've ever seen.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shashat: Palestinian Women Make Images

This interview is a cross-post from African Women in Cinema's Special Dossier on Women in Cinema in the Arab World. It's here through the kindness of interviewer Patricia Caillé (of the Université de Strasbourg) and of Beti Ellerson of African Women in Cinema, whose ongoing hard work, published in French and in English, ensures that there's a rich archive of information about women filmmakers whose lives and work are locally and globally oriented, but often created outside European or Hollywood systems. That's essential information, for all of us. 

Although there are many reasons to appreciate this interview, for me it's especially illuminating because of its accounts of Shashat ['screens', in Arabic] Women Cinema's active research into the best practices for advancing the work of women filmmakers. I'm inspired by Shashat Women Cinema's ideas and its implementation and evaluation of programmes that work in highly testing circumstances. They provide, I believe, a vital reference point in #womeninfilm/ #gendermatters discussions and programmes, from Sweden to Ireland to Australasia to North America. A big thank you to Patricia, to Alia and the other Shashat women and to Beti. 

by Patricia Caillé

Alia Arasoughly
Alia Arasoughly is the current Director General of Shashat Women Cinema, an independent women’s cinema NGO she founded in 2005 in Palestine. She is curator of the annual Shashat Women Film Festival in Palestine. She works both as a film producer and a director. She has produced 76 short films, fiction and documentary, by young Palestinian women filmmakers, as well as 15 one-hour documentary TV programmes. Her directing credits include The Clothesline (14 mins., 2006), Ba`d As-Sama’ Al-Akhirah [After the Last Sky] (55 mins. 2007), Hay mish Eishi [This is not Living] (2001, shown in over 100 international film festivals and translated into 6 languages. Hayat Mumazzaqah [Torn Living], 23 mins. 1993. She is editor of  Eye on Palestinian Women’s Cinema (2013) (Arabic) and of Screens of Life – Critical Film Writing from the Arab World (1996)

Alia's first book. (WW: I've been unable to find an image for Eye on Palestinian Women's Cinema)
Alia has received many awards for her work. In this interview, she describes the activities of Shashat, the training of women filmmakers, as well as the festival that showcases their films.

Patricia Caillé: There are a few cinemas in the West Bank that show mostly Hollywood and Egyptian genre films. There are no cinemas left in Gaza. There are a few festivals as well whose programmes depend largely on the international organisations supporting them. Apart from rare premieres, there are little opportunities for dissemination of Palestinian films to Palestinian audiences. Shashat stands out as the longest running and most extensive film festival in Palestine, touring for nearly three months. Can you describe the context when Shashat Film Festival was created and how it was created?

Alia Arasoughly: It was created by Shashat Women Cinema, an independent women’s cinema organisation. The festival is part of the Films for All Screening Programme, one of four programmes, which has a yearlong screening programme. It is not a traditional film festival, but a cultural community empowerment intervention which takes place in seven universities, seven refugee camps and seventeen cities in collaboration with twenty-three cultural and community organisations. It was important to have a specialized women’s cinema NGO whose mission was to have women become producers of Palestinian culture, more specifically cinema. Most of the projects that addressed women in media, women’s cinema or women’s audiovisual creativity were and are seasonal. One donor would sponsor an activity for six months one year, and then another donor will sponsor the same type of activity for six months another year, etc. These activities did not build on one another to provide continuity and sustainability to their objective and thus failed to result in the emergence of a new generation of young women filmmakers and failed to have a cumulative impact on culture.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Japanese #womeninfilm & Cathy Munroe Hotes

Cathy Munroe Hotes
I've wanted to know more about Japanese women filmmakers and women's film festivals, for ages. Like Korean women filmmakers and women's festivals, they're just across the Pacific/ Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. So I was delighted to find Cathy Munroe Hotes' Japanese Women Behind the Scenes wiki. This rich, fascinating resource offers information about Japanese women writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, art directors, continuity editors, animators, editors, experimental filmmakers and more. I was even more delighted when Cathy agreed to answer some questions.

Where I can, I've linked each woman she mentions to her page on Cathy's website. For the few who don't have a page there, I've linked to their website or another online resource.

How did your study of Japanese women directors begin? 

I have always had an interest in women directors.  In my native Canada, I was drawn to directors like Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaid Singing, Mansfield Park, Into the Forest) and the documentary director Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, People of the Kattawapiskak River, Trick or Treaty?).  

I started Nishikata Film Review when I was living in Tokyo in 2006.  The blog initially did not have any focus at all, but over the years I have become known for my reviews of independent animators and women filmmakers.  The focus on animation came about because I discovered that really amazing alternative animation films were being made in Japan and no one was writing about them in English.  The focus on women came about because of Nippon Connection.  I first began going to the festival as a blogger in 2008, a year after my family and I moved to Germany [where Cathy teaches at the University of Marburg].  As it is the largest Japanese film festival in the world, the choice of films there is overwhelming, so one year I decided to watch all the films by women.  There were actually many films that year and I enjoyed them very much.  I also noticed at Nippon Connection that women film critics are few and far between – particularly those who have a focus on East Asian film.  One notable exception is Maggie Lee, the chief Asia film critic at Variety.  

For my academic research, I had been making filmographies of animators and filmmakers for years.  I decided to start posting them online, together with links to articles and related websites, in order to share the information that I had gathered and to encourage other people with similar interests to contribute.  Reliable information on independent filmmakers tends to be hard to find, so I wanted to make it easier for both fans and researchers to learn more about a woman filmmaker they may have just discovered.  At the moment there are a couple of people adding information to the site, but I would love to have more people participating.

Is there a strong tradition of women's filmmaking in Japan? Or several traditions?

Tazuko Sakane 坂根田鶴子 1904 – 1975
It took a long time for women to become directors in Japan because of the patriarchal, hierarchical structure of Japanese studios.  The two earliest women filmmakers, Tazuko Sakane and Kinuyo Tanaka, would likely not have had a chance to be directors if they hadn’t had the support of Kenji Mizoguchi.  Unfortunately, most of Sakane’s works are no longer extant, and Tanaka’s works are difficult to see apart from Love Letter (1953).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

K' Road Stories (with a Pot Luck bonus!)

I was excited when I heard about K'Road Stories. I love the road these short films are set in, Karangahape Road in central Auckland, where I once spent a lot of time.

I was even more excited when I saw that – funded by New Zealand On Air  – HALF of K'Road Stories have women writers/directors. This year's best Australasian example of gender equity in state screen funding?

This is what the website says–
K' Rd Stories cracks open the surface of life on Karangahape Road, revealing diverse cultures and unique voices. 
Set on New Zealand’s most iconic street this collection of short films - by some of New Zealand’s most creative filmmakers - explores the uncommon, the contrasting, and the crazy. 
The films premiered along an innovative screening trail on Karangahape Road in conjunction with First Thursdays on December 3rd, 2015. K Rd Stories sneaks a peek at the people and places that make this neighbourhood so infamous – and so beloved.


The women-written-and- directed K'Road Stories, for holiday viewing! When you're waiting about or lying about or wishing you were here in Aotearoa New Zealand's summer. Or thinking about films that women make and hoping we'll make more of them in 2016.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Glimpse of The Future, With Inspiring Stories

Sehar, Michelle & Inspiring Stories' Guy Ryan
I love Inspiring Stories and its Making a Difference film competition.

Making a Difference challenges aspiring Kiwi filmmakers to tell the story of a young person who’s doing something extraordinary.  It embraces difference of many kinds. (2016 entries open NOW!)

Inspiring Stories on Facebook & on Twitter

This year's Making a Difference winners have just been announced and just look! It's obvious that the competition engages young women and they do well. A lesson for competitions-in-general and for film organisations, as is that other young people's competition, The Outlook For Someday(Their results coming soon!)

Warm congratulations to all the winners. The future's here, right now. And it's looking good!

Overall Winner and Most Inspiring Story
Best Cinematography Award
Making A Difference Award
Sehar’s Story
Michelle Vergel de Dios (Auckland)

Social Justice Award
Open Category Award
Youth Pride, Youth Passion, Youth Change
Nina Griffiths (Northland)

Creativity & Culture Award (Awarded with backing from The Big Idea)
Environment/Kaitiaki Award (Awarded with backing from Sustainable Coastlines)
Whenua Finds a Future
Sarah Risdale (Palmerston North)

Leadership Award (Awarded with backing from the Sir Peter Blake Trust)
Best Editing Award
Secondary Schools Category Award
Liam van Eeden and Jean-Martin Fabre (Invercargill)

Best Editing Award – Honorable Mentions
Strands of Hope, Amy Huang
Mountains for Malawi, Henry Donald

Tertiary Institution Category Award
Samantha Smyrke (Otago/Rotorua)

Here's Sehar's Story, by Michelle Vergel de Dios.


And Nina Grifffiths' Youth Pride, Youth Passion, Youth Change

And Sarah Risdale's Whenua Finds a Future

And Samatha Smyrke's Aspire

Sunday, December 6, 2015

#gendermatters at Screen Australia?

Update and clarity here, July 2016

A couple of days after I finished this post, I received this further information, about the Screen Australia Gender Matters paper. You might like to start by reading it, here, because, who knows, with only the press release to go on I could have got it all wrong.

I liked Deb Verhoeven's response to the press release, with the link in here–
And then her tweet after she read the Gender Matters paper (so I may not have 'got it all wrong'!)–
Filmmaker Briony Kidd (and director of the legendary Stranger With My Face International Film Festival – entries open NOW!) gave a thoughtful and measured response to Gender Matters in an ABC interview with Melanie Tait. A podcast may be on its way (thank you, Melanie!).

And then. And then I heard this podcast, recorded just before the #gendermatters announcement. It is just excellent for its well-informed, imaginative, broad-ranging discussion of the issues. Samantha Lang, new President of the Australian Directors Guild and Deb Verhoeven with broadcaster Jason di Rosso. If you have time for just one thing, this is it.

And then. David Tiley wrote an excellent piece on ScreenHub, here (and kindly removed the paywall).

I'm not going to have time to read and think about the Gender Matters paper until the new year. In the meantime, I've asked various thoughtful mates for even more expert insights that I can credit in my next post about Gender Matters. Please feel free to add yours!


Finally. Screen Australia has launched its gender policy, Gender Matters.  While we wait for the details, Screen Australia's press release is in full below so we can reflect on it. 

My first concern after I read the press release was that Gender Matters leads with a sum of money rather than with principles. And not even a large overall sum of money – $5 million over 3 years, from an organisation with a budget of $100.8 million in 2013-14 and a projected $84.1 million budget in 2017-18.

In my view, principles matter most in this context. And it appears that Screen Australia isn't following what is now understood as best practice, because Gender Matters (so far) provides has no clearly stated goal of reaching gender equity in all its allocation of funding, within a specific period. 

From a post earlier this year, here's Anna Serner, of the Swedish Film Institute, where state-of-the-art gender policies have resulted in gender equity in their allocation of feature film funding. For her–
...there is no one best practice except to establish a practice. I believe the most urgent issue is to start working to create equality. And to do that you need to set a goal, choose a strategy and start work to be able to measure how your work is doing.
In contrast, Screen NSW, the funding body for New South Wales, the Australian state where Sydney is the capital, recently introduced a goal, which they call a 'target'–
Screen NSW has introduced a target to achieve an average 50:50 gender equity in its development and production funding programs by 2020. Effective immediately, the target will see Screen NSW work towards reducing the industry wide gender bias against women in key creative roles. 
It's clear. We all get the message. Screen NSW is serious about gender equity.

So what's the clearest measurable goal or target in Gender Matters? As articulated by Screen Australia's CEO, Graeme Mason, it appears to be this one–
Our focus is on female led creative teams rather than individuals. We are aiming to ensure our production funding is targeted to creative teams (writer, producer, director and protagonist) that are at least 50% female by 2018 year end. 
If he means what he says, this implies that there may be a flood of Screen Australia production-funded projects with women producers and female protagonists and men as writers and directors. And is a female protagonist really a member of a creative team? Not a great goal?

Then there's the Women's Story Fund.  According to Anna Serner, women-only funding is an option–
The easiest thing in a short term is actually to create a 'women's only' funding. That creates interest from the production companies to start looking for female creators, as they realize that there is money in it for the company. Women on the other hand know that they have a fair chance to get money, which will raise the amount of women's applications... the business gets used to [counting] women, as they get used to the fact that they [make] as good films as the men. And that is of course positive.
But she emphasises that this is not a long term solution. An organisation that creates a 'women-only' fund doesn't necessarily have to change its way of working. There has to be a structural change within the organisation itself–
As soon you stop having divided funding, nothing has changed [because of] the idea that men should have their money no matter what. I think it's fundamental that we shift that structure. That we as funders learn how to find talent equally between the sexes without divided funds.
Gender Matters doesn't point to a structural change. Certainly,  in the past, Australia's women's film funds didn't work particularly well to advance women writers and directors and women's participation in feature filmmaking went further downhill when the last one stopped (around 20 years ago?). Has Screen Australia failed to learn from the past?

And as Anna Serner says, everyone needs to be on board–
The funders can't change the structure alone. We also need to work with the industry and schools as all structures starts there. The easiest way to make the business cooperate is to show that the funder is serious and is looking for films created by women. In Sweden we have noticed both a much bigger interest from the production companies since they realized that we were serious.
If  I were in the industry, at the moment I wouldn't take Gender Matters too seriously, though I'd check out which of my favourite male directors had a script with a female protagonist. That's not enough to create lasting change. Furthermore, although Gender Matters refers to assessment criteria changes, it doesn't include unconscious bias training, currently happening even in Hollywood.

Corrie Chen suggests below – but cannot confirm – there will be a version of three ticks in the Women's Story Fund, perhaps an echo of the BFI's three ticks initiative, which supports gender *+* diversity and that will ensure at least that a project's writer or director will be a woman. But if the the three ticks are limited to the Women's Story Fund and to gender only, again that's a worrying problem. 

I also think a 'Task Force' may become an expensive distraction from getting the job done, though I'm especially pleased to see Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) and Corrie Chen in thereBut there are no veteran directors on the Task Force. It's great that Samantha Lang is included as President of the Australian Directors Guild. But I haven't seen any comment from the Australian Directors Guild today though, perhaps because it supported quotas and – presumably – would also have supported more clearly defined gender equity goals, established throughout Screen Australia's programmes.  More anxiety.

Whatever, I'm looking forward to seeing more detail and to the responses of others. We'll know soon if gender really matters at Screen Australia.

Best of luck to all those fabulous Aussie women writers and directors with amazing onscreen stories to tell. And to all those New Zealand women like them, who are already over there, or packing their bags right now. (And Fingers Crossed the New Zealand Film Commission will follow with its own extended policy. A better one than the Aussies'. And soon.)

Press Release

Screen Australia today announced a five point, $5 million plan over three years for Gender Matters, a suite of initiatives that address the gender imbalance within the Australian screen industry.

The imbalance is most notable in traditional film with 32% of women working as producers, 23% as writers and only 16% as directors. Screen Australia film production funding is provided to producers, writers and directors in direct proportion to applications received, suggesting that initiatives to stimulate projects led by women are key.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Maria Giese & Her Inspiring Work To End Discrimination Against Women Directors

Maria Giese

Maria Giese, a director and a member of the powerful Directors Guild of America (DGA), spoke out about discrimination against women directors in Hollywood long before the those interviewed by Maureen Dowd for a major New York Times article, published a couple of weeks ago – in interviews, through articles on her blog and in other social media.

Like Lexi Alexander, Maria is a hero. She began challenging the DGA back in 2011and in 2013 moved on to ask the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California to investigate discrimination against women directors.

The ACLU set up a webpage, Tell Us Your Story, where it issued a warm invitation–
If you are a director who has been discriminated against, excluded from directing jobs in television or get less TV work than your male peers, we’d love to hear your story to learn more about the experiences of women in the directing industry. Please tell us your story below.
Women could respond by email or telephone, in confidence. And they did. Then, in May this year, the ACLU sent a 15-page letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal office of the Federal Contract Compliance Program, and to the state department of Fair Employment and Housing. The letter called on them all to investigate ‘the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry’.

The EEOC enforces the United States Civil Rights Act (1964), which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (other legislation makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age and disability). The commission also conducted a report on race and sex discrimination in Hollywood in the 1980s. In early October, it responded to the ACLU letter by issuing letters to some women directors, asking to interview them.

There have been many other long-term activist projects in the United States, like the books and moving image associated with Ally Acker's Reel HerstoryAlexis Krasilovsky's Shooting Women and  Beti Ellerson's Centre for the Study & Research of African Women in Cinema. There have been and are many amazing and courageous women who've kept making and distributing their work in spite of the obstacles, teaching and writing about films by and about women, who've created film festivals that have continued for decades as well as other events to showcase women's work in appropriate contexts.

And there's been a whole lot of recent activism, informed by data-gathering by academics like Martha Lauzen at San Diego State University's Centre for the Study of Women in Television & in Film, who's been gathering and disseminating The Celluloid Ceiling statistics for 18 years and Stacy Smith at USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, which has expanded over the last decade from studying gender and race representation in front of the camera to analysing women's representation behind the camera.

But the EEOC investigation seems to have led at last to genuine action among Hollywood decision makers.