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Posts Tagged ‘Women Filmmakers’

See It: “Wonder Woman” Featurette + Behind The Scenes Footage

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Wonder Woman is nearing $100 million at the boxoffice; watch the on set featurette here.

Here’s an extended look at this groundbreaking film, which has proved a smash success at the boxoffice, and signaled a welcome break from the dreary series of ultra-violent, downbeat Warner Bros. / DC films that preceded it – a triumph for director Patty Jenkins and all concerned. And if that isn’t enough, check out this behind the scenes footage, in raw format, here. And finally, here’s an extended interview by Kate Erbland in Indiewire with Patty Jenkins, on the long and winding road to the final film, which was filled with upsets, last minute surprises, and lots of behind the scenes drama.

As Jenkins notes, “My entire career trajectory headed this way, because I one day wanted to make a film like this,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t know that I would be the one who got to make Wonder Woman. In a way, this movie is the movie I’m more prepared for than anything I’ve ever done, because it was always something I wanted. It was worth the wait.

I know that I’m carrying a bit of a weight on my shoulders of what I do represents more than just myself as a director. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is. It makes me think about doing work that I believe in and that I believe I can do well, probably even a hair more than I would otherwise. I never want to set a belief that a woman has to direct a woman’s film, meaning she can’t direct a man’s film. If only films can be directed by people who are exactly the same as that, it’s only gonna limit all of the women more.

I don’t believe that any movie has to be directed by someone like it. In this case, I do think that my perspective on it probably as a woman really changed it and was helpful to this. I am super-comfortable with powerful women. I feel completely relaxed about where the latitude is of that. Like can she still make a joke? Of course she can. Can she still be sexy? Of course she can. That all makes sense to me.”

It’s more than overdue that this has happened. Women started the cinema. Women have been directing films since 1896. Women are completely at home behind the camera. To think anything else is simply sexism – Patty Jenkins had to wait 13 years after her classic film Monster to get this opportunity – I’m glad she hung in there, and I hope it leads to many more projects in the future.

You can read the entire interview here; after you watch the videos above.

Cannes 2017 – 12 Feature Films By Women Directors

Friday, May 19th, 2017

As Ella Wilks-Harper reports in The Independent, Cannes 2017 has 12 feature films by women in the line up.

Which isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it’s a start. However, the festival has also taken some much deserved flack – in my opinion – for the official poster for the 2017 season, not reproduced here, which as Wilks notes uses “a heavily photoshopped image of Italian actress Claudia Cardinale.” Still, as Wilks-Harper writes, “The line-up for the highly anticipated Cannes Film Festival 2017 has been announced, unveiling a notable rise in female directors making the list. A total of twelve will have films screened at the prestigious festival, up from 2016’s nine and a significant change from 2012’s festival, where no films by female directors were shown.

In a press conference, festival president Pierre Lescure – alongside General Thierry Frémaux – announced the Official Selection, including the eighteen films that will be in competition this year, including Naomi Kawase’s Radiance and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. Kristen Stewart’s directorial short film, Come Swim, will also premiere at Cannes. Last year the actress starred in Olivier Assayas’ film Personal Shopper, which was booed by the audience at Cannes, despite positive reviews. Also at the festival, two episodes of the eagerly anticipated reboot of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks will be shown.”

The full schedule is as follows:


Ismael’s Ghosts – Arnaud Desplechin (opening film)

Loveless – Andrey Zvyagintsev

Good Time – Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie

You Were Never Really Here – Lynne Ramsay

A Gentle Creature – Sergei Loznitsa

Jupiter’s Moon – Kornél Mundruczó

L’Amant Double – François Ozon

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos

Radiance – Naomi Kawase

The Day After – Hong Sang-soo

Le Redoutable – Michel Hazanavicius

Wonderstruck – Todd Haynes

Rodin – Jacques Doillon

Happy End – Michael Haneke

The Beguiled – Sofia Coppola

120 Battements Par Minute – Robin Campillo

Okja – Bong Joon-ho

In the Fade – Fatih Akin

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Noah Baumbach

Un Certain Regard

Barbara – Mathieu Amalric

The Desert Bride – Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato

Closeness – Kantemir Balagov

Beauty and the Dogs – Kaouther Ben Hania

L’Atelier – Laurent Cantet

Lucky – Sergio Castellitto

April’s Daughter – Michel Franco

Western – Valeska Grisebach

Directions – Stephan Komandarev

Out – Gyorgy Kristof

Before We Vanish – Kiyoshi Kurosawa

The Nature of Time – Karim Moussaoui

Dregs – Mohammad Rasoulof

Jeune Femme – Léonor Serraille

Wind River – Taylor Sheridan

After the War – Annarita Zambrano

Out of Competition:

Blade of the Immortal – Takashi Miike

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – John Cameron Mitchell

Visages, Villages – Agnès Varda & JR

Midnight Screenings

The Villainess – Jung Byung-Gil

The Merciless – Byun Sung-Hyun

Special Screenings

An Inconvenient Sequel – Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

12 Jours – Raymond Depardon

They – Anahita Ghazvinizadeh

Clair’s Camera – Hong Sang-soo

Promised Land – Eugene Jarecki

Napalm – Claude Lanzmann

Demons in Paradise – Jude Ratman

Sea Sorrow – Vanessa Redgrave

Special Screenings – Events

Twin Peaks – David Lynch (first two episodes)

24 Frames – Abbas Kiarostami

Come Swim – Kristen Stewart

Top of the Lake: China Girl – Jane Campion, Ariel Kleiman

Carne y arena – Alejandro González Iñárritu

It’s nice to see so many familiar names on the list, such as Agnès Varda, but at the same time, a number of people are making the point that perhaps participating in Cannes isn’t the greatest way to launch a difficult, indie film. If everything goes well, then fine – it certainly can’t hurt. But if the audience doesn’t like a film – and Cannes viewers are typically quite open for their disdain for a film, if it fails to catch their fancy – you’re pretty much doomed from the start, and chances of getting a theatrical distribution deal drop dramatically. The festival, which got underway a few days ago, has already been marred by technical glitches and various controversies about “what constitutes a film” – does it need a theatrical opening to compete?

As Elsa Keslassy wrote in Variety on May 10th, “the Cannes Film Festival said Wednesday that it would keep Netflix movies Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories in competition despite opposition from French exhibitors but that, in future, all competition titles ‘will have to commit…to being distributed in French movie theaters.’ The festival’s board had convened a meeting Tuesday to discuss the possibility of yanking both films from competition, as recommended by France’s exhibitors’ association, which is represented on the board. Although the idea was rejected, the festival issued a statement Wednesday expressing regret over Netflix’s decision not to release the films widely in French cinemas.

‘Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theaters of those films in France. The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theaters and not only its subscribers,’ the statement said, adding: ‘The festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.’ The festival said it had decided to ‘adapt its rules’ for the future. Starting next year, ‘any film that wishes to compete in competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters.'”

There will be much more on this, but sadly, most of the films in the festival will never see general release – a drastic change from the days when every film in the festival was guaranteed a theatrical opening, if only because of the prevailing technology of the era. And the glitz and glamour amp up every year, so that in a sense, the movies themselves become almost incidental. Still, it’s a celebration of the cinema – with many diverging opinions – and it’s nice to see a festival which honors the art of the cinema, while at the same time being one of the most competitive cinematic marketplaces on the face of the planet.

You can see a complete rundown the festival, which runs from May 17 to 28, by clicking here.

How International Film Boards Help Women Directors

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Director Ava DuVernay on the set of her film Selma.

As Rebecca Keegan writes in The Los Angeles Times, “in March 2015, an Australian researcher published a statistic that drew both laughs and gasps in the business community there: Fewer large Australian companies were run by women than by men named Peter. The damning statistic prompted some introspection in the Australian film industry in particular, where women represent 17% of directors, a number that hasn’t budged since 1970.

‘We’ve got this wonderful networking psyche here called “mateship,”‘ said Fiona Cameron, chief executive of Screen Australia, the nation’s government-funded film board. ‘It typically involves men helping like-minded men. There’s been an informal quota in the Australian film business forever. That made our filmmakers stop in their tracks and say, “What are we going to do?”‘

In December, Screen Australia committed $5 million to changing the number, setting a goal that its money would go to films with creative teams at least 50% female. Australia is one of several countries that have launched such programs in recent years — Canada, Ireland and Sweden have also started aggressive, state-financed initiatives aimed at increasing the number of female directors, writers and producers on their films.

The programs stand in stark contrast to the American film industry, where a controversy is roiling over the same issue, but where there is no comparable government agency that finances movies. Here in Hollywood, change is mostly taking a different path, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launching an investigation into gender bias in the hiring of female directors last fall.

In the U.S., women are even less likely to be in the director’s chair than they are abroad — women direct just 4% of the 100 top-grossing Hollywood movies, according to a USC study, making filmmakers like Elizabeth Banks (who directed Pitch Perfect 2,) Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Ava DuVernay (Selma) the very definition of outliers.

At the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union, the EEOC began interviewing female directors in October, and is now meeting with executives, agents and others to determine whether a pattern of bias exists. Internationally, the film industry is in the midst of a kind of feminist awakening, with the inciting incident being slightly different in each country.

In Ireland, a protest in the theater world last fall kicked off the discussion, when a planned centenary celebration of the 1916 Easter Uprising at the country’s national theater included just one female playwright, and nine men.

‘We went, “Hang on a minute, we’re just as bad,”‘ said Annie Doona, chair of the Irish Film Board, where 20% of the movies financed between 2010 and 2015 had female directors. ‘We need to know what’s happening here.’ In December, the agency set a target of achieving 50/50 funding within three years, as part of a larger program that also includes mentorship, training and film school initiatives. ‘We’ve said to production companies, “We’re looking to you to find that female talent,”‘ Doona said.

In Canada, the National Film Board announced a similar program in March — going forward, the agency will devote 50% of its $65-million annual budget to projects directed by women. ‘We’re funded equally by Canadians who are men and Canadians who are women,’ said board President Claude Joli-Coeur. ‘The talent of women directors is there. We just decided to make it so.’

Many countries are looking to Sweden as an example. When Anna Serner, an outspoken chief executive from the advertising world, became head of the Swedish Film Institute in 2011, 26% of the movies the agency financed were directed by women. Due in large part to Serner’s aggressive advocacy, by 2014, 50% of the films the institute financed were directed by women. Female directors now win about 60% of the prizes at Sweden’s version of the Oscars, and the majority of Swedish directors invited to international film festivals are women.

Sweden’s programs, which are partly funded by a 10% tax on movie tickets, would seem unthinkably interventionist in the market-driven American film industry, and have even been controversial in a country that considers gender equality a cornerstone of its identity. ‘Some male directors have been very upset,’ Serner said. ‘They still get 50% of our financing, but they feel we’re manipulating the arts. People say they want equality, as long as it doesn’t affect them.'”

This is long overdue; you can read the entire story by clicking here, or on the image above.

Tina Hassannia – No DVDs of Many Films by Women Directors

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Tina Hassannia has a superb article on the lack of DVDs of films directed by women in Movie Mezzanine.

As she notes, “one consistent request on Twitter from female film critics and cinephiles in particular is more female-directed films. Last month, film critic Sophie Mayer analyzed Criterion’s entire collection and found that only 21 of their titles were directed or co-directed by women (including films released under Criterion’s Eclipse banner). That’s 2.6% of the whole collection, which in Mayer’s estimation is a ‘pretty meagre number.’

As telling as that number might be about a potential gender bias, the statistic only scratches the surface of what is a much broader and more complicated picture when it comes to releasing female-directed films on home video. It’s worth pointing out other characteristics of Criterion’s collection in relation to that figure.

While Mayer notes a higher number of films are directed by women in mainstream film—a still-measly 7%—Criterion’s titles represent a diverse number of cinemas that do not fall necessarily in the mainstream category; it would likely be impossible to determine the percentage of women directors in every national cinema around the world since the birth of movies. That number is likely to be much lower than 7%.

The 2.6% number also doesn’t account for the decades when there were few working women directors around the world. While women directed movies in the early Hollywood era, the profession became mostly male territory by the 1930s, and for several subsequent decades, there were almost no female directors working at all in the studio system (with some notable exceptions, like Ida Lupino). Even by the 1960s, some of the world cinemas we cherish today were only starting to find their roots and hadn’t yet standardized the practice, or even implicitly decided to allow, encourage, or prohibit women to helm a picture.

There were also more notable films made by women in the 1930s-1960s in other types of cinema—like avant-garde, independent, and documentary films—than in Hollywood. This hasn’t changed that much in the last half-century, as the gender bias in Hollywood continues to be a systemic problem. Even so, think of your favorite female-directed films: no matter which genre or country they hail from, the largest percentage were likely made in the 1970s or later.

Despite the continuing gender bias, more women have been making movies of note in the last 30 to 40 years than in the decades preceding. This is an important factor to consider, as more than half of Criterion’s collection are films that were made in the 1930s-’70s. Much of their library derives from a period when there were generally fewer working female filmmakers.

Instead of relying on statistics to examine Criterion’s collection, then, it may be more helpful to think of women-directed titles that deserve a deluxe treatment. No matter what the numbers, statistics, or decades show, given their power, Criterion would go a long way in challenging the canon by releasing more titles made by women. But the reality is that releasing films from a smaller demographic is much more difficult than one might imagine.

Last week, I queried Twitter for female-directed titles that should get the Criterion treatment. Great responses poured in, among them the films of Dorothy Arzner and Maya Deren, Claire Denis’s Beau Travail, Barbara Loden’s Wanda, and Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning. Some of these films, however, are already available from other distributors, some with restorations and supplements that are on par with or close to the quality associated with Criterion.”

All I can do is second this heartily, but also note that in addition to the directors mentioned, I would love to see a complete box set of the films of Alice Guy – some of her films are out on a Gaumont two disc set – Lois Weber (pictured at the top of this post), Ida May Park, and especially Ida Lupino, who is mentioned in this article, but whose pioneering work deserves a complete box set of all her work in the 1950s, when she was the only female director working in Hollywood. In any event, this is a real issue, one that won’t go away, and one that needs to be rectified, not only by Criterion, but by all the archival DVD labels – and no EST downloads, either. DVDs – restored, remastered, pristine, living – are the only way to go here.

This is a sharp, impassioned article – you can read the entire essay by clicking here.

Calum Marsh: Ten Movies Not To Miss in 2016

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Village Voice critic Calum Marsh picks ten must-see movies in 2016.

The Village Voice, once an indispensable source for film reviews in the 1950s through the late 1990s, fell on hard times when critics Andrew Sarris and Jonas Mekas retired, followed by the departure of Jim Hoberman, and then the Voice itself went from being a paid newspaper to a freebie distributed throughout Manhattan in giveaway boxes. But now it seems to have found itself again in the 21st century with a new group of sharp, perceptive critics, one of whom is Calum Marsh.

In this brief article, Marsh picks out ten films to look forward to in 2016 which are outside the normal fare one might find at the local multiplex, such as Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier, Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch – which Amirpour, the director of the highly acclaimed vampire thriller A Girl Walks Home Along at Night describes as “‘Road Warrior meets Pretty in Pink” – Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Lorene Scafaria’s The Meddler (shown above) and several other interesting films.

These are all films that absolutely deserve your attention in the New Year, and this brief, informal overview is a great way to think about what you’re going to spend your time watching in 2016. Look beyond the local first-run theaters. Look for more interesting stuff, and you’ll find it. And while you’re exploring this article, click on some of the other links to see The Village Voice‘s increasingly interesting film coverage, as we move towards the second decade of the new century.

There’s great filmmaking going on out there – you just have to find it.

TCM Partners With Women in Film

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

As Lisa de Moraes reports in Deadline Hollywood, “Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Women In Film Los Angeles have joined forces for a multi-year partnership dedicated to raising awareness about the lack of gender equality in the industry, while celebrating the achievements of women who have succeeded in film.

TCM has earmarked the month of October for the next three consecutive years for the programming initiative. The network will present films from female industry icons, and provide context on the historical and current states of the representation of women in the film industry.

The month-long programming initiative hopes to take a deeper look at gender inequality in the film industry, and will tackle pro-social elements (research, resources, tools, etc) to assist women filmmakers in furthering their careers. Women in Film Los Angeles will partner with TCM throughout this programming initiative to offer research and resources.

‘The issue of gender inequality in the film industry is both timely and immensely important to shine a light on,’ said TCM’s general manager Jennifer Dorian. ‘We’re thrilled to partner with such a well-respected organization as Women in Film in order to address and promote the empowerment of women in our industry.’

‘For years, I have dreamed of having a network reach out to our organization with a true interest in our advocacy and the ability to collaborate on programming that will reach audiences everywhere,’ WIF President, Cathy Schulman said in today’s announcement.

In April, WIF and Sundance released results of a study they conducted that concluded men outnumbered women 23-to-1 as directors of the 1,300 top-grossing films since 2002, and found gender stereotyping to be one of the main reasons for the disparity.”

An excellent idea – long overdue.

For Your Consideration: Women Directors Missing From the Oscars

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

This video has been tearing up the web, as well it should.

As far as I can tell, it’s the work of Melissa Silverstein, and she’s absolutely right about everything she says.

Women created the cinema. Alice Guy was arguably the first person to make a film with a plot, La fée aux choux (The Cabbage Patch Fairy, 1896); the first to make a film with sound; the first to make a film in hand-stenciled color; the first to make a film longer than 1 minute; the first to make a multi-reel film; and she started her long career in 1896, long before D.W. Griffith even thought of making a film. Her contemporaries were Georges Méliès, The Lumière Brothers, and numerous others, but Alice Guy’s more than 354 films stand as a monumental achievement at the dawn of cinema.

As Ms. Silverstein points out, “in 2011, only 5% of the top grossing films in Hollywood were directed by Women. The number has decreased since 1998. In 84 years only 4 women — Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow — have been nominated for best director. One 1 has won.

Please feel free to send this video out far and wide, and on Sunday, remember that women directors voices and visions are missing from this very large cultural conversation. Telling people this is a cultural problem and not just a gender equity problem is a first step.”

Happy to help. A change would definitely do you good . . .

For more information on women in film, check out Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s book Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary, by clicking this link.

Women Filmmakers and Directors by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Here’s a concise essay on the history of women directors in the cinema by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.

You can click this link, or read the complete essay on this page.

“The history of women filmmakers is a rich and fertile body of knowledge that has been largely ignored, until recently, by mainstream film historians. Nevertheless, women were very much involved in the creation of the visual art form known as motion pictures from its beginnings until the present. In fact, women were at one time far more prominent in film production circles than they are now. In the early days of film, women such as Alice Guy, Gene Gauntier, Hanna Henning, Ida May Park, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Nell Shipman, Ruth Stonehouse, Lucille McVey Drew, Elvira Notari, Lois Weber, Dorothy Arzner, Germaine Dulac, Marie Epstein, Grace Cunard, and many others were involved in creating the new visual format. Unfortunately, when the first surveys of film history were written, and when the first pantheons of directors and major players were drawn up, most of the accomplishments of women directors, producers, and scenarists were overlooked. Even feminists tended to believe that there simply were no women involved in the production end of early films; women were viewed as objects of a voyeuristic “male gaze,” in films that were supposedly all directed and created by men.

Women were written out of history as active participants in the production and creation of film, film movements, special effects, the star system, the studio system, independent and experimental forms, and genres. It seems as if historians were primarily interested in women in front of the camera as actors and sex objects. Creative women, however, were very much participants in the history of filmmaking. For example, Alice Guy, a French woman director, is generally credited as having directed the first “narrative” film. Her film, La Fée aux choux (1896), is in many ways a film like that of her male contemporaries; it tells the story of a fairy tale in which a woman who cannot bear children creates them in a cabbage patch. Guy was instrumental in the development of such early pioneering techniques as special effects (masking, superimposition, and other in-camera effects). She was also very much a pioneer of the very first genre vehicles, yet Alice Guy is rarely cited as the originator of these genres. The hundreds of films she directed include everything from melodramas to gangster films, horror films, fairy tales, and even short music films featuring famous opera singers—forerunners to today’s music videos.

It is hard to overestimate the talented contributions of this pioneering woman director who worked in early primitive color techniques such as handed painting and stamping and also created some of the first examples of sound films, recorded on wax cylinders. And Alice Guy was not by any means the only woman producer/writer/director to contribute to the development of the film form. Internationally, many other women, most of whom are barely remembered today, were also prominent in silent-film production. For example, in Australia, the McDonagh sisters (Paulette, Phyllis, and Isobel) taught themselves filmmaking from the vantage point of actresses. Their early films were only recently “rediscovered” and written back into Australian film history. Hanna Henning, a German director who made many silent films, awaits rediscovery, as does Ida May Park, an American director who made scores of films in the silent-film period. The years have been a bit kinder to Lois Weber, Cleo Madison, Dorothy Davenport Reid, and Dorothy Arzner, all of whom have had their films survive and who have been rediscovered and celebrated in film festivals and archival retrospectives such as those at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the American Museum of the Moving Picture in Astoria.

Women directors thrived during a short period in the beginning of filmmaking production, especially in the teens and early 1920s. In this period, before film directing was seen as primarily a “masculine” occupation, women directors were numerous and busy. This period is well covered by Anthony Slide in his book, Early Women Directors. So many women were active in film production: Julia Crawford Ivers, Nell Shipman, Ruth Stonehouse, Lottie Lyell, Musidora, Margery Wilson, and many others. Many women were employed at the Universal Studios, where Carl Laemmle was not averse to hiring women as directors. Women were also highly active in this period as screenwriters.

Many women directors of color worked outside the studio system as independent producer/directors. African American women directors such as Eloice Gist and Zora Neale Hurston developed and introduced the independent personal film. Gist was a preacher who wrote, produced, directed, and self-distributed her own films; she lectured with them as she went from town to town, speaking with films such as her Hellbound Train, which depicted the narratives of figures bound for hell because of various moral trespasses. Zora Neale Hurston, as many now know, pioneered the ethnographic film that featured the insider informant. Hurston’s films were ahead of their time in that she understood the value of herself as an insider informant in the stories she told about the African American community.

Beyond the United States, women were instrumental in pioneering schools of film. Women such as French filmmakers Germaine Dulac and Marie Epstein were groundbreakers in the experimentation with film. Dulac is now finally hailed as one of the champions of the experimental French film. She was loosely associated with the Surrealists, the Impressionists, and the poetic realists. Her films are currently championed and lionized as part of a canon of important experimental films that challenged the borders of poetic filmic expression. Epstein is also being reconfigured into the landscape of film history. Her pioneering and mastery of poetic realism, combined with her narrative techniques, are finally being included in film history.

Agnès Varda, the Belgian woman director who helped pioneer the New Wave, is also finally being credited for her contribution to the development of the new school of filmmaking previously only attributed to directors such as François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and other male directors. In Italy, as Giuliana Bruno uncovered, the early silent filmmaker Elvira Notari was already beginning to embrace the artistic precepts behind Neorealism, a school of film that arose in Italy many years after her death.

By the 1930s there were fewer and fewer women directors. Film was beginning to be viewed as an art form and as a powerful medium in the marketplace. Many women directors left the field when it was clear that society no longer approved of women working in such a high-profile job that clearly indicated power in the public sphere. Among the exceptions were German director Leni Riefenstahl, who is universally credited with pioneering the documentary form and the technique of propaganda. Dorothy Arzner, a lesbian filmmaker, was one of the few prominent women directors in the 1930s. Mary Field is credited with pioneering the British nature film at about this time. Mary Ellen Bute was one of the pioneers of the experimental film in the United States. Her use of oscillated light to form patterns choreographed to music was far ahead of its time.

The 1940s were a fertile time for experimental women filmmakers. In this era, Maya Deren and Marie Menken introduced many of the ideas and forms of experimental avant-garde cinema. In Britain, Joy Batchelor created animated films. In France, Jacqueline Audry directed glossy studio-produced films. In the Soviet Union, Wanda Jakubowska pioneered many of the Soviet ideals of the social document film. In Mexico, Matilde Landeta fought to direct her own productions after having served as an assistant director for many, many years. She managed to direct a few of her own projects despite the sexism of the industry.

In the 1950s, Ida Lupino claimed that she did her work simply because there was no one else available, but the passion of her efforts belies such modesty. She tackled controversial subject matter and invented many of the techniques and themes associated with film noir. In the 1960s many women directed personal experimental films. Mai Zetterling, for example, began as an actress, but soon tired of working within the confines of a male-dominated system, and created her own visions of the world. Sara Aldrege was another important innovator in experimental film. One of the greatest of the experimental directors of the 1960s, Carolee Schneemann deals with issues of sexuality, power, and gender, as does Barbara Hammer, who began working as a director in the early 1970s. The multiplicity of visions among women directors is startling; it forces us to look at ourselves as women, and as members of society, in a series of entirely new and enlightening ways.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and the 1990s, there has been an international rise in the number of women filmmakers, both independent and studio directors. Women have been prominent as filmmakers in both developed and developing countries. Despite the rise in the number of women filmmakers, the auteur film director continues to be thought of as male. Despite women’s contributions to the development of the art form and many of its pivotal movements (from Surrealism to New Wave to documentary and the personal film), women filmmakers continue to be marginalized in dominant discourse. Women filmmakers, through their exclusion from history books, have been denied a sisterhood. Each generation of women filmmakers stands apart from its earlier predecessors. Remedying the paucity of scholarship on women directors is compounded by an unavailability of many of the films made by women in the early days of cinema, many of which have been lost, neglected, or destroyed. Film scholars have produced a remarkably persuasive body of film criticism that begins the belated recognition process of women film directors and their achievements.

Despite a clear lineage, women filmmakers have managed to be influenced by one another, even if they have been marginalized or excluded from film scholarship. Barbara Hammer and several women directors credit, for example, the work of Maya Deren, whose experimental films were profoundly personal and expressed a female camera-eye. Diana Barrie claims she was most influenced by Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon. Alice Guy was a mentor and influence on Lois Weber, who followed in her footsteps to produce, write, and direct her own material. Weber, in turn, had a profound effect upon the career of Dorothy Arzner, who had a successful directorial career within the confines of the studio system of Hollywood in the 1930s.

Dorothy Arzner, however, admitted she stifled her criticism of other filmmaker’s studio projects. As the only woman director in the studio system, she felt she “ought not complain,” and yet she carefully maintained that no obstacles were put in her way by men in the business. Elinor Glyn, the famous author and early filmmaker, seemingly did not recognize the clearly sexist critical lambasting she received for her adroit and sharply observed comedy, Knowing Men. Ida May Park, another woman among many who directed in the 1920s, refused her first job directing, thinking it an unfeminine job. Even contemporary women directors find the notion of a feminist approach to filmmaking incompatible with their need for acceptance in the industry. The late Shirley Clarke refused invitations to women’s film festivals, even if she agreed that women directors should be recognized. French filmmaker Diane Kurys finds the idea of women’s cinema “negative, dangerous, and reductive,” at the same time claiming, “I am a feminist because I am a woman, I can’t help it.”

Other women directors make absolutely no excuses for their feminism. Carolee Schneemann, Yvonne Rainer, and Barbara Hammer, for example, make films that deal directly and uncompromisingly with issues of sexuality, power, and gender. Donna Deitch was primarily motivated to make Desert Hearts because she saw a lack of films—especially commercial films—that center around a lesbian relationship. Hammer was drawn to experimental formalist filmmaking precisely because it did not seem to be (yet) the exclusive domain of men.

Some women directors wish to make films that employ newly defined heroines or that reverse gender expectations. Sally Potter’s The Gold Diggers is a case in point. Michelle Citron’s Daughter Rite consists of a narrative about two sisters and their mother and ignores the trappings of heroism. Doris Dörrie’s film Men . . . is an attempt to see men as comic gender reversals of the mythic Marilyn Monroe type. Social concerns are also prevalent in the films and voices of women directors. Barbara Kopple’s American Dream covers union battles. Marguerite Duras, a French critic and writer, and Trinh T. Minh-ha, a Vietnamese deconstructionist critic and documentarian, are centrally concerned with deprivileging the screen from its power to distort social reality. Trinh T. Minh-ha questions the ability of the image itself as a historicist account of truth. Clearly then, women directors are often compelled to redefine the boundaries of cinema.

Women directors face a lack of support not only as a result of their gender, but also because they have a remarkable tendency to choose “controversial” or “difficult” subject matter. Shirley Clarke had enormous difficulties funding The Cool World, an early 1960s experimental film (shot in 35mm) about racism and drug dependency. British feature director Muriel Box faced similar difficulties proving herself in a male-dominated industry. Jodie Foster and Penny Marshall stand as proof that some women manage to find funding and support from Hollywood executives, but both have had to use their acting as leverage in the decision-making process.

Racism in Hollywood is a problem only compounded by sexism against women of color. The new African American “wave” of feature filmmaking is predominated by men such as Spike Lee and John Singleton. African American women directors such as Julie Dash, Kathleen Collins, Alile Sharon Larkin, and Barbara McCullough have so far not been offered lucrative package deals by industry executives. Similarly, Asian American women directors have had major difficulties finding funding and distribution. Christine Choy faced enormous interference and lack of support in the production of her film Who Killed Vincent Chin?, a film about violence and racism directed against Asian Americans. Kathleen Collins spent more than a year trying to fund her film Women, Sisters, and Friends.

Julie Dash continues to have to search aggressively for funding, even after the critical success of her Afrocentric Daughters of the Dust. Claire Denis was forced to face humiliation and scorn when attempting to finance her independent feature Chocolat, a film that directly attacks African colonization. Similarly, Ann Hui’s Boat People, a critically successful film that documents the harsh realities of Vietnamese refugees, clearly deserves wider distribution. Distribution and finance remain as formidable barriers that independent filmmakers find themselves up against. An unbelievable amount of hardship seems to have been suffered by women directors, yet an unrivaled degree of perseverance seems to be a common factor in many of their experiences. Early pioneering film director Dorothy Davenport Reid faced the resentment of her male colleagues as she struggled to create her own cinematic visions of the woman’s plight in American society. Yet Reid went on to make a series of intensely personal films that argued against drug addiction, prostitution, and sexism.

Yvonne Rainer managed to fund a film about menopause, Privilege, despite its supposedly taboo subject matter, because of an incredibly loyal following and an intense determination to make the film. For all of these women, the need to make films is a fierce desire they must simply obey, no matter the cost.

Whether working in the industry or making films with the aid of grants and personal financial subsidies, women filmmakers have helped to shape the world of film as it is today. Some women film practitioners see themselves as harbingers of change, instructional forces, barometers of social reintegration; other women see themselves as workers within a tradition that they attempt to subvert from within. The immense contribution made by these women is a legacy that is rich in personal insight, hard work, careful study, and often sacrifice to achieve the aims they held for their creative endeavors.”

Compelling reading! From Alice Guy to Maya Deren to Kathryn Bigelow and all the stops inbetween, women have made immeasurable contributions to the cinema since the dawn of the medium.

Women Who Made the Movies

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Lois Weber on the set

Here’s a link to a documentary on the history of women filmmakers directed by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster from Women Make Movies. As the Women Make Movies catalogue notes,

Women Who Made The Movies traces the careers and films of such pioneer women filmmakers as Alice Guy Blaché, Ruth Ann Baldwin, Ida Lupino, Leni Riefenstahl, Dorothy Davenport Reid, Lois Weber, Kathlyn Williams, Cleo Madison, and many other women who made a lasting contribution to cinema history with their films. Featuring clips from the films, rare archival footage and stills, Women Who Made The Movies brings to life the works of these remarkable women. Critical viewing for all those interested in the history of cinema.”

Dorothy Arzner on the set

You can see the link to the film’s catalogue listing here.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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