May 23, 2009

If these are the best female filmmakers, we're in trouble

My yearning to see more female directors / women's stories out there is one typically met with frustration and disappointment, but equally frustrating and disappointing is how this deficiency is approached and discussed. For instance, here's my response to the Women's Film Critic Circle awards, which in an effort to speak out against the lack of representation just ended up making us all look bad. And now, from across the pond, we have this embarassment: a feature in the Guardian about female directors. Now, if this was just an article proving that female filmmakers exist, it would be fine. All the ladies listed have made 1-3 feature films (with the exception of Gurinder Chadha, who has made 5), and of those, most have only one movie of acclaim or quality, or none at all. But what's this? They kick off the individual profiles with "These are six of the very best."


Okay, let's break this down. Andrea Arnold won an Oscar for best short film, released her first feature, Red Road, in 2006 to okay reviews but no real recognition, and now has a film buzzing at Cannes. Little early to deem her a prophet. Nadine Labaki made only one movie, 2007's Caramel, which got pretty good reviews but again, is one movie. Her profile is suspiciously padded with influences and interests, and the suggestion that she doesn't have anything in the works. Chadha, the most prolific of the bunch, did make a huge splash with 2002's Bend it Like Beckham, which got good reviews and made, to use industry terms, an assload of money. But nobody really cared about her other movies. Kelly Reichardt is probably the most deserving woman on the list, since everything she's done has swept festivals and made the critics pee themselves with delight. Kasi Lemmons released a few features to big yawns, and Jennifer Lynch has one atrocious (like, 3.9 on IMDB and commonly found in the "Cult" section of video stores atrocious) movie under her belt, Boxing Helena, and another maybe okay one. Oh, and she has an upcoming fantasy/horror movie about snake people that doesn't exactly scream Oscar.

My point is, if the directors on this list were male, it would be pathetic. The list is almost condescending - it's bending down to these directors, patting them on the back and saying, "Oh, you made an okay movie or two, little female director? You are the future of cinema! You're so special, yes you are!" I would much rather that this article did not exist at all then have it exist but lower the bar. Equality will only come when we hold female director's accomplishments to the same standards of their male counterparts.

This article also, whether intentionally or not, gives a clue to why there are not as many female directors. After all, it's 2009. It's not like women don't stand a chance unless they sleep their way to the top. People aren't going to approach them on a film set and tell them to bake a pie. But there's a quote from documentary filmmaker Anne Aghion, who says "it would have been impossible to combine my career and the accompanying 16-hour days with any kind of family life." Bam. Even though it's 2009, most women still want kids. They want to raise those kids and be moms. I know this because whenever I say that I don't want kids, people are appalled and ask why, and then brush me off by saying I will inevitably change my mind. (But I digress).

Here's another radical idea: maybe not as many women want to be directors. After all, it's not like they're not afraid to be top dogs. There are female producers up the wazoo, with most blockbusters or Best Picture nominees sporting at least one. So I'm not sure we can still blame The System for keeping them down.

In conclusion, I just wish this issue was addressed with honesty. Don't sugarcoat someone's accomplishments just because they have a cooter. And don't act like every woman on earth would be a director if she could, but a vast government conspiracy is keeping them from it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great film blog, always enjoyable.

"I know this because whenever I say that I don't want kids, people are appalled and ask why, and then brush me off by saying I will inevitably change my mind. (But I digress). "

That very thing happens to me all the time. I find defending this decision becomes even more fun after youre married.

Cheers :)

Anonymous said...

Hi. Been a long time since the last blog.

Waiting for you to write more :)

Anonymous said...

It's not a government conspiracy, it's a social one. The boys' club mentality surrounding the film industry makes men laugh at women who want to make a film, all the way from original concept (which they may not get because it doesn't come from a male brain), to funding (banks don't fund newcomers unless stars are attached, and both actors and actresses prefer to work with male directors, especially if it's their first film), to working with crew (many men actually resent taking orders from a woman, even if she knows what she is doing and is officially in charge of things), to distribution (women's efforts tend to get less attention in the press). Women are much less likely to rise up the ranks as writers, A.D.s, or other crew, and MUCH MUCH less likely to be hired in genres such as exploitation, action or porn as a start to a more legitimate career, so it's hard for them to gain experience on the job. A woman has to be a KICKASS director with REALLY STRONG ideas and drive, or else have a MAJOR HIT at a festival to play the game at all. And that simply is not the case for men. That said, women have made some extraordinary films, from Dorothy Arzner's "Dance Girl Dance" to Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman" to Breillat's Romance," and of course there are many more.