Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ally Acker's 'Reel Herstory'

I fell over Ally Acker’s work via this tweet. Not Ally’s tweet, you’ll notice, because she doesn’t engage with social media, which may be why I missed her before.

I was immediately curious about Ally's extraordinary magnum opus, Reel Women, the two-volume revised and expanded book and the 10 discs (see below) and the forthcoming Reel Herstory: The REAL Story of Reel Women. Introduced by Jodie Foster, Reel Herstory is a feature-length documentary that runs two and a half hours. It's in two parts. The first covers The Silent Era and the second Talkies Through Today (first ten minutes below).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kano Life

Kano – outside Gidan Almajirai, the House of Scholars

I love quest movies. Why don't we have more movies about women's quests, beyond romance-quests? I love road movies, too. There aren't enough of them with women protagonists. That's one reason I'm so excited by Afia Nathaniel's Dukhtar, debuting at Toronto, released in Pakistan soon and here on Facebook.

When Fiona Lovatt and I re-met on Facebook, after thirty years of no contact, she sent me an image for my
Keeping An Eye On The Washing board. Then she arrived at my place and I asked her probably too many questions. And when I heard her stories, their quest elements and their road elements enthralled me. 

Before Fiona left for Nigeria, for a third period living in Kano, an ancient northern city with a population of over 4 million, I asked her a few more questions. I'm delighted that she transcends them and that her Facebook page contributes fragments of dialogue with others – persevere with the small print, it's worth it. Please introduce yourself to Fiona on Facebook if you'd like to friend her and join the conversation.  A 'Fiona Lovatt & Kano' Pinterest board provides more images and commentary, here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Safety in Paradise?

Eleven photo: Jimena Murray
Children play in safety on the beach beyond my window. Some aren't safe at home, but they do not die in rocket attacks. Along our promenade, this year’s most sustained sirens wailed from motorbike cavalcades, as they escorted royalty to and from the airport. At school, our children may arrive hungry. But they're safe from abduction. The closest I’ve ever been to a war is my parents' silence about 'their' war, refuge women's stories about men returned from wars and Bruce Cunningham’s stories, after I met him selling Anzac poppies. (He was a Lancaster pilot in World War II and then a prisoner-of-war and I’m making a short doco about him.)

Yes, in many ways Wellington, New Zealand is paradise and I’m blessed to live here and to benefit from love and generosity from women and men, my beautiful sons now among those men. But in an interview with Matthew Hammett Knott earlier this year, I found myself saying–
We have to deal with serial violation, direct and subtle, on a daily basis. We may have learned the truth that golden boys usually win. So we have to apportion our energies and manage risk with great care. 
I met a friend in the street recently, who’d been active in a campaign around violence against women. You’ve been busy, I said. Yes, he said, I’ll be glad to get back to normal. And I realised that for women, there is often no ‘normal’ like his to get back to. Certainly not for me. I don’t see myself as a victim – I’m too committed to problem solving. But because ‘normal’ is living among actual and attempted violation of women, like many women I’m very careful to expose myself to more risk only when I have appropriate support in place.
This post is a continuation of that conversation with Matthew. It also attempts to understand the mechanisms that institutions use to compromise the well-being of women and girls, even when those women and girls know how to care for themselves. This is a #longread. It moves from Air New Zealand to the New Zealand International Film Festival to conditions around the insertion and removal of vaginal mesh. It's also a tiny tribute to Jacqui Scott and the Mesh Warriors and Mesh Angels around the world who continue to support her quest for survival and health.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Jennifer Kent & 'The Babadook'

Jennifer Kent
Another wonderful interview from Le Deuxième Regard's newsletter, with many thanks to them. Australian Jennifer Kent's The Babadook is touring New Zealand in the New Zealand International Film Festival – other international release dates below.

The Babadook goes very deep into the themes of insanity and motherhood. How did this story come to you?

I've always felt passionately about the need to face the difficulties of life. Facing the darkness, I feel, actually allows us to more fully embrace the joys as well. I think in some cases, suppressing difficulties can also be the catalyst for mental illness. Keeping all this in mind, I was fascinated to explore a character who was suppressing her difficulties, and in particular, one very traumatic event. I wanted to see where this denial and suppression would take her. This is how the story began for me.

Having said that, I never felt judgemental towards Amelia for suppressing. She had suffered enormously and it made sense she wanted to run as far as she could from her pain. No human being wants to feel pain and Amelia is no different. But my point with her story is that you can only run for so long before what is plaguing you must be faced. You can keep denying, but you'll have to face the consequences of that denial.

Re: Motherhood, I wasn't consciously focused on including that to be honest. It just sort of grew out of my core idea. My inclusion of the young child fit this very strong feeling I have that if we suppress darkness, we don't just hurt ourselves; we can also do enormous damage to those around us. And what worse damage can be done than by a mother to her child?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

#DirectedByWomen - A Global Celebration

As you know, globally, women make far fewer films than men do. And those that we do make often have inadequate marketing budgets and are not well distributed, so often our potential audiences don’t hear about them. This means – as you also know – that it’s very very easy for women directors to be isolated from one another and for traditions of women’s filmmaking to remain partial and fragmented. This is how renowned British director Andrea Arnold described her experience, a few years back–
I always notice how few [films by women] there are at film festivals. I went to Créteil International Women’s Film Festival in France with Wasp [for which she won an Academy Award] in 2004, stayed on for a few days and watched all these films by women. I spent the whole time crying because there were so many films that had so much resonance for me, being female. It actually made me realise how male-dominated the film industry is in terms of perspective. If you think about a film being a very popular and expressive way of showing a mirror on life, we’re getting a mainly male perspective. It’s a shame. I saw a lot of fantastic films at Créteil that I never heard about again. 
Among multiple strategies to bring ‘lost’ films and their women directors into public consciousness, some women create lists of women directors and their work.

Destri Martino is the first director I know of to create this kind of list and I love her current Pinterest board. Beti Ellerson has developed a huge database at African Women in Cinema which includes directors, often represented in video interviews and blog posts. Yvonne Welbon has a list of African American women film directors on Sisters in Cinema. Nordic Women in Film is launching its major site about Nordic women film workers, including directors, in 2015. I have a New Zealand list here.

There are also Wikipedia lists. One has links to individual entries. One lists Indian women directors. There are probably more lists there that I haven’t seen.

Some film sites have lists of women-directed films, too. On those I can access easily here in New Zealand, Ally the Manic List Maker has made a list of films directed by women on MUBI, over 1400 films. And there’s a list of women-directed films on Indiereign.

And now there’s Barbara Ann O’Leary’s work. She’s created Women Film Directors: Active in the Past Decade, on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). It currently runs at 5,326.

Barbara’s next step is Directed by Women, a worldwide celebration of women directors, September 1-15, 2015, a global viewing party. It's a visionary idea, I reckon.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Anoushka Klaus, from 'Jake'

Anoushka Klaus (photo: Sacha Stejko)

I'm fascinated by actors and how they shift into other roles in filmmaking, especially writing. Anoushka Klaus is a recent find. She's appeared in Shortland Street and Nothing Trivial, in lots of theatre (including Girl In Tan Boots, F*ck Love, Golden Boys and The Sex Show) and in three features, including Bloodlines, written by Donna Malane and Paula Boock (Best Script NZWG awards 2010) and directed by Peter Burger.

Anoushka produced her latest feature, Jake, a sci-fi movie just out in New Zealand. Jake will be playing at the Paramount in Wellington from 11 July, when there'll be a Q & A session hosted by Jonathan King. It's had great reviews–
'Imaginative and endlessly witty.' – Sarah Watt Sunday Star Times
'The smartest bit of low-fi high-IQ science fiction New Zealand has produced.' – David Larsen Listener
'An entertaining and insightful slice of Twilight Zone-ish fun.' Dominic Corry

Tell me a little bit about your pathways, as an actor, and from acting to producing.

I came to acting via a somewhat different route than most, so my journey is actually in the reverse – producing to acting. I always wanted to be an actor but while I was at university I had put on weight and lost the confidence I needed to pursue acting properly. I had an agent and I was creating and performing in plays, singing and dancing publicly but for some reason pursuing acting professionally just became too scary so I turned to directing and producing my own short films for a few years as it seemed the closest I could get to acting without 'acting'.

Then, as fate would have it, I decided to do Meisner as a means of becoming a 'better director' and by the end of the first class I knew I was kidding myself. This was around the time I met Alastair. Al and I were both working at Images & Sound and he was doing the titles for a short film I'd made when he invited me to join Hybrid for their weekend 'filmmaking practices'.

When Jake first came up, I was going to be a much smaller role but we entered the 48hour film competition right before we went into casting and on the strength of my performance Doug offered me the role of Violet.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gaylene Preston on Her Earthquake Experiences

In an hour the first of three ninety-minute episodes of Gaylene Preston's Hope and Wire will debut on New Zealand television. 

When I saw half of tonight's episode, a while back, I liked how it seemed to bring ALL of Gaylene's skills and experience together in one space in an interesting example of media convergence. Gaylene as a veteran writer/director/producer. Gaylene as doco maker and oral historian. Gaylene as creator of screen fiction. (And Gaylene as enthusiastic community member. As highly politicised community member.)

If you're not familiar with her work, think of Gaylene as a kind of New Zealand Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Hard Times). Or Alison Bechdel (Dykes To Watch Out For, Fun Home, Are You My Mother?). Or our very own Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, Nashville). I think Hope and Wire may be the work she will be most remembered for.

The run-up to the screening has been quite a trip for Gaylene; she's needed her hard hat. I've been collecting the press articles here and am delighted to reprint one of them, Gaylene's personal earthquakes story. And I think my mate will like it too. The one who used to live in Christchurch. The one who just texted me about wanting and not wanting to watch Hope and Wire. Thanks, GP!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

From The Lighthouse – the Swedish Film Institute's Anna Serner

Anna Serner

I love Le Deuxième Regard, the French network for cinema professionals that aims to challenge ideas about about the place of women in cinema. It's the group (remember?) that made history with the Charte Pour l’Égalité Entre Les Femmes et Les Hommes Dans Le Secteur Du Cinéma, the Charte de l’Égalité for short. This year, it continued its good work within a strong collaborative publishing programme programme from Cannes.

Le Deuxième Regard also produces an excellent monthly newsletter. This month's newsletter features an interview with Anna Serner, director of the Swedish Film Institute, that legendary state funding body where where gender equity policies are more developed than anywhere else in the world – it's a lighthouse for every woman filmmaker in a country which has a state film fund (it also keeps track of gender statistics in some other countries) and maybe a lighthouse for all the other film funds, too. And the results of its policies are beginning to show, as in this year's list of nominations for the Guldbagge Awards.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Disappointment, Gratitude & A Call For Help



It's New Zealand International Film Festival (#nziff) Time! Again. I've asked if the festival will follow Cannes' example and release details about how many women-directed works were submitted this year. My request was passed on to the programmers. No response yet.

And now the New Zealand feature-length selections have been announced, plus a doco by Florian Habicht which was not on the initial list (perhaps there are more to come).

Five narrative features. Not one has a woman writer or director. Only one, Gerard Johnstone's Housebound, has a woman protagonist.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sophie Henderson and Fantail

Fantail opens in New Zealand cinemas this Thursday, 5 June. It’s the story of service station worker Tania, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who identifies as Maori, working to take her little bro Pi to Surfer’s to find their Dad. But flitting Pi causes plans to go awry. (The Maori myth of Hine-Nui-Te-Po, Maui and the fantail/piwakawaka is its starting point, see links below if you're unfamiliar with the story.)

Fantail was made through the New Zealand Film Commission’s low-budget Escalator scheme and it's been very successful. It premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival last year and screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where Level K snapped up the global rights (Curious Film has the Australian and New Zealand distribution rights). It received eight nominations at the New Zealand Film Awards 2013, including a nomination for Best Film. And the reviews are very enthusiastic, too, look at all those stars! I'm excited because Fantail has a woman protagonist – true for only 14% of New Zealand Film Commission-funded features over the last decade – and it's written by a woman, Sophie Henderson, who also plays the lead role.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jane Campion at #Cannes2014; & A series about Cannes and the Bechdel Test

There have been many reports of Jane Campion's statements at the Cannes press conference for the main jury, where she said, in response to a question about 'inherent sexism'–
There is some inherent sexism in the industry. Thierry Frémaux told us that us only 7% out of the 1,800 films submitted to the Cannes Film Festival were directed by women. He was proud to say that we had 20% in all of the programs. Nevertheless, it feels very undemocratic, and women do notice. Time and time again we don’t get our share of representation. Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys seem to eat all the cake. It’s not that I resent the male filmmakers. I love all of them. But there is something that women are thinking of doing that we don’t get to know enough about. It’s always a surprise when a woman filmmaker does come about.
But, as president of the jury, she's also been interviewed many times, and it seems that every time she's spoken, she's addressed the 'woman question'. Staunchly. Even in her speech on opening night. I've been collecting links here. And she's provided new information, a transparency that's unique to date. For instance, we've never before heard what proportion of films submitted to Cannes were directed by women.

In one interview, with Libération (a French daily newspaper founded in Paris by Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July in 1973 in the wake of the protest movements of May 1968), Jane Campion reveals that she suggested that the jury be all women. With help from Sue Sullivan – many thanks, Sue! – here's a translation of part of the published interview. We don't know whether the interview was originally in French or whether Libération translated from English, and now we've put it back into English, it's maybe a slightly different English. Whichever, we hope this is accurate.

Have Gilles Jacob and Thierry Frémaux provided you with rules that govern your presidency?

Ah yes, there are, how to say it... (she stands up) a kind of little regulation (she goes to rummage in her handbag and fishes out a folded paper, brings it back to our table, consults it briefly and refolds it). All the rules are made to be broken, I presume, like the fact that we mustn’t award a second Palme d’Or to a director who’s already had one, even though there are examples of this having been done. Someone also explained to me that if it’s difficult to choose between two contenders, it’s better to choose the one whose work will reach the largest audience… It’s an interesting question… (The idea that this isn’t necessarily her view flies into the silence.)

Have you contributed to the jury selection?

I had a conversation about this with Thierry. I mostly left it up to him, with his address book which is far superior to mine, saying to him that he should do what he wished. He asked me “Have you got enemies?” I don’t think so. (laughter) At some point, I suggested that he select a jury entirely of women. He didn’t respond.

Great idea though!

Yes, firstly because it would have been easy to find nine distinguished women, respected by everyone in the world of cinema. And it would have been interesting to imagine the contestants for the award asking how their films would be received by a jury of women. That would have been a change, because as a woman you spend your life asking yourself what the men are going to think of you and your work. I mentioned my idea to a male friend and he immediately replied “Oh no, that would be understood as a gender campaign.” That was an interesting response, too. There are sixteen male directors this year; it would have been amusing.

It looks like Jane Campion's sisterhood extends to the other women in the jury too (of course!). Here they are with Thierry Fremaux, on their way to view Alice Rohrwacher's Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), one of the two films by women in competition.

Cannes and the Bechdel Test

Also in Libération, a terrific Bechdel Test series, thanks to Tess Magazine, in partnership with Le Deuxième Regard, WIFT Sweden and Sweden's A-Rating. For next year, I'm going to improve my French!

New book of interviews with Jane Campion launched

And finally, I've just seen a report of a new book of interviews with Jane Campion, by Michel Ciment. The photo at the top is of Jane in conversation with Michel on Saturday. This one, of Jane in 1979, taken by John Lethbridge, ends the report. A lovely closing bracket. (And I'll be limping through the text of that report asap, lots more quotes there from this wonderful woman!)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Who Will Speak These Days, If Not I, If Not You?

It's been a while. I've been writing an essay for a book: Women Screenwriters: An International Guide, edited by Jill Nelmes and Jule Nelbo, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. I had to catch up with New Zealand women's screenwriting for features, and I've been wholly absorbed with that. What an amazing and talented and diverse group our women screenwriters are, and very generous with their time, answering my questionnaire, expanding on their responses by email, phone and in person. Asking me questions. I learned lots. Today's most interesting women screenwriter facts? In the last decade 14 percent of New Zealand Film Commission-funded feature films had female protagonists. But over 70 percent of my respondents' feature film scripts had female protagonists. Questionnaires are still coming in and I'll take another look at them all in a future post. Many thanks to Katalin Galambos for her help with the stats.

Now the chapter's done, except for editing conversations, and I'm back. With news of four books. And a poem. Like writing that chapter, in their various ways they remind me of Muriel Rukeyser's question in her poem The Speed of Darkness, which I've used as the title of this post. And of Jacqui Scott's involvement in courageous campaigns against the (ab)use of vaginal mesh and in a personal campaign to fund removal of the mesh inserted into her after she was raped.

First up– Celluloid Ceiling; Women Film Directors Breaking Through, edited by Gabrielle Kelly and Cheryl Robson, who both work in film, so it's not an 'academic' book. I'm still reading this and hope to interview the editors before too long. So far, I've most enjoyed a reprinted Ana Maria Bahiana interview with Kathryn Bigelow (from 1992). Look out for Sophie Mayer's review, forthcoming over at The F Word.

Then there's Bridget Conor's Creative Labor and Professional Practice. I haven't it yet seen but am looking forward to a careful read. It "analyzes the histories, practices, identities and subjects which form and shape the daily working lives of screenwriters" and includes a chapter on inequalities. Bridget's a New Zealander, whose earlier analysed the political economy of the New Zealand film industry and the ‘runaway production’ phenomenon in the context of the filming of The Lord of The Rings trilogy.

I read some of Helen Rickerby's Cinema in Unity Books and loved it. Am debating whether to buy these poems and probably will, though I own only a couple of dozen books and rarely buy them. Here's Paula Green's review, which is better than anything I could write.

Then there's Snakes' I Hate Plot. 'Snakes' is New Zealand filmmaker Rachel Davies and I Hate Plot is astonishing and breathtaking and gave great thumps to my heart. I read it in a single gulp and decided that Rachel is New Zealand's Nora Ephron, but without anxiety about how her neck looks. The title story alone is a must read for any woman with connections to the film 'world'. I think I Hate Plot is an instant classic, and now it's forever grouped in my mind with Virginia Woolf's A Room of Her Own and Tillie Olsen's Silences and Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider. You can download a Kindle edition for free until Monday (U.S time). But if you want to read any of these books, why not order them from your local bookshop?

Finally, Fiona Lovatt's #bringbackourgirls poem. Fiona lives and works in Nigeria and is one of my heroines. Another New Zealander.

Night After Night

Night after night after night
They drop the K: no knights.
No chivalry. No rescue.

Night after night after night
The girls remain in the forest
While submarines sweep the ocean
Searching for a black box.

Night after night after night
Women's stories, women's lives
Rank as nothing without heels

So we wear red today
We march today
We weep today
We ask today for
Knight after knight

To saddle up

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sophie Hyde on '52 Tuesdays' & a whole lot more...

Australian women directors did brilliantly at Sundance. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, a horror about a single mother losing her grip on reality, enjoyed rave reviews and will be distributed in the United States and Latin America. Ashlee Page won a prestigious Sundance Institute | Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award (given in recognition and support of emerging independent filmmakers from around the world), for her single character feature Archive. And Sophie Hyde won the Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic for 52 Tuesdays (for which she co-wrote the story with the screenwriter, Matthew Cormack). 52 Tuesdays then won a Crystal Bear, for the Best Youth Film, at the Berlinale.

Sophie Hyde & her Silver Bear
52 Tuesdays' logline is '16-year-old Billie’s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender transition and their time together becomes limited to Tuesday afternoons'. And although it’s a drama, not a documentary, it was shot chronologically every Tuesday for a year: the filmmakers set themselves a rule, that they could only shoot on Tuesdays up until midnight and only consecutively, so whatever filmed on that day is what happens in the story on that day. All the actors are non-professionals. Before 52 Tuesdays, Sophie directed three narrative shorts and a short documentary and co-directed Life in Movement, a feature documentary about choreographer Tanja Liedtke. She’s also a writer and producer.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Making Noise, Hearing Noise, by Pip Adam

Lake Bell’s In A World… is a film about voice. Which, if you stop to think about it for even a second, is a pretty odd thing. We watch movies, we go to see them. Film is a ‘visual’ medium. This strange transplant of an audial mode in a visually-dominated domain made me think about the noises we make and how these are heard.

In A World...’s protagonist Carole Solomon (Lake Bell) is a voice coach and daughter of the successful voice artist, Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed). The film begins with the death of the real Don LaFontaine voice of over 5,000 movie trailers and inseparable from the phrase ‘In a world…’. With the appearance of LaFontaine, movie trailers are positioned as the pinnacle of voice acting work. Which makes you think, When was the last time I heard a woman voicing a movie trailer?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Lauzen-Silverstein Test

One of Walt Hickey's tables

Yesterday, a man called Walt Hickey published his excellent analysis of The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women. Sure, in stating that 'Movies that are female-driven do not travel...maybe with the exception of Sandra Bullock' and that 'recently, Hollywood has been able to boast about the success of female-dominated films in the marketplace', he and his informants seem to have forgotten, for example, that Meryl Streep films travel superbly well. And have been doing so for years. And, as Alice Lytton points out in her lovely response, the money's just part of the story.

But the article does show that using the Bechdel Test as a default measure for how women are represented in films doesn't work. I treasure films that – consciously or unconsciously – embrace the Bechdel Test and run with it and am always happy when even a short sequence in a film passes the test. But all the Bechdel Test can do is measure whether two women in the film talk to each other about something other than men. Cherishing women's conversations about something other than men is important. I hope that the Swedish A-Rating idea becomes embedded in cinema-going round the world to remind us of this. However, it's necessary to find other ways to measure how women are represented on screen.

Melissa Silverstein, with a hat-tip to Martha Lauzen, has just suggested a new form of measurement, with these criteria–
1) Does the film have a female lead or leads?

2) Does the woman/women have agency in her/their life, i.e., is she a real and meaningful character?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

News From The Front LIne

Haifaa al-Mansour on set
There's been some amazing reading this week, from women who are both practitioners (screenwriters, actors, directors) and activists. Courageous inventive women, whose tweets I follow avidly. They're all problem solvers. They analyse the problems that face diverse women who want to participate in filmmaking, as the storytellers. They experiment with ways to address those problems. They inspire me. I love them!

First, Kate Kaminski's remarkable Rocking the Boat: A Call for Solidarity. Kate makes films and is co-director of The Bluestocking series, the only Bechdel Test film fest I know of. Her call isn't new. Almost exactly five years ago, for example, Women & Hollywood published A Young Voice From The Trenches that also questioned how women in film undermine other women. But Kate also provides suggestions about how we can make a difference. This week, Kate started a new Pinterest board, Action! Women Directing, Women Shooting!, too. (Twitter Kate, Bluestocking Films)

Then Anatomy: The Making of Wadjda, by Haifaa al-Mansour. It has a hidden treasure, an embedded pdf that details problems and solutions from making her marvellous Wadjda. (Twitter)

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. 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

Friday, February 7, 2014

Francine Raveney & the European Women's Audiovisual Network

In the last few years, legislative, public film funds and activist initiatives have begun to transform conditions for European women who write and direct feature films.

Sweden’s the frontrunner. The Swedish Film Institute’s gender initiatives are backed by the Swedish 2013 Film Agreement, which requires the institute to allocate its total funds equally to women and men in each of the three professional categories – director, screenwriter and producer, by the end of 2015. It took a while for the institute’s initiatives to develop and to take effect, but the latest nominations for the institute's annual Guldbagge film awards are rich with the names of women writers and directors. There are many other film initiatives by Swedish groups and individuals, who seem mutually supportive: the Doris Film network, founded in 1999, Wanda Bendjelloul who watches only films that women direct, the cross-sector groups that generated the A-Rating system and the strong Swedish Women in Film & Television network.  The Stockholm International Film Festival’s provides a (globally unique?) Feature Film Award, to fund a Swedish woman director's second feature. And this collective environment nourishes women from outside Sweden too. Women-directed work won Best Film at the Stockholm International Film Festival six times in the last decade: Lucile Hadžihalilović's Innocence; Laurie Collyer's Sherrybaby; Courtney Hunt's Frozen River; Debra Granik's Winter's Bone; Cate Shortland's Lore; Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant.

Johan Fröberg (Swedish Film Institute), Emily Mann (Skillset, UK), 
Tomas Tengmark & Git Scheynius (director Stockholm International Film Festival)
Brainstorming meeting Cannes 2013
Other European states and public funding bodies and activists are also moving forward. France now has its unique Charte d’Egalité, an innovative, activist-led, collaboration between the state, the industry and activists. Eurimages, the pan-European film funding body, provides excellent data about the genders of applicants for its funding and about the successful applicants and will shortly announce new measures to promote equality.

There are also many and varied studies, conversations and alliances, often generated via women's film festivals  like Elles Tournent in Brussels, Films de Femmes in Creteil, The Flying Broom in Ankara, and the International Dortmund| Cologne Film Festival,  which founded the International Women's Film Festival Network in association with the Athena Film Festival in New York. In some countries, these initiatives are supported by the local Women in Film & Television chapter.

There are new networks in Romania and a range of existing networks are growing stronger all the time, like Austria's FC Gloria  and Women in Film and TV UK and MICA, the professional network for Ibero-American women in the film and audiovisual industry (in Spain and Portugal as well as Latin America).

One of the most exciting developments is the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA). EWA came out of the work of the Spanish Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media Professionals (CIMA), founded by women directors almost a decade ago. CIMA called a pan-European meeting in 2010, where participants created the Compostela Declaration. This led to the establishment of EWA later that year. At the end of 2012 EWA obtained an independent legal association status.

Early last year, EWA established its base in Strasbourg, France, to be close to key partner European institutions including the European Audiovisual Observatory, the European Parliament, Eurimages and the Council of Europe, the Franco-German broadcaster ARTE, the région d’Alsace and the Communauté Urbaine de Strasbourg, the local city authority, which is normally very supportive of pan-European initiatives – although EWA is also wondering about having an office in Brussels. Francine Hetherington Raveney was appointed as Director at the same time as the new statutes were drafted in January 2013.

EWA is now an independent pan-European non-profit organisation spanning 47 European countries, with a complex, super-informative website. It has its own executive body, headed by Isabel de Ocampo, with Zeynep Ozbatur (Head of the Turkish Producer’s Association) and the Spanish director Paula Ortiz as Vice-Presidents and Isabel Castro, Deputy Executive Director of Eurimages, as its new treasurer, an advisory board of pan-European industry experts, a growing number of country ambassadors and a dedicated executive team. It is backed by the Swedish Film Institute, the Norwegian Film Institute and the Dutch Film Fund and has been supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre and the Hungarian Cultural Centre of Berlin. It is also working closely with many other state film funds, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland among others.

How did it manage all this in a comparatively short time? Francine Raveney agreed to answer some questions, just before an exciting EWA programme at the Berlinale.

Francine Raveney

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Isabel Coixet

Isabel Coixet (photo: Mauricio Retiz)

Spanish women directors are amazing. I love them. They make lots of films that we don't see enough of outside Spain (see women nominated in Spain's Goya Awards 2014 here, for some of the most recent). And – I believe – they're collectively the most activist group of directors in the world. Spanish women directors founded CIMA (Asociacion de Mujeres Cineastas y de Medios Audiovisuales), and then EWA, the European Women's Audiovisual Network, which is going from strength to strength – an interview with EWA's director Francine Hetherington Raveney, coming soon.

Isabel Coixet is one of the visionary directors involved with CIMA, EWA's current president and director of seven features and many shorts, docos and commercials. She was a member of the Camera d’Or jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and her latest film, Panda Eyes, is due for release shortly. This is what Isabel says on the EWA site–
Every time I teach in a film school I face the same challenge: How to teach girls to believe that they really can be film directors, that they will be able to reach their goals and their dreams, when I know very well it`s going to be much more difficult for them than for the boys? I always use a very graphic example: the film industry is like a rocky mountain; boys climb the mountain with boots and sticks, girls must climb naked except for a pair of really high heels and a suitcase full of stones.

For a man, directing a movie is a fierce challenge, for a woman it is like winning the lottery. There`s also something very upsetting, something we must fight every single day: the cultural dismissal of women is so ingrained that the public, including some women, don`t seem to perceive a problem.

What do we need? What we really need is to change our cultural attitude towards women 180 degrees. We need Female super heroes. We need Big budgets. We need the right to be bitchy if we feel like it. We need to stop apologising for being bitchy. We need to alert the audience, if they are not watching films directed by women, they are missing the point of view of the other half of mankind (did I say 'mankind’?)

EWA can't change the mountain, but we will try to make women much better prepared for the climbing. At least the suitcase will be lighter and we'll be able to wear our Louboutins when we get to the top.
Irresistible! So of course I asked EWA if I could cross-post this interview between Isabel and Francine Raveney. Warm thanks to you, Isabel and Francine!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Moving Forward?

Meryl Streep & Emma Thompson have fun
This year feels like a turning point. Many countries with state film funding are now recording gender data about their funding and making it public. This data verifies whether women writers and directors are attached to projects that apply for public funds for filmmaking (and encourages questions if they are not); and whether taxpayer funds are allocated equally to projects directed by women. And the data so far confirms that except in Sweden the allocation of funds is inequitable. In some of the countries that keep data, notably Sweden and France, institutions and activists are experimenting with multiple strategies for increasing the numbers of women-written and -directed feature films (see below). In Sweden, where gender equity policies are most developed, the list of nominees for the Swedish Film Institute's 19-category 2014 Guldbagge Awards is full of women's names, so it seems that those strategies are beginning to work.

In the United States, where there is no contestable state film funding, various academics and organisations now present data and analysis about American women screenwriters and directors. Many individuals and organisations also experiment with strategies for making change. In 2013 I was particularly impressed with the Academy Nicholl Fellowship's data-keeping and concern for diversity and with the The Black List and its Black Board community diversity debates, led by Shaula Evans.

And, even though there are few women-directed features coming out this year in the United States, the issues are being discussed more widely there. And by men, in unexpected places. Matthew Hamett Knott's Heroines of Cinema series in Indiewire culminated in  Heroines of Cinema: An A to Z of Women in Film in 2013 and continued this week with a feminist discussion of co-director credits in Heroines of Cinema: Kátia Lund, the Oscar-Nominated Director Who Never Was. Ramin Setoodeh wrote Hollywood Sexist? Female Directors Still Missing in Action in Variety recently. And the other day Bennett Marcus of Vanity Fair was the only writer to report verbatim Meryl Streep's and Emma Thompson's wonderful speeches at the National Board of Review gala, under the headline: Meryl Streep Slams Walt Disney, Celebrates Emma Thompson as a 'Rabid, Man-Eating Feminist'.

New Zealand, alas, is way behind all this – almost six years after the then-CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission acknowledged that it has a gender problem, nothing has changed there. And when I look back on my posts in 2013 I notice a shift of emphasis that reflects my feelings with this dispiriting situation and the reality that 95% of Wellywood Woman readers come from outside Australasia.

I've posted more often on Pinterest, here and here. I've interviewed more practitioners and activists outside New Zealand, written more in-depth posts about my own shifts in thinking, often linked to my Muriel Rukeyser project, Throat of These Hours. I've begun to include guest posts, and what a pleasure they've been! And it's been wonderful to have exceptional access to direct and generous advice about how to work, from Ava DuVernay in an inspiring video and Jane Campion in a group of equally inspiring workshops. So here's a wee roundup. A big thank you to everyone who contributed in 2013. The posts with asterisks are among the top ten most-read posts ever (I'm always surprised when one post becomes more popular than others).

Interviews with Practitioners  (in alphabetical order)
Would like to do lots more. There's a wonderful diversity out there and all kinds of innovative ways of working.

Annie Collins: NZ editor extraordinaire, on doco Gardening With Soul and the principles that drive her work
CampbellX and her Stud Life feature
*Dana Rotberg, director of Tuakiri Huna/ White Lies
Dragging Our Heads Back– Throat of These Hours composer Christine White
Laura Thies – An Inspiring German Director
Min Young Yoo and Cho De|Invitation at Venice
Nathalie Boltt, Clare Burgess & The Silk
Robin Lung and her Finding Kukan doco

Interviews with Activists
I've tried to elicit information that will help others who seek models that work for women. More coming.

The A-Rating for Activists – interview with Swedish activist Ellen Tejle
The Bitch Pack and the Bitch List – interview with activist Thuc Nguyen
*French Feminists Make History – interview with activist Bérénice Vincent of the French activist group Le Deuxième Regard
The London Feminist Film Festival and its Director Anna Read

Guest Posts

Director and activist Maria Giese on 13 Myths Hollywood Uses to Discriminate Against Women Directors and Women Directors Can Sue Everyone
Actress and activist Belinde Ruth Stieve and Women Behind the Camera in Germany
Actress Jennifer Ehle on Kathryn Bigelow


Ava DuVernay

Jane Campion's Workshops #1 - Starting Out
Jane Campion's Workshops #2 – Negative Capability, by Sophie Mayer
Jane Campion's Workshops #3 – My Notes
Jane Campion's Workshops #4 – Participants Speak

My Own Work
In 2012, after a Teju Cole workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters, I published a long piece called 'The Singer May Be Innocent; Never The Song', about subtle influences that may undermine women writers and directors, even in environments that otherwise welcome them. In 2013 I explored similar themes in a series of posts, in this blog and elsewhere. Here's a chronological list, in case you have similar obsessions.

*They Might Have Completely Forgotten Us
*Zero Dark Thirty: The Director As Backing Singer?
*Under-Representation In Screenwriting (again)
The Audience, Media Convergence & Audiences (probably the post closest to my heart because it's about problem-solving)
Throat of These Hours: The Verifiable and the Unverifiable
*Beyond 'Career'
Running on the Spot
*Sharing The Love

Looking forward, 2014 feels like a year for finishing things – Throat of These Hours, a novella. And maybe closing off the Development Project. But it's been such a rich and transformative experience that it's hard to let go. I may just take some elements forward in a different way.

New Zealand, summer 2014. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Saving Mr. Disney: A Lesbian Perspective By Carolyn Gage

To stay focused when I'm writing intensively, I go to the movies in the afternoons. It's a kind of meditation that includes the walk down the hill to the cinema and back up again afterwards. And a few weeks ago, I saw three women-directed movies in three days: Rama Burshtein's Fill The Void, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's Inch'Allah and Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. Maybe things have changed, I thought to myself, ever optimistic. But I also noticed that men wrote and directed Catching Fire, from a novel by a woman, about a young woman and produced by a woman. And then I read Vocativ's analysis of 2013's 50 top-grossing US releases. This shows that almost half were Bechdel Test-passing films and that they did better at the US box office than those that weren't. BUT except for Frozen, which Jennifer Lee co-directed (and wrote) men directed all 50. And then at the weekend, all three of the new releases reviewed in our local paper (with enthusiasm) told stories that centred on women– August: Osage County; Philomena; Gloria. And men wrote and directed all of those too. And today Monica Bartyzel published a fine piece about films to be released in the United States in 2014. Of 149 films, there are only six that women directed (I'm thrilled that one of them is a new Niki Caro: McFarland). It's great that at last investors recognise the power of women as audiences and are backing films about women. But yet again, it looks like women writers and directors are missing out.

And there are other ongoing issues too, as Carolyn Gage shows here. I hesitated to to ask Carolyn if I could cross-post this because women wrote
Saving Mr Banks (directed by a man). But I love her analysis and as a woman writer I'm interested in what we do when we work in an environment dominated by men, where women and our stories are often misrepresented, if represented at all. Many thanks to you, Carolyn!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Women Directors Can Sue Everyone!' A Short Play by Maria Giese

It's summer solstice here and the long summer break has begun. It's been a busy year for women's film activists around the world. And sometimes a hopeful year. So much research and discussion and interconnection. But not yet enough films, though there are occasional exceptions. For instance, last week the Dubai International Film Festival programmers announced that women directed 40% of the films they selected for their Arab programme segments. 

'Women Directors Can Sue Everyone!' is, I believe, an important piece about the potential for legal action by women directors and about the role of the null hypothesis, from director and activist Maria Giese – more about her below. It seems a good way to end the year, pointing to a possible direction for the year(s) to come, although what 'suing' means may be very different outside the United States legal system.  The DGA is the Directors Guild of America, the guild that represents the interests of film and television directors in the United States. Many thanks, Maria. 

Warm thanks to all of you who've read Wellywood Woman and commented, tweeted, phoned, Skyped and emailed me this year. And a special thank you to each of you who have guest posted or taken part in an interview: you've been delights! Every good wish for 2014. – Marian

'Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to direct'

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Women Behind the Camera in Germany, by Belinde Ruth Stieve

Germany has a huge and influential film industry, but till very recently there has been very little information available about women's participation in it, as storytellers. The state funders – as in New Zealand – appear not to record gender statistics and certainly do not make them public. The European Women's Audiovisual Network (EWA) is aware of the lack of data in Germany and is working with the relevant authorities to change this situation. But in the meantime, Belinde Ruth Stieve has published a series of articles in her blog SchspIN, about women's participation in the industry, in German and in English. 

Here's an edited version of two of Belinde's posts about women behind the camera and about the need for a German version of France's Charte d'Egalité (links below). Many thanks to her. 

For weeks I've been planning it and now finally it’s done. Here are some statistics on female filmmakers behind the camera in commercially successful and award-nominated German movies and television films.

I've evaluated four groups of German fictional films from 2012: top-grossing films in German cinemas, nominations for the German Film Awards, top audience TV productions and nominations for the Grimme TV Award. And I've recorded the participation of women in 11 departments: direction, script, production, cinematography, sound, production design, costume design, make up, editing, casting and music. To do this, I've used the websites of Deutscher Filmpreis/German Film Award, Grimme TV Award, ARD-Tatorte (these are the most successful TV productions every year, a crime investigation series), Crew United, IMDB, the websites of individual films and Wikipedia. From these sources alone it was not possible to discover all the participants, but all gaps were closed after mail or telephone inquiries, except for one position: that of the set production of one TV film.