Sunday, September 25, 2016

WARU: Breaking the Silence

WARU l to r Chelsea Winstanley, Katie Wolfe, Briar Grace-Smith, Paula W. Jones, Ainsley Gardiner, Renae Maihi, Casey Kaa, Awanui  Simich-Pene (not shown, Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu)

If you're excited by Ava DuVernay's work, especially her Queen Sugar series, entirely directed by women, and by We Do It Together and its Together Now, seven short films in one (1), you'll want to know about WARU.

Māori women excel in the literary world, as writers of fiction and poetry and as playwrights. They've also made many short films and docos and television programmes. But only two Māori women have directed feature films: Ramai Hayward directed 1972's To Love a Māori, with her husband Rudall, and Merata Mita directed Mauri in 1988. WARU ('Eight'), responds to that history with a powerful, collaborative and change-making intervention.

WARU is an 80-minute feature produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton of  Brown Sugar Apple Grunt and now in post-production. It follows the lives of eight women connected by a single event. Shot over eight days, each episode of WARU has a different director and follows a different character in a self-contained 10 minute vignette, told in real time, and shot in a single take.

This weekend, the WARU group presented at Aotearoa New Zealand's annual Big Screen Symposium, an event about screens large and small. From these tweets I learned their presentation was amazing (no surprise!). I'm sad I missed it but will be first in line to buy a ticket when WARU reaches cinemas.

And the excitement about WARU is even more of a special delight because until now we haven't had a recent collaborative model of women's filmmaking like this here, although there's a small Film Fatales group and there are several groups of women making fictional webseries, some, like WARU, funded by New Zealand on Air.

The nine women of WARU represent just a few of the highly skilled, and experienced Māori women writers and directors available and ready to go global. Look out for their movies over the next few years! Look out too for the television series that I imagine they'll make!


And in other announcements from The Big Screen Symposium, New Zealand On Air is calling for submissions re its new funding strategy. If you want to submit and need more background about New Zealand On Air and gender, just scroll down to 'NZOA' here. (Note, in the year covered by its 2016 diversity report, no Māori woman had directed any television drama.)

And some reported statements from the CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission–

Fingers crossed both organisations formulate plans that work well, for Māori women and for a diverse cross-section of all women who live here.  I hope they take advice from the Swedish Film Institute's Anna Serner, particularly re targets and dealing with bias, and from Ava DuVernay if she is here to film A Wrinkle in Time and has a moment.

I hope they take Jill Soloway's words to heart, too–
I’ve been dealing with what white cis men have been projecting about their fantasies about how women should behave since I was a child. We've all had to perform within those expectations for access to their tools, money, success. People of color have as well, of course. Trans people have especially, forcibly, violently been expected to conform to cis males' ideas about life—often by penalty of death if they don't stay under that radar.

Until trans people have more narrative representation, until women have more representation, until people of color have more representation, we absolutely have to be asking people of privilege—especially white cis men — to curtail their desire to project their notions of Otherness onto the characters they create and, instead, provide opportunities to trans, queer, female, Black artists and simply step away from the steering wheel.
'Step away from the steering wheel' is an excellent suggestion? Those who do will be pleasantly surprised, I reckon.

(1) Together Now is seven short films in one, each pairing a woman director with a prominent actress. The directors who have signed on include Robin Wright, Catherine Hardwicke, Katia Lund (City of GodAll the Invisible Children ), Patricia Riggen (The 33), Haifaa al Mansour (Wadjda), Malgorzata Szumowska (Elles) and Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce’s Formation).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Xuanyi Fu 傅煊贻 & Suicidal Female Protagonists in Chinese Narrative Films

Xuanyi Fu

Back in April, I was invited to speak at Resistance, backlash and power – Gender equality and feminist new practice in EU and global discourse, at the National Centre for Research on Europe at Canterbury University. Afterwards, Xuanyi Fu came and chatted. I was thrilled because her project excites me and I always love to hear more about women’s filmmaking in China. And now she's kindly answered these questions.

Where are you from and what’s your film background?

My name is Xuanyi Fu 傅煊贻. I was born in Chongqing, China. I did my bachelor degree in Cinematography at Sichuan The Fine Art Institute in China and I got my master degree with merit in Film and Screen Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London in the UK. I’m a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at the University of Canterbury. My supervisor, Adam Lam, is an expert in Chinese films, literature, language and culture, which is why I came to New Zealand.

What’s your thesis about? 

My thesis is about Narrative, Spectator, Sexuality and Aesthetics: A Study of Suicidal Female Protagonists in Chinese Narrative Films from 1990-2010. I focus on Chinese films and female roles in society, especially, what the function of female protagonist is and why she has to commit suicide in Chinese films; these questions inspired me to continue my research.

What have you learned so far?

At this stage, I am doing a case analysis: The Lovers (1994, Tsui Hark). I’m also considering what Chinese women’s love is in Chinese cinema. Does their gender relationship play an important role in the female protagonist’s decision to commit suicide?

When female protagonists commit suicide for their lovers, I have observed an interesting point, heterosexual love, so my research is concerned with the position of the female protagonist in heterosexual relationships.  I have read Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, and Chrys Ingraham’s Thinking Straight: the Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality in order to better understand how heterosexuality is a social construction.

Love contributes to the reproduction of heterosexual norms, according to Paul Johnson (1). Although there are theorists who declare that love is biologically ordained and subject to various evolutionary processes, love has been conceptualized and transformed to support normative heterosexual relationships and marriage as an institution.

What is the relationship between love and women in heterosexuality? Adrienne Rich states that woman has been woven into the ideology of romantic and sacred love by the male subject, who constructs the form of the female’s fantasy which corresponds to the male’s needs and desires in heterosexual love (2). Why does Rich point out the man as producer in this relationship?

Stevi Jackson responds to this question by pointing out that normative heterosexuality tends to be a male-dominated heterosexuality, while feminism posits heterosexuality as a hierarchical relation between men and women, within which heterosexual love is and has been produced and controlled by the male’s narcissism (3). If film is the representation of heterosexual love, does the dead woman signify the Other in the structure of Chinese films?

From Monique Wittig’s perspective, the discourse of heterosexuality relies on the heterosexual desire which restricts female identity (4). Heterosexuality does not distinguish between female and male desires, however, love builds up the male subject. Therefore the question arises: what is the function of the suicidal female character in the structure of narrative film, and does it or does it not follow the heterosexual desire?

In addition, Luce Irigaray’s ideas of phallogocentrism expose heterosexuality as a false dual structure. Irigaray considers heterosexuality to be an illusion of symmetric difference, consolidated around the metaphysics of the phallic logical center. The male controls the Other which exists on behalf of the male subject, and consequently women cannot be equal to men (5). Additionally, Irigaray points out that male fantasies are consolidated within a heterosexual relationship. The discourse of heterosexuality not only constructs these fantasies that correspond to fetish worship, but also establishes competition and contradiction within women’s relationships to each other. So is the female protagonist who commits suicide a man’s wish in The Lovers? Does the suicidal female protagonist show phallogocentrism in The Lovers?

What are the most important issues for Chinese women who write and direct feature films?

In Chinese cinema, only a few Chinese women can write and direct feature films. The main problem is that Chinese male directors occupy domestic and international markets; their films satisfy marketing and film industries’ needs. Men dominate Chinese cinema and as a result, Chinese women hardly get an opportunity to be in a position of influence; one could say that Chinese women are a vulnerable group in filmmaking.

It is quite difficult to find film organizations in China that support/fund female filmmakers, who produce films that utilize aspects of feminism and gender equality. Personally, I feel there is a distinction to be made between films made by women and films made by women who define themselves as feminists. If female directors/screenwriters are feminists, they would pay more attention to female perspectives, feminism and gender equality in film.

How does funding work there? Do you have something like the New Zealand Film Commission? Does it keep gender statistics?

Sorry, I don’t know this area.

Can you provide a list of Chinese women’s film festivals, and maybe a few details about them please? 

I reckon that women’s film festivals are very new and are still in an early stage in China so I couldn’t find a lot of information on websites, articles and books. These are film festivals that mainly focus on women, in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

China Women’s Film Festival (中国女性影展)
Location: Beijing
Short Description: China Women’s Film Festival is presented and hosted by China Women’s Film Festival Organizing Committee, dedicated to the exploration and promotion of Chinese female talents in all aspects of film industry, and promoting international communication as a platform.

Shanghai Pride Film Festival (上海骄傲节)
Location: Shanghai
Short Description: ShPFF is celebrating gender in all its forms, with films on transgender, non-binary and agender people, as well as a focus on queer women.

Reel Women Hong Kong (女影香港)
Location: Hong Kong
Short Description: Reel Women Hong Kong is dedicated to organizing Hong Kong’s first women's film festival.

Women Make Waves Taiwan (台湾国际女性影展)
Location: Taiwan
Short Description: Women Make Waves Taiwan aims to provide a perspective on humanities and the arts through film, gender diversity, a strong network between social groups, and the establishment of feminist film resources. It's a window for local filmmakers, and a platform for their international exposure.

Are there films and women filmmakers that you particularly recommend, especially if they’re widely available outside China?

I highly recommend Ann Hui On-Wah(许鞍华) , Song of the Exile(1990) (客途秋恨) and Joan Chen(陈冲), Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998) (天浴). Both of these films are widely available outside China, however, it is so difficult to find films and female filmmakers that are representative of female agency in Chinese cinema.

(1) Paul Johnson, Introduction, Love, Heterosexuality and Society (USA and Canada: Routledge, 2005), 2.
(2) Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in Journal of Women’s History. Volume. 15, Numbers 3, Johns Hopkins University Press. (2003): 14.
(3) Stevi Jackson, “Sexuality, Heterosexuality, and Gender Hierarchy,” in Thinking Straight: the Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality, ed. Chrys Ingraham (New York & London: Routledge, 2005), 22.
(4) Monique Wittig, “One Is Not Born A Woman,” in Feminist Theory Reader, eds. Carol R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2013), 247.
(5) Luce Irigary, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 68.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Women Are *Not* The Problem?

Writing buddy 1B sneaks in through the kitchen door. I don’t hear a thing.

A little later, she slides down the hall, pauses in the doorway of my work space and, because she’s like that, she poses, grinning at me over the top of my screen.

Kare, she says, throwing her arms wide. Jug’s on. Off your nono. A cuppa and a double feature at the Cuba Lighthouse. If we get going, there’s Florence Foster Jenkins followed by Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

I don’t move.

–It’s ten o’clock on a weekday morning, I say. I have to finish this. And I’ve seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

– So? You like watching them again with a mate, particularly avec moi.

– One more man-directed New Zealand movie with a male protagonist and I’ll die.

She shakes her head, beckons.

–I’ve been six hours on the road. Com’on, girl, a cuddle at least.

–I didn’t know you were coming.

–Because you don’t answer your ******* phones. Because you send out-of-the-office emails.

I shrug.

–I’m busy.

–Saw that the moment I walked in the door. You white girls. You get busy, and your kitchen is a tip and there’s nothing-in-the-fridge.

– So?

–I came prepared. Armed and dangerous, with almond croissants.

–I’m not eating sugar. Or wheat.

– **********. 1B is cross.

She edges round to look at the screen.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Natalie Wreyford: Radical Academic

Natalie Wreyford has a unique perspective, as an academic who was deeply embedded in the UK film industry for many years and is also politically very active. She held a senior role at the UK Film Council; commissioned one of the first reports into the lack of women screenwriters; read, advised on and script edited hundreds of film scripts; and worked with Academy Award-winners and those trying to get their first break.

Natalie is now Research Fellow on Calling the Shots:Women & Contemporary UK Film Culture, at the University of Southampton, where she co-authored Calling the Shots: Women working in key roles on UK films in production during 2015 (2016), and is the author of ‘Birds of a feather: informal recruitment practices and gendered outcomes for screenwriting work in the UK film industry’. Her PhD thesis, The gendered contexts of screenwriting work: Socialized recruitment and judgments of taste and talent in the UK film industry is online here.

A couple of years back you initiated the #wewantleia campaign. Can you write a little bit about that and what you learned from it?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ally Acker: An Update

Many cross-border conversations about #womeninfilm take place on Facebook now, rather than in blog comments or elsewhere online. This week, several of those conversations were about Geena Davis’ participation, as one of five executive producers and the ‘star’, according to imdb, of Tom Donahue’s Untitled Geena Davis/Gender in Media Documentary. And the conversations were notable for their rich diversity of viewpoints, because there’s now a rich diversity of #womeninfilm activists (including some men), many of us also filmmakers.

And as I enjoyed the debate, I recalled Ally Acker’s project, Reel Herstory, with Jodie Foster and wondered if she had asked Geena Davis to participate in any way. I also recalled that this year at Cannes, one of the few features directed by women was The Women Who Run Hollywood/ Et la femme créa Hollywood, by sisters Julia and Clara Kuperberg.

Clara and Julia Kuperberg

Time for an update, I thought. Just a little one. ‘Nothing too long or demanding, just updating,’ I emailed to Ally, whom I interviewed for Wellywood Woman almost two years ago — she’s always super-busy. Back came this wonderful response.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Women-Directed Docos About Women Directors

Because of the news about Geena Davis' involvement in Tom Donahue's project about women directors, and the very interesting Facebook conversations it stimulated, I'm collecting info about women-directed docos about women directors. Some are finished. Others are in progress. Each is to be treasured. What have I missed?

On the list so far–
Ally Acker's Reel Herstory 
Amy Adrion's Half the Picture 
Another Gaze's  (Dorothy Allen-Pickard & Daniella Shreir's) In Conversation With 
Beti Ellerson's Sisters of the Screen 
Cady McClain's Seeing is Believing: Women Direct
Caroline Suh's The 4%: Film's Gender Problem 
Julia & Clara Kuperberg's The Women Who Run Hollywood/ Et la femme créa Hollywood 
Jennifer Dean'The 2d Sense & the 7th Art 
Louise Hutt's Online Heroines  
Yvonne Welbon's Sisters in Cinema (thanks for the headsup on this one, HerFilm)
Yvonne Welbon's Sisters in the Life (Yvonne's current project, on the history of black lesbian media makers)

(Just click on the pic to go to the full FB post and add your two bits.)

I'm also very interested in fictional movies about women making movies. My big ambition is to see Julie Dash's Illusionsavailable only through the fabulous Women Make Movies and a little costly for me because Women Make Movies is geared to an educational market: bring on an online, all-territory women's-film-distribution-service! I believe there are more on similar themes out there, so if you know of any, please let me know!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Alison Maclean's 'The Rehearsal' is opening very soon!

So Alison Maclean's The Rehearsal will have its international premiere in New Zealand, at the New Zealand International Film Festival, in July. It goes on general release in New Zealand in late August and then off round the world, I hope.

The Rehearsal is Alison's third and long-awaited feature. She also wrote the script, with Emily Perkins, from Booker Award-winning Eleanor Catton’s first novel. It is produced by her long-time collaborator Bridget Ikin, with Trevor Haysom. “I wanted it to be an intimate, authentic experience of what it’s like to be a young person in New Zealand now,” said Alison, according to the festival’s announcement.

Alison also made the classic Kitchen Sink, that debuted in Cannes in 1989 and won lots of awards. In the early 90s, after making her first feature, Crush, which played in Competition at Cannes, she disappeared to the northern hemisphere, where she made a second award-winning feature, Jesus’ Son; and directed lots of commercials and some shorts, as well as episodes of Sex and the City, Carnivale, The L-Word, Homicide and The Tudors. She also co-directed Persons of Interest, a series of interviews with New York Arabs and Muslims detained on immigration charges after September 11th 2001.

Here’s more about The Rehearsal, from the festival’s site. And just look at that cast!–
Unpacking the dramas that energise a class of budding young actors, The Rehearsal mounts an enticing inquisition of performance, identity and moral anxiety with resonance far beyond its hothouse setting. 

James Rolleston [from Boy, The Dark Horse, The Dead Lands] vanishes into the part of Stanley, a naive newcomer drawn to the city by his passion to make it on stage. While his new best friends indulge in wilder stuff, gentle Stanley tentatively romances 15-year-old Isolde (Ella Edward). 
His sweet dreams may have found their nemesis in Hannah (Kerry Fox [o wow!]), the school’s grandstanding senior tutor. Students must deconstruct themselves, she contends, before they can play at being anybody else. Stanley gradually bends to her taunting style, until, in one of the dazzling turns that stud the film, he earns her applause with a hilarious, treacherously accurate impersonation of his salesman father. Even murkier waters await when his class decides that a sex scandal involving Isolde’s older sister (Alice Englert [remember her from Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa?and, in a lovely New Zealand connection, Jane Campion’s daughter]) should be intensively researched for their end-of-year show. 
With Michelle Ny, Marlon Williams and Kieran Charnock providing vivid support to the young principals, The Rehearsal carries a potent extra-textual charge: there’s enough talent in this fictional drama school to constitute a real-world new wave. 
Like the novel, the film is as attentive to the misleading effect youthful nerve can have on the ‘mature’ as it is to the crises the teachers so blithely incite in the taught. It’s also its own sharp, original thing, a film by Alison Maclean, alive with ambiguity and cinematic verve.

I can’t wait to see this!

Here's the trailer.

Follow The Rehearsal on Facebook and on Instagram.

Find more about Alison’s work here, at New Zealand Onscreen

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Zealand On Air's Diversity Report

A fabulous first!

New Zealand on Air (NZ On Air), our government broadcast funding agency, invests in local television, radio, music and digital media for New Zealand audiences. It's required to consider audience diversity and has just produced its first NZ On Air Diversity Report.

The report shows the gender and ethnicity make up of ‘above-the-line’ roles in screen productions that the agency funds.

Here's the full report, which covers the 2014/15 and 2015/16 years, for projects completed by April 2016. And here's its infographic, summarising the report's findings.

This will be an annual report. This one shows–
Women comprise 55% of funded television producers, 33% of television directors and 38% of television writers or researchers.

Women are most under-represented in drama, where they make up just 11% of all directors. (This is a really important bit of data, at last!)

Pākehā are over-represented in all roles, compared to general population statistics.

13% of television directors identify as Māori (a little under the census figure of 14.9%). (I wonder how many of these are women, given that we haven't had a feature film directed by a Māori woman since 1988 and one reason sometimes given for this is that Māori women prefer to work in television.)

1% of television producers identify as Asian compared to 11.8% of the population at the last census. (I wonder how many of these are women.)

12 % of directors identify as Pasifika, exceeding the national population figure of 7.4%. (I wonder how many of these are women.)

Trends are similar in digital media production, although there was a higher representation of Pacific people among directors at 14%, and writers/researchers at 17%.

Beti Ellerson & ‘African Women In Cinema’

Beti Ellerson (photo: Christophe Poulenc)

Beti Ellerson established the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l’étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma in 2008. It is a virtual, dynamic and in-depth archive of information on the research, study and documentation of African women in cinema. Beti’s African Women in Cinema in French and English, is a database with a lively blog, details about women filmmakers, video interviews, essays and reviews and various associated social media accounts. In today’s intense dialogue about inclusion in filmmaking it’s a vital resource and I want to celebrate Beti and her work.

How did the centre start? Were you a filmmaker?

This passion began twenty years ago. It grew out of my desire to continue my post-doctoral research project, entitled African Women in the Visual Media: Culture and Politics, that I started as a 1996–1997 Rockefeller Humanities Fellow. I was really interested in being a cultural activist, extending my interest and work beyond the academy. I had already studied film history, criticism, and analysis. I wanted to actively engage with the moving image and to better understand its process; hence, I acquired skills in scriptwriting, video production, editing and television production at the local public access community television.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Women Win At Cannes: Will We All See Their Films Though?

Andrea Arnold dancing with her beautiful American Honey cast

What an exciting Cannes it's been! Lots of debate about films directed by women and about how we can get more of them. And although there are only three women-directed films among the 21 films in the main competition, 12 of the 21 have female protagonists. What does that mean for the future?

I've had a fine time watching Cannes online, through its official streaming, on Youtube and including some of the women's events run by Kering's Women in Motion programme. Is Cannes Any Better? I asked in one post. Maybe it is. Here are the women directors and writers among the prize-winners in various categories; and an actor. But note this–
I knew about Jane Campion being the only woman to win a Palme d'Or but this too is significant. 1961!!!

Now the big question is: Will these Cannes 2016 directors' work be well distributed, right around the world? I hope so! (I have great hopes of Tanji, a partnership between Echo Media and Tangerine Entertainment, the first mobile app to curate, personalise and guide us to women-centric film, tv and online content, but that won't resolve distribution problems.) 

We Do It Together

Marianne Slot, Chiara Tilesi, Patricia Riggen and Juliette Binoche speak at Cannes
We Do It Together is a globally oriented non-profit production company, founded by Italian producer Chiara Tilesi. It's a wonderfully ambitious concept. According to its website We Do It Together aims– use the power of cinema, and all those who join us, to stir and shake human hearts and minds, to balance these numbers and change deep-seated perceptions about female stereotypes. As a first practical step, we feel that the way to make this a reality is to give women from around the world a concrete way to express themselves, their talent, and tell their stories.

We will choose a diverse group of female directors to join us in making films that will challenge and dismantle these perceptions. We feel that good intentions are not enough, and that when given the chance, women will deliver compelling, accessible, and equally commercial stories, and break down these invisible walls in doing so. Outworn stereotypes will give way when we defy the status quo. We have been joined by producers, writers, agents, managers, University Presidents, renowned professors, actresses, actors, directors, from Hollywood, and from around the world.
It has just announced its first project at Cannes, where it also presented one of the Women in Motion panels. The project, Together Now, seven short films in one, each pairing a woman director with a prominent actress. The directors who have signed on include Robin Wright, Catherine Hardwicke, Katia Lund (All the Invisible Children), Patricia Riggen (The 33), Haifaa al Mansour (Wadjda), Malgorzata Szumowska (Elles) and Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce's Formation). Freida Pinto and Juliette Binoche are among the actors attached.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#DirectedbyWomen is back! For all of September!

Barbara O'Leary

Women’s film activism goes from strength to strength. 

Part of this is due to sustained commitment from organisations like Bitch Flicks, Le Deuxieme Regard, the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, Raising Films, the Swedish Film Institute, Women Make Movies and many others; and from women’s film festivals and scholars within the academy. 

There are also many individuals, like Beti Ellerson at African Women in Cinema, Destri Martino at The Director List, Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood and the Athena Film Festival, versatile independent film writer, critic and poet Sophie Mayer and Maria Giese, the extraordinary director who initiated the American Civil Liberties Union investigation into discrimination against women directors that has blossomed into a United States federal investigation. 

Among these brilliant individuals there’s also director, producer, activist, distributor Ava DuVernay who has effected – with collaborators – a one-woman revolution for black women directors. Here’s a recent instagram from her, with two of the six women directing episodes of a series adapted from Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar.

Barbara O’Leary is another of these activists. Last year, she initiated a two-week worldwide viewing party, to encourage us all to watch and celebrate films by women directors. Now she's sent out her invitation to a second party–

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ivana Massetti & Women Occupy Hollywood

Ivana Massetti & the Swedish Film Institute's legendary Anna Serner
#Womeninfilm activists continue to build powerful cross-border networks. Ivana Massetti is one of these activists, a filmmaker with a new TV show, who this year founded Women Occupy Hollywood (WOH), to help bring the voices of women filmmakers to the forefront. She spoke with Niger Asije of the New Current (tNC) about her filmmaking and inspirations as well as what she hopes to gain from WOH.

Hi Ivana, many thanks for talking to tNC, how’s things going?

Hi Niger! Everything’s going very well! So many things are happening right now that make me euphoric! Not just in my life but in the entire world. Women are in the spotlight. The world is talking about women and gender equality. Awareness about the injustice women are suffering not only in the entertainment industry but in every field of society, is spreading everywhere. Awareness brings change. And we need change. We can’t continue to accept a narrative that is coming from just one point of view, that of the male, and to be more exact, of the white male.

Women must participate equally in the cultural conversation of our society!

Great to hear about your TV/Digital Series One Day In America. What does it feel like to be working on the pilot?

One Day In America is a passion project. It’s a reflection through narrative fiction of the states of Justice in the U.S. A series of intertwined fictional stories, linked together by the common denominator of justice, all happening on the same day. The series deals with the most controversial issues that divide the country. The pilot is seven intertwined stories about Americans who are dealing with immigration, an eviction, the death penalty, their sexual identity, the danger of guns, violence in video-games and sexual abuse in the Church. Those are some of the issues we are facing in the series. The kind of social issues that we confront every day in our communities, work places and personal lives. The tone is dramatic but with hints of humor and each one of the stories ends with a twist.

How did the series come about, have you been working on the idea for awhile?

I have made films and lived in many places, and wherever I lived, I wanted to participate in social advancement and social awareness with my work. Because there are issues that were and are very close to my heart, like sexual violence against women, women’s rights, child abuse, elderly rights etc, from the very beginning of my career I created series of short films about those themes. From the beginning, I preferred the fictional medium, the film medium. I believe that the filmmaker’s eyes, heart and mind must filter reality, and give birth to something that reflects her or his point of view.

In Italy and in France I created a series of short films called Cinema Against Violence. They examined many aspects of violence in our society.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#gendermatters at the Swedish Film Institute: Anna Serner's Update

Anna Serner heads the Swedish Film Institute. This is a masterclass (a mistressclass?) in #gendermatters, where she describes how she's achieving gender equity at the institute. I love her careful analysis of the problems, the obstacles and the achievements. She's developed a brilliant model for every country where the taxpayer funds film.

Anna was filmed at the 'Women in Irish Film' Colloquium at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, a few weeks ago. Yes, in Ireland, where #gendermatters too (and where the population is about the same as New Zealand's). The colloquium was organised by Dr. Susan Liddy of the college’s Department of Media and Communications and a member of the Equality Action Committee, with Lauren MacKenzie, Liz Gill and Marian Quinn, who together represented the Writers Guild of Ireland and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland in discussions with the Irish Film Board’s Gender Equality Plan.

Many thanks to actress/writer/producer Maeve McGrath for this link.

More re Ireland

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Progress: Scriptwriter Mya Kagan's 'Submitting Like a Man' Project

Mya Kagan at work
Women writers have often used male pseudonyms. There are the Bronte sisters of course; and more recently the writer known as James Chartrand, of the Men With Pens website. But as far as I know, Mya Kagan’s the first scriptwriter to submit her work under a man’s name (which of course she hasn’t revealed, referring to him only as ‘Max’). Her project is also different from other uses of pen names. She doesn't simply send out her work under a pseudonym; she uses the new pen name to re-submit previously rejected work, to see if there will be any different response. She documents the experience in Submitting Like a Man (SLAM). 

Mya’s based in Brooklyn New York and her description of herself charms me and reminds me a little of another New York filmmaker and webseries writer, Anne Flournoy–

[Her] work is known for being a spiky blend of smart, lively, deliciously absurd, and wildly entertaining. 

Mya's main specialties and experience are playwriting, TV-writing, comedy, and webisodes. Additional experience includes screenwriting, radio, writing for kids & teens, musical theatre (book/lyrics), animation, puppets, short stories, blogging, news coverage, food writing, and educational content. She's even been hired to write online dating profiles. Really.

Mya is also half South African, a freckly person, and a summertime enthusiast. Strawberries are her spirit animal. 

And she’s a hard worker. Since she graduated nine years ago she’s sent out 117 scripts to open calls for submissions. About 10% were accepted, 5% have been semi-finalists or ‘almosts’ and the rest were rejected.

Mya launched SLAM on January 10 and will resubmit her rejected scripts under Max’s name for a year. She emphasises that it’s an unscientific project. But I don’t think that makes it any less interesting and valuable, so I’ve asked her some questions.

Was there an inciting incident for this project?

More so than one single incident, I’d say there were a series of events, mostly the number of articles I started reading about the statistics on women writers—that in the US, 51% of the population is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female. I started following the subject, and as time went on, it wasn't getting better. 

And it got me thinking about what things might be like if nobody could figure out my gender. Like, what if my name was Jordan? Or if it was something foreign and unfamiliar? I started considering that maybe I should begin using an ambiguous pen name or my initials. And then I thought: Why stop there? What if I actually use a man’s name? I was in a unique position because I’ve kept a pretty organized list of everything I’ve applied to, and the idea clicked—not only could I use a man’s name, but I could use it on all these rejections to see if it would make any difference.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Hollywood Cure

by Susan di Rende
Susan di Rende

I’m trying to understand how creating the Broad Humor Film Festival changed my taste in films and cured me of Hollywood story fever.

I started Broad Humor in 2006 to give women a place at the table, a table I valued but which failed to validate work by women I saw and liked. For 9 years, I watched every submission to the festival and read every screenplay, good, bad, and ‘meh.’ Before, I loved TV and many mainstream movies. In my teens I was addicted to the flickering screen. Now, I can hardly bear to watch any of it. There is good stuff in those shows and stories, but my overall reaction is ‘meh.’

I’ve written about how women’s stories tend to be structured differently and why I say women’s comedy is a way for men to experience the multiple orgasms women take for granted. Hollywood understands the Aristotelian big climax and Denouement brand of cigarette. But lately, there have been a lot of great female characters showing up, especially on TV, and I still have a hard time getting into the shows. Yes, these women are complex people in themselves, but they are still drawn with an Aristotelian pen. They still are massaged and colored so as to deliver the conflicts of the Aristotelian paradigm mostly because they DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER.

If you read Carol Gilligan any time since the 1970s when she published In Our Own Voice, you get her insight into the way women move through the world in a web of relationship instead of on a ladder or hierarchy. But as the Bechdel Test noted, even when women are present in a film, they rarely talk to each other and then usually only about men.

I don’t blame the guys for not writing other kinds of scenes. After all, they are never present when women are only talking among themselves. Even if they were to listen, they might not hear what is going on, or misinterpret it as something they do know. I mean, if dominance hierarchy in males is 50 million years older than trees, of course they see dominance everywhere.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kōrero Ki Taku Tuakana: Conversation With My Big Sister

Merata Mita and Mauri

by Cushla Parekowhai

2016 edit. First published in Illusions, 1988:9: December. VUW, Wellington.

So you heard eh? Went to this hui at Taiwhakaea Marae round Whakatāne way where there was all this talk about Māori making Māori films. Hooked up with the director Merata Mita. It was full on. Kōrero going, hammer and tongs. Merata decided she needed a break so the two of us went outside and sat in the sun, not doing nothing. Well maybe thinking a bit, taking care of the baby and listening to the sound of the sea. Was nice, relaxing even, but eventually I switched on the cassette recorder, opened up the notebook and asked, ‘So what do you reckon about the honky film industry then?’

Merata plucked at a wayward strand of late spring grass.

You know I find it tragic that Māori aren’t left to make our own stories, ourselves. We just don’t get a chance to address our own problems, our own personalities and our own ways of looking at life.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Yes! #gendermatters in Canada!

From left: Sharon McGowan, Rina Fraticelli of Women in View, Claude Joli-Coeur, Karen Day, Susan Brinton

The Canadian National Film Board chairperson and film commissioner, Claude Joli-Coeur, has announced that at least half of the board's productions will now be directed by women, and half of its funding will go toward films directed by women. The plan will be rolled out over the next three years, and the board will remain completely transparent in its budgetary allocations by making all production spending information publicly available online. For the current fiscal year, 43.4 percent of the board’s production spending will go toward projects directed by women, and 43.5 percent will go toward projects directed by men, 11.3 percent of the board’s production spending will go toward projects directed by mixed teams, and 1.8 percent hasn't been allocated yet.

Claude Jolie-Coeur made the announcement at a panel at the Vancouver International Women In Film Festival (just ended), saying that the board 'has always taken a leadership role in women’s filmmaking'. The board’s makeup reflects that commitment: 55 percent of the board’s producers and executive producers are women, and 66 percent of the upper management positions are filled by women. The NFB funds a lot of films directed by women every year, but Joli-Coeur acknowledged that numbers can fluctuate if no firm measures are put into place. 'There have been good years and lean years for women’s filmmaking at the NFB. No more,' he said. 'Today, I’m making a firm, ongoing commitment to full gender parity, which I hope will help to lead the way for the industry as a whole.'

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Lorde #fangirl Preps For #Oscars16

I missed the BRITS. And regretted it. Because it took a while to find the full version of Lorde's glorious Life on Mars, with David Bowie's very own band. Here she is after she sang, I think.

So, I don't want to miss Lorde if she sings at #Oscars16 (& the performer lists all add 'so far', so are not definitive). Especially as her fabulous mother, Sonja Yelich, posted this golden picture this morning, with the note–
old shot of #Lorde – don't even know who took it – don't even know where it was – only know that I steamed it before every show #goldencape

O wow, she *steamed* that cape *before every show*: my admiration for Sonja Yelich deepened even further. And then she posted another image. Are they connected?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Yes! #gendermatters at Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board

In late December, the Irish Film Board, or Bord Scannán na hÉireann (IFB/BSE), announced its six-point Gender Equality Plan (Information; Funding; Training and Mentorship; Education; Enterprise; and Partnership). The plan includes a target of achieving 50/50 gender parity in funding over the next three years.

The IFB/BSE is the national development agency for Irish filmmaking and the Irish film, television and animation industry, the Irish version of Screen Australia and the New Zealand Film Commission, although there are some differences. For instance, IFB/BSE is responsible for Screen Training Ireland, the national screen training and development resource and the New Zealand Film Commission isn't involved in television – that's New Zealand on Air's responsibility.

For those of you not familiar with how these agencies work, the respective Acts of Parliament that established each organisation also established their boards, equivalent to boards of directors, appointed by their respective Ministers. These boards are responsible for policies and strategy. The organisation's staff are the public servants who implement the policies and are responsible to the board, which in turn is responsible to its Minister. IFB/BSE's board is half women and half men, with a higher proportion of them practitioners than among those on the Australian and New Zealand boards. Screen Australia's board is also half women and half men (with two women's terms about to expire). The New Zealand Film Commission's board has three women (including the Chair) and five men.

When I gathered together all the information about the IFB/BSE Gender Equality Plan, to post, I was especially intrigued by the role of the Equality Action Committee (EAC), four women (Lauren MacKenzie, Liz Gill, Marian Quinn and Susan Liddy) who represented the Writers Guild of Ireland and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland in discussions with the IFB/BSE.

Lauren MacKenzie is a widely produced screen writer, producer and script consultant, whose work I haven't seen – one of the sadnesses of discrimination against women filmmakers is that we don't see enough of one another's work, though that's changing a little. Liz Gill (I loved her Goldfish Memory) is a writer, director and producer. Marian Quinn (whose 32A I also loved) is an actor, writer and director.  And Dr Susan Liddy is an academic. I asked her some questions. Many thanks for responding so fully, Susan!

Susan Liddy & Marian Quinn photo:
WW After the IFB/BSE announced its policy, the Writers Guild of Ireland (WGI) and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland (SDGI) issued a press release to welcome it. It congratulated the IFB/BSE on its commitment to achieving 50/50 gender parity for writers and directors in feature film production within three years and added–
We have been pressing the Board on this important issue for a number of years.
But from here, it seems that the board hadn't listened to the writers and the screen directors, until  the extraordinary, powerful #wakingthefeminists campaign that followed Dublin's Abbey Theatre's announcement of its 2016 Waking The Nation ten-play programme, with just one by a woman. The campaign began with a huge public meeting, in November. The size of the meeting and the reach of the campaign, for a country of 4.8m people (vs 4.6m in Aotearoa New Zealand, 23.9m Australia, almost 5m in Sydney) was really impressive. And the level of support that came in from around the world was, I think unprecedented.

Onstage at the November meeting photo: Fiona Morgan

The audience photo: Fiona Morgan

Outside the Abbey Theatre photo: Fiona Morgan

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Niki Caro

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

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

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

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

Women and the Irish Film Industry

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

Dame Jane Campion – A Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shashat: Palestinian Women Make Images

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

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

by Patricia Caillé

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

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

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

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