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Looking Towards a New World

Sometimes, people ask me: Why haven’t you taken the Film Commission route with Development? Usually, I give a short, quick, answer: Because the Film Commission route takes too long. Give a little shrug. Move on. Because the longer answer is complicated. And I don’t really think about it now my PhD is handed in and I’m waiting for the examiners’ responses. But after a conversation with a filmmaker the other day I thought: It’s time to write a post about the origins of Development.

Moving forward

1.
This is Ken Duncum, walking past the window next to my computer, as he often does. Under the cherry tree. He's the Michael Hirschfeld Director of Scriptwriting at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML)—what a mouthful. And last month he won the 2010 New Zealand Post Mansfield Prize. Some of his eighty MA students—ten a year for eight years—may have been at the ceremony where NZ Post announced the award. Others, like me, were ghosts there, clapping as hard as we could. And whistling. Stamping our feet.

Ken’s supervised my work for two and a half years now, for my MA and—as his first PhD candidate—for the second half of my PhD. So I guess I’m the luckiest student of all, to date.

At law school, I encountered something called the ‘Socratic’ teaching method. I remember it as being brutal sometimes, and never particularly helpful for my learning. But with Ken I participated in another kind of Socratic teaching, a generous practice that expres…

Availability & the Privilege of Being Mad

I'm learning lots as I work on Development. About the availability—and unavailability—of actors, for instance. My head pops as I organise lists of days and times & dates when this one is here and that one is there and nearly everyone else is somewhere else: I'm a little dysnumeric in relation to time and dates and days of the week, & my usual strategies are sometimes not quite enough to cope with information about other people's timetables. (Fortunately, I can do sums in my head pretty well).

I'm also learning that there's a lot of help, often unexpected. Close to hand (thank you all) and in cyberspace (thank you all).

Just before Christmas I sent a slightly crazed message to Lisa Gornick, a filmmaker who makes beautiful drawings (have included her drawings here before), someone I met via a tweet that led me to a blog that linked to her blog. I wrote about my fears, and how curiosity keeps me going. Did any of my experience resonate with her?

Here's her…

Peter Jackson: find, train, & support creative individuals, especially the writers

The New Zealand film industry's been waiting for the results of the review of the New Zealand Film Commission, due 30 November. And we know—we hope we know—that the review will reflect the concerns of Peter Jackson, who heads the review, assisted by David Court, Head of Screen Business at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School.

So I was excited when I read Peter Jackson's recent comments to Michael Bodey, in the Australian: My only advice to anybody is that it's about individuals. The strength of a film industry is based totally on the strength of the individuals, the creative individuals working within it, the writers especially, the directors and the producers and whatever can be done to talent hunt, to find those people and then train them and support them.

We're not talking about many people because in an environment where a lot of people want to be a filmmaker or think they can write a screenplay, not many people can, quite honestly, and it's a case …

It's about human rights-- I want equality (& equity)

Last month, Jane Campion spoke out again about women’s participation in filmmaking. This is what she said:
I think women should be given 50% of the films to make. I'm not kidding! It'll change the world overnight. Women see things differently so it'll be better for everyone...it's not fair. It's about human rights...I want equality. I thought of her statement as I read the latest New Zealand Film Commission newsletter. The best news is that of three feature writers chosen to work with Alan Sharp (Dean Spanley), two—Pip Hall and Fiona Samuel (Piece of My Heart)—are women.

But, of the six NZFC-funded features currently in post-production, only one has a woman writer/director, Simone Horrocks’ After the Waterfall. Expressed as a percentage, this project represents 16% of films produced this year, exactly the same as the NZFC’s overall record for the previous six years.

Then I read about the Short Film Fund, where the NZFC invests in short films by up-and-coming filmmake…

Bub Bridger

Wild, passionate, and funny-- And so generous. When Bub went to the International Feminist Book Fair in London in 1984 she took the biggest suitcase I'd ever seen, stuffed with books New Zealand women had written. Even though she struggled to carry anything heavy.

It's her funeral today. She and I had a complex relationship that ended long ago; some of what I remembered when I heard of her death was very sad. And we loved many of the same people. Though I never quite got her obsession with All Black Gary Whetton. (Some of it was about his thighs. Understandably.)

Down the road there's an expensive block of flats with a gardener. Who planted daisies. Not wild daisies, like those in Bub's famous poem, but very large and beautiful cultivated ones. For weeks I admired them and wanted to take a cutting to grow at home. Couldn't do it. Finally, I heard Bub's voice in my head. "Help yourself, darling", she said. (She always advocated courage. And I saw and ad…

A Twitter Adventure

I couldn’t believe my luck. For ages, I’ve wanted to learn about women in Asia who write and direct feature films. But with my limited language skills and networks I could’t easily access relevant information. I'd had a single conversation (five years ago) with a woman involved with the International Women's Film Festival in Korea, and that was it. And now, here was a Japanese woman, ‘ramuyaman’, on Twitter--

Ramuyaman had seen this ScreenTalk interview with Niki Caro:



And then she sent out a general tweet: I'd like to see the film The Vintner's Luck directed by Niki Caro but unfortunately, it's not yet released here in TOKYO...

Opportunistic as ever, I—as 'devt'—tweeted her. Was she a filmmaker who could tell me about Japanese women’s experience of feature filmmaking?

Ramuyaman replied: @devt I'm a cinephile and fan of Niki Caro. North Country told me a lot about human rights. Whale Rider, unforgettable.

I told ramuyaman I was writing about The Vintner&#…

The Future of Indie Film?

The future of indie film culture is not corporate, but artist controlled. It is about owning your work and connecting with your audience—Ted Hope
As well as emails and the phone—though I avoid my mobile—I can now blog and use Twitter and Facebook and the Development-the-movie website. And today I’m thinking about how each has a different function for me, and for Development.

The website’s relatively fixed. It’s hard information, presented as simply as possible. Facebook’s an ongoing visual diary for Development-the-movie, where we can chat & make new friends. (You’re welcome to join us: just press the button in the right hand column.)

This blog’s where—helped by emails and comments from friends and strangers—I sometimes try to make sense of the world that I care most about: Wellywood where I live and work, my garden, women filmmakers and writers, and Development. On Twitter, I keep up with the global issues: film (especially indie film), piracy & crowd funding, feminist activit…

This Week in Wellywood

Last night at Park Road Post, a big crowd for the WIFT-organised showing of The Vintner's Luck (opening tomorrow) and a Q&A with Niki Caro. Tonight, two events, one after the other. First, a discussion of the cinematic, at the New Zealand Film Archive:

Here's what organiser Script to Screen says about this event:
Scripts are often rejected or critiqued on the basis that they are not ‘cinematic’, and are therefore unworthy of the big screen. But to writers the term is often unclear, meaning different things to different people. Is the term merely used as a weapon by arbiters of taste, or a catch all for any number of perceived deficiencies, or is it a way of defining the appropriate medium for a story?



Scriptwriter and teacher Ken Duncum will lead a rigorous discussion with producer John Barnett (Whale Rider, Sione’s Wedding), NZFC Head of Development Marilyn Milgrom and scriptwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil) about what they believe are the defining elements of a…

Starting draft number 4?

I love this drawing from Lisa Gornick, accompanying her post on Starting on feature film number 4.

Today I printed out the "Development" script for (I think) the first time since May, when I started writing the other parts of my thesis. One copy for a woman I will visit tomorrow, hoping she'll agree to play Iris, hoping she's old enough to play Iris. The other for Rebecca, who's working on our Facebook page.

And I saw a dreadful typo. I saw lines I wanted to delete IMMEDIATELY. AAAAGH. So Lisa's image is timely. It reminds me of the pleasures in that heft of pages. And that I need to start work on the next draft, always very scary and exciting after leaving it for a while. To hold the pages and let them calm my mind, enter that world again.

Thanks, Lisa.

Here She Comes

I can't wait to read this new book. It will arrive in the mail very soon. And there's a Facebook page associated with it where—according to Sophie Mayer one of the editors— "we're going to try and gather and share lots of news and ideas about women's cinema and visual media":  (see her comment a couple of posts down, & the link to her site on the sidebar to the right here).

Here's what the publishers say about the book:

Following in the footsteps of the filmmakers whose work it features —including Miranda July, Janie Geiser, Tracey Moffatt, Sally Potter, Cindy Sherman, Samira Makhmalbaf, Sadie Benning, Agnès Varda, Kim Longinotto, and Michelle Citron— There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond seeks to make trouble not only in the archives but also at the boundaries between artistic, industrial, political, critical, and disciplinary practices. Editors Corinn Columpar and Sophie Mayer have assembled scholarship that responds to women’s work in the…

Celebrating women-loving women: 2

Here's Gaylene Preston on Screen Talk, talking about her life as a filmmaker. I think she's probably made more films—nearly forty—than any other New Zealander, an amazing mixture of features and docos.

Gaylene has often made, as she says in the interview, "some of the invisible things visible", and those invisible things have often been about women's lives. And she's been very supportive of many women—as well as men—so it's not surprising that she says in this interview "There are still less women working in all sorts of areas in filmmaking than I would have hoped then (in the 70s)".

I've had experience of Gaylene's generous support myself. She took me to Films de Femmes in Creteil (Paris) one year. And more recently when we met by chance she explained in great detail how I could use the Screen Production Incentive Fund, sketching out the details on one of the cafe's paper serviettes. I smile every time I see it floating in a file, am…

Development-the-movie

Playwright and screenwriter Andrew Bovell (Lantana, Blessed—directed by Ana Kokkinos, an interview with her here—and the forthcoming Edge of Darkness) visited the Institute of Modern Letters the other day, a great place for treats-for-students. In a workshop, Andrew Bovell suggested that it's useful to look at what a main character first says and first does in a screenplay, and then at what she says and does at the end. "Is there a reversal, or a question answered?" If so, the writer’s done her job.

And because I’d just finished my thesis, I wondered whether Andrew Bovell’s question would be useful there, too. In the thesis' Introduction, I described the evidence that shows a general problem—in New Zealand, it's more difficult for women to tell their stories as feature films than it is for men:
From January 2003-December 2008, New Zealanders working in New Zealand produced at least seventy-five feature films. Women wrote and directed nine percent. The national st…

Reading women's scripts again: Time to celebrate women-loving women?

While I finished my thesis I didn't do much else for a few months. 404 unopened emails in one account, 791 in the other.

And then I was done. And I discovered a short&sharp tweet from MadamaAmbi, sent back in June, in response to my Reading Women's Scripts post: "@devt internalized misogyny?"

Then a comment I treasure, also in response to Reading Women's Scripts, from lisa gornick, the filmmaker whose film drawing site I love. Here's her latest drawing, girl at six:


Lisa wrote:
this is such hard but vital reading. it's like hearing your own mother be mean about you or something like that. it's so sad too. this is a great thing to air, to debate and for everyone not to be scared of discussing. there is probably some deep seated female self hating going on that causes all this to happen in an aggressive macho world of filmmaking and that with some quiet exploration and revelation we could unpick this and a new era of filmmaking could be born. 

greeting…

The Insatiable Moon (again)

Another New Zealand feature with a woman director! This time, Rosemary Riddell.
I love this project's blog, The Interminable Moon, from the writer/producer, Mike Riddell, who takes the reader through his amazing journey to get his story made.
Shooting starts next month.

Back Again

Between this, outside the window in July—





—& this today (still no blue sky)




I finished my PhD: "Opening space for New Zealand women’s participation in scriptwriting for feature films?" Hard yakka. But done.

Cilla McQueen, poet laureate

When, finally, the Minister announced her name, I cried. And cried again as she approached the podium. Stopped crying when she started to speak. She creates magic behind the microphone, as well as on the page. You’ve guessed it. I’m thrilled that Cilla McQueen’s the new poet laureate.

I always think of Cilla as courageous. I remember her Aramoana protest work for instance (like the image above: Graffito on Miller & Tunnage fence, Port Chalmers: “The Sweet Slag Song of Aramoana” 1980). And there she was, in a Stuff interview this morning, coming out as a writer and artist who lives ‘below the breadline’. Her poet laureateship, first of all, will help her pay the bills. Just last week, I spoke with an artist who sounded desperate about his power bill in this harsh winter. A little earlier, I’d written about women artists, especially “the older ones who were part of the women’s art movement, who on this very cold morning (like me) wear many layers of clothing, hats, gloves and scarve…

Winter

It’s been a wild time. The tomato plant that grew through last winter, by the compost heap, continues to fruit through this one. There have been so few sunny days that I haven’t been able to finish pruning the apple trees. And I’ve been struggling to finish my thesis. The inside of my head feels a bit like these pics. Messy. Unsure whether to fruit, to ripen or to prune. Or to keel over into the compost.But a great time for New Zealand women’s films. Sunshine Cleaning as a WIFT fundraiser at Park Road Post, with Christine Jeffs talking about working from Matakana. And Bright Star opening the New Zealand International Film Festival (my response here). And now The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls will join Bright Star and The Vintner’s Luck at the Toronto International Film Festival. ‘Pure fun. Pure love’, a programmer said. I think it’ll take the world by storm.

Reading women's scripts

A while ago, I wrote an article about how it’s harder for New Zealand women to make feature films than it is for men. And I discussed how having women as script assessors and decision-makers appears not to help women filmmakers. And how I came to realise that I, too, tended to favour men’s work (as I also wrote here). The editor took those bits out and I wondered: Is this reality sometimes too hard to acknowledge?

I also invented two ‘Queen Bees’ for Development-the-movie, powerful women in the industry who privilege men. Readers from the radio broadcasting, television, and film sectors recognise these characters immediately. And some women say to me, about scenes I invented: “I didn’t tell you that story. It’s my story. Who told you? How could you use it?”

The Queen Bees and I are not alone in privileging men’s projects, so I've been thrilled to read some recent public discussion about this. Last week, Ela Thier wrote in Women & Hollywood, within a post about her own difficulti…

NZFF again

So what else will I go to in the New Zealand International Film Festival, for sure (along with the Animation For Kids programme and the twelve animated films in Animation Now 2009, selected from a gob-smacking 2,300 entries)? Some years I get too many tickets and the rush to the next film gets in the way of absorbing the last one. Amazing that the festival starts in Auckland 9 July and travels round. Then ends in Whangarei 25 November. Do tourists come here for it, I wonder.

I'll be there for The Strength of Water written by Briar Grace-Smith—until now best known as as a playwright—and directed by Armagan Ballantyne. I've been waiting for a film written by a Maori woman since Once Were Warriors (1994) written by Riwia Brown. I think we need lots of them. There's a group of Barry Barclay films in the festival, and I'm remembering what he wrote, ages ago: “We shall get to know what a Maori film is when we get a chance to make more films”. Just as we'll know more abo…

NZFF's must-see art movies (for me, anyway)

Seraphine, because Seraphine de Senlis is a 'forgotten' woman painter and they always interest me. Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine because her work fascinates me; and I'm always especially happy when women make films about women artists (this time Marion Cajori—who died in 2006 and who made the wonderful Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter, and Amei Wallach).

The Man in the Hat about Wellington art dealer Peter McLeavy, have always had a soft spot for him. He has always supported women artists, one of those quietly feminist men, and I like his intrinsic elegance.

Bright Star Alert; & Matariki

Sometimes 140 characters can say a whole lot. This Tweet from melsil (Women & Hollywood) on Friday:
Bright Star was one of the most emotional and fulfilling films I have seen in a long, long time. That Abbie Cornish can really act. Amazing.And then I finished work for the day (a couple of thousand thesis words and a pruned apple tree) & went in search of a New Zealand Film Festival catalogue. Got the last one downstairs at the public library, then the last one upstairs (for a mate who gets out even less than I do). Took them home and found that Bright Star will open the festival on 17 July. Great.

Bright Star has a lovely production scrapbook. It reminds me of an Advent calendar, lots of little windows that open to surprises and pleasures, some photographs in satisfying black and white. And it's winter solstice, & I've had an email about Matariki, the Pleiades. Matariki rose in our sky a little while ago. So Bright Star and a kind of Advent calendar are just the thi…

Open Letter from a Woman Director

In today's Women & Hollywood, there's an open letter from director Ela Thier (pictured). Her story's so familiar; it could have come from New Zealanders I've spoken with. Good on her.

Development-the-movie producer Erica and I have formulated our dream:

Imagine… a world where women write and direct half of all movies.
And New Zealand does it first. Just like women’s suffrage.

(And we were encouraged the other day when we saw Jane Campion at the Cannes press conference for Bright Star, talking about New Zealand being first to have women's suffrage.)

I so hope that Peter Jackson's review of the Film Commission will help our dream come true.

Peter Jackson to head Film Commission review: Only in New Zealand

It could only happen here. It's extraordinary, wonderful news. Instead of an earnest contract worker with a tired agenda—always a possibility—we get a distinguished local filmmaker who has criticised the Film Commission AND no longer needs it to fund his films. Here's the press release. I'll write about the Terms of Reference as soon as I have my head around them. At first glance, there's nothing specific about gender, but various places where it can be considered.
Oscar award winning director and producer Peter Jackson will lead a ministerial review of the New Zealand Film Commission to ensure it is best able to serve the needs of the local industry and community, Minister for Arts Culture and Heritage Christopher Finlayson announced today.

“National promised a review of the New Zealand Film Commission during last year’s election campaign,” Mr Finlayson said. “The act was passed over 30 years ago, and during that time the face of the local film industry has changed dram…