Turned On, Tuned In: Femme Filmmakers


What’s turning me on this week? Women.

Women filmmakers, to be exact. With the limp release of Drew Barrymore’s Whip It, there’s been an increase of chatter in my circles about lady directors. It’s often highly difficult for me to enter into a discussion about women making movies, because the lion’s share of cinephiles and critics that I spend my time with are men. No offense, guys. It’s just that the conversation often devolves into cheap — albeit funny — pot-shots and cat calls about women in front of and behind the camera. I have no problem, on face, with these discussions. They’re fun, funny, and occasionally enlightening. But what I really want, what I think would really be worth the breath, is an honest-to-goodness discussion on female filmmakers.

Contemporary cinema would be flat without all types of voices, women’s being among the most important. But often women aren’t expected to be, or expected to want to be, behind the camera. I’ve considered arguments from the overtly sexist (“Women just can’t cut it on a big set. They don’t have the balls.”) to what seem to be biological excuses (“Women aren’t as visual as men.”). And to all of it, I say: bullshit. These are all excuses, and many of them offensive. There aren’t as many highly acclaimed and widely recognized women filmmakers because, well, there just aren’t. Maybe it’s a lagging indicator of the existence of an art-media specific glass ceiling. I have a suspicion that women are simply expected at-large, conditioned, and therefore convinced that their business is and should be that of the pretty young things in front of the camera. This, quite frankly, makes my skin crawl. But so do scabes.

In the only article on Salon.com that I’ve ever been really jazzed about, Michelle Goldberg also takes up this question:

There are women in the Senate, women heading studios and busloads of young women emerging from film school. So why are 96 percent of films directed by men? [. . .]

At a time when film schools are graduating almost equal numbers of men and women, why is the movie business still such a closed shop? Many women from every stratum of the directing world — established Hollywood types and shoestring independents, celebrated art-house stars and creators of light teen comedies, film school deans and movie historians — tell remarkably similar stories of deep-rooted prejudices, baseless myths and sexual power struggles that litter the path to the director’s chair with soul-wearing obstacles. “It is absolutely consistently more difficult for women from the beginning to the end,” says Debra Zimmerman, executive director of the nonprofit organization Women Make Movies.

[. . .] Famed screenwriter and director Nora Ephron, whose movies include “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” adds, “I always think every movie should begin with a logo that says, for example, ‘Warner Bros. did everything in its power to keep from making this movie.'”

Nevertheless, [director Mary] Harron says of the situation for women directors, “It is not all OK. It really isn’t. It’s still much harder for women to get started.” The reasons why are a complex mix of economics, sexism, the tastes of executives and even self-sabotage.

Barring that, I get frustrated that it seems like the majority of women are making soft movies that tug at heart strings, or feature Edward Cullen all twinkly and without his shirt. Never has a woman won an Oscar for Best Director, and only three — Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, and Lisa Wertmuller — have ever even been nominated. Women can (and do) make great comedy, great drama, great action, great thrillers, great political movies, even great pornography if they choose. So why do most female directors, like Nora Ephron and Catherine Hardwicke, make movies that market to a traditionally female-centric audience? Or, a better question (and here I’m thinking about such works as Kimberley Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry): why must women be the ones that are charged with taking on gender at all? “I find it staggering and rather depressing when you look at the Oscar list,” says Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd, in a rather telling February 2009 article in Forbes. It’s not just the “lack of female directors,” it’s that “the stories are all so male-driven, even with the independent films. It’s quite a bleak canvas.”

There are some exceptions to this non-mainstream (read: male-centric) rule. Rocker-director Penelope Spheeris directed Wayne’s World; Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker); others. But what’s getting to me, I think, is that film is, if anything, an art form. And, while art imitates life, art is also charged with being trend-changing, provocative, and boundary-pushing. Film is all of these things. And the film industry is as well. It has unabashedly embraced homosexuality throughout its lifespan, even before mainstream society could speak of it. And, while it’s undeniable that there have been forward moves in the recognition and encouragement of female filmmakers, it’s clear to me that we can always do more. Be more open. Expect different things.

And what is an FSR reader to do? I think that just having the conversation is a great start, but it’s not enough. Take cinematic risks. Be aware of what films you’re seeing and why. Be pro-active, and seek out films directed by females that push envelopes. Don’t let yourself rationalize the problem away. It’s not a discrimination issue for most of us, it’s a quality issue. It’s an issue of art. It’s an issue of experiencing the visions of many different perspectives, of increasingly varied worldviews. Don’t allow yourself to not care, and if not for the sake of women — for the sake of good movies.

To get started, check out this list of women directors and their movies, a “group effort resource list”, courtesy of Bitch: The Feminist Response to Pop Culture, a magazine I discovered in San Francisco at age 13, and still love to this very day:

1. Ahwesh, Peggy: The Scary Movie (1993)

2. Akerman, Chantal: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

3. Anders, Allison: Gas, Food, Lodging (1992), Grace of My Heart (1996)

4. Arnold, Andrea: Fish Tank (2009)

5. Arzner, Dorothy: The Wild Party (1929), The Bride Wore Red (1937)

6. Babbit, Jamie: But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), The Quiet (2005)

7. Barrymore, Drew: Whip It (2009)

8. Barthes, Sophie: Cold Souls (2009)

9. Berinstein, Dori: Gotta Dance (2008)

10. Bigelow, Kathryn: Near Dark (1987), The Weight of Water (2000), The Hurt Locker (2009)

11. Biller, Anna: Viva (2007)

12. Borden, Lizzie: Working Girls (1986)

13. Bogert, Virginia: Tootie Pie (2006)

14. Breillat, Catherine: 36 Fillette (1988)

15. Brougher, Hilary: The Sticky Fingers of Time (1997)

16. Campion, Jane: An Angel at My Table (1990), The Piano (1993)

17. Caro, Niki: Whale Rider (2002), North Country (2005)

18. Chadha, Gurinder: Bhaji on the Beach (1993), Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

19. Cholodenko, Lisa: High Art (1998)

20. Cockburn, Leslie: American Casino (2009)

21. Coolidge, Martha: Valley Girl (1983), Real Genius (1985)

22. Coppola, Sofia: The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003)

23. Dash, Julie: Daughters of the Dust (1991)

24. Davis, Tamra: Billy Madison (1995)

25. Denis, Claire: Chocolat (1988)

26. de Marcken, Anne: Group (2002)

27. Deren, Maya: Witch’s Cradle (1944)

28. de Van, Marina: Dans ma peau (In my skin) (2002), Ne te retourne pas (Don’t look back) (2009)

29. Dieckmann, Katherine: Motherhood (2009)

30. Dörrie, Doris: Men . . . (1985)

31. Dulac, Germaine: Je n’ai plus rien (1934)

32. Dunye, Cheryl: The Watermelon Woman (1996)

33. Ephron, Nora: Julie & Julia (2009), Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

34. Ewing, Heidi: The Boys of Baraka (2005)

35. Export, Valie: Die Praxis der Liebe (1985)

36. Fanta-Nacro, Regina: La nuit de la vérité (2004)

37. Faye, Safi: Fad’jal (1979)

38. Fletcher, Anne: Step Up (2006), 27 Dresses (2008), The Proposal (2009)

39. Fontaine, Anne: Coco Before Chanel (2009)

40. Foster, Jodi: Little Man Tate (1991)

41. Freeman, Marylin: Group (2002)

42. Gabbert, Laura: No Impact Man (2009)

43. Gorris, Marleen: Antonia’s Line (1995)

44. Grady, Rachel: Jesus Camp (2006)

45. Guevara-Flanagan, Kristy: Going on 13 (2008)

46. Guy-Blache, Alice: When You and I Were Young (1917)

47. Hadzihalilovic, Lucile: Innocence (2004)

48. Hardwicke, Catherine: Twilight (2008), Thirteen (2003), and Lords of Dogtown (2005)

49. Harron, Mary: American Pyscho (2000)

50. Heckerling, Amy: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Clueless (1995)

51. Hines, Cheryl: Serious Moonlight (2009)

52. Hunt, Courtney: Frozen River (2008)

53. Hurd, Gale Anne: (Producer)

54. Jenkins, Patty: Monster (2003)

55. Jenson, Vicky: Post Grad (2009)

56. July, Miranda: Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

57. Kawase, Naomi: The Mourning Forest (2007)

58. Khan, Farah: Om Shanti Om (2007), Main Hoon Na (2004)

59. Kuras, Ellen: (Cinematographer)

60. Kusama, Karyn: Girlfight (2000), Jennifer’s Body (2009)

61. Labaki, Nadine: Caramel (2007)

62. Lemmons, Kasi: Eve’s Bayou (1997)

63. Loden, Barbara: Wanda (1970), The Frontier Experience (1975)

64. Lopez, Issa: Casi Divas (2008)

65. Lupino, Ida: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

66. Lynch, Jennifer: Boxing Helena (1993), Surveillance (2008)

67. Maggenti, Maria: The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love

68. Makhmalbaf, Samira: 11’09”01 – September 11 (2002)

69. Marking, Havana: Cold Souls (2009)

70. Marshall, Penny: Big (1988), A League of Their Own (1992), Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)

71. Martel, Lucretia: The Headless Woman (2008)

72. Mehta, Deepa: Earth (1998), Water (2005)

73. Meyers, Nancy: Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Holiday (2006)

74. Miller, Rebecca: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)

75. Minh-Ha, Trinh T.: Shoot for the Contents (1992)

76. Moffatt, Tracey: Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989)

77. Nair, Mira: Salaam Bombay! (1988), Mississippi Masala (1991), Amelia (2009)

78. Neshat, Shirin: (Video Artist)

79. Obomsawin, Alanis: Is the Crown at War with Us? (2002)

80. Ottinger, Ulrike: Prater (2007)

81. Owens, Phoebe: Tammytown (2007)

82. Parmar, Pratibha: Warrior Marks (1993), Nina’s Heavenly Delights (2006)

83. Peters, Barbara: Bury Me an Angel (1972)

84. Polley, Sarah: Away From Her (2006)

85. Potter, Sally: Orlando (1992), The Tango Lesson (1997)

86. Prince-Bythewood, Gina: Love & Basketball (2000), The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

87. Ramsay, Lynne: Ratcatcher (1999)

88. Reichardt, Kelly: Wendy and Lucy (2008)

89. Riefenstahl, Leni: Triumph of the Will (1935)

90. Reiniger, Lotte: Sleeping Beauty (1922), Snow White and Rose Red (1954)

91. Rice, Amy: By the People: The Election of Barack Obama (2009)

92. Robinson, Angela: D.E.B.S (2004)

93. Rothman, Stephanie: The Student Nurses (1970), Terminal Island (1973), The Velvet Vampire (1971)

94. Rozema, Patricia: Mansfield Park (1999), Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl (2008)

95. Sams, Alicia: By the People: The Election of Barack Obama (2009)

96. Sander, Helke: Mitten im Malestream (2005)

97. Sanders-Brahms, Helma: Die Berührte (1981)

98. Sasaki, Megumi: Herb & Dorothy (2008)

56. Satrapi, Marjane: Persepolis (2007)

99. Scherfig, Lone: An Education (2009)

100. Schneeemann, Carolee: Fuses (1967)

101. Seidelman, Susan: Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Making Mr. Right (1987)

102. Sen, Aparna: Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002)

103. Shelton, Lynn: Humpday (2009)

104. Sherr Klein, Bonnie: Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (1981)

105. Shum, Mina: Double Happiness (1994)

106. Skogland, Kari: 50 Dead Men Walking (2008)

107. Sperling, Andrea: (Producer)

108. Spheeris, Penelope: Wayne’s World (1992)

109. Streisand, Barbara: Yentl (1983), The Prince of Tides (1991)

110. Tandan, Loveleen: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

111. Taymor, Julie: Titus (1999), Frida (2002)

112. Thomas, Betty: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)

113. Timoner, Ondi: Dig! (2004), We Live in Public (2009)

114. Todd, Loretta: The Learning Path (1991)

115. Troche, Rose: Go Fish (1994), The Safety of Objects (2001)

116. Varda, Agnès: Vagabond (1985)

117. Vardalos, Nia: I Hate Valentine’s Day (2009)

118. Vasarhelyi, Elizabeth Chai: Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (2008)

119. Von Trotta, Margarethe: Marianne & Julianne (1981)

120. Weiland, Joyce: Reason Over Passion (1969), Birds at Sunrise (1986)

121. Wheeler, Anne: A War Story (1981), Better Than Chocolate (1999)

122. Wishman, Doris: Hideout in the Sun (1960), Nude on the Moon (1961)

123. Yedaya, Keren: Or (My treasure) (2004)

124. Yu, Jessica: Ping Pong Playa (2007)

Want some sex advice? Turned On, Tuned In author Bethany Perryman is here for you. You can get ‘in touch’ with her via email (bethany@filmschoolrejects.com) and/or follow her stream of hotness on Twitter at twitter.com/bethatasitmay

Bethany writes about sex. Suck it, nerds. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/bethatasitmay

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