Monday, January 12, 2015

A letter to female filmmakers

A few months ago I attended the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival, where a short film I co-wrote and produced was screening. On the first night of the festival, there was a mixer for the filmmakers at the resort bar, which was simultaneously playing host to a rather spirited ‘Class of '64’ high school reunion, but that's a story for another time. An ostentatious young director in a tweed vest, let's call him Ned, approached my partner and I, striking up a conversation about the art vs. business of filmmaking. We swapped business cards, trade stories, etc. After a while, the conversation lulled and we stumbled onto the topic of Kimberly Peirce's re-make of Carrie. Ned started to divulge some strong opinions about the mediocrity of the film before boldly stating "I think we all know why it was so bad."

He then leaned over to my partner and whispered something in his ear. They both laughed, albeit my partner uncomfortably, then looked around the room like naughty schoolboys. "What did you say?" I asked amiably. "It's not polite to keep secrets." Ned looked at me with a sly grin.

"Well I didn't want to tell you, but since you asked. I said the film was so terrible because it was directed by a woman."

"Excuse me?" I asked. Perhaps I misheard him. "That's... sexist."

"No it's not! I'm European, I say whatever I want to. I don't believe in being politically correct. Women just don't make good directors." He replied.

I resisted the urge to throw up in his drink, but I did find myself staring at him with an expression my partner must have recognized, because he quickly stepped in.

"Unfortunately, I don't think there are enough examples of female directors for you to fairly make that assumption." My partner interjected.

"True. But if a female and male directed the same film, which would be better? Come on. Women make better producers. They’re too emotional to direct. They become too involved in the moment to keep track of the whole film. They lose sight of the whole story.”

At this point my mouth was hanging open like a dead fish.

"I've offended you?" He implored. "Is it because you secretly want to be a director?" He implored further.

Ten minutes later, after a thoroughly frustrating debate, Ned insisted that I had hurt his feelings and proceeded to demand I give him his business card back, repeatedly, for an uncomfortable amount of time. When I didn’t, he plastered on a fake smile and we proceeded to enjoy a very awkward elevator ride together.

So, what's the big deal? I met an asshole in a bar. The truth is, what bothered me more than Ned's asinine world view, was the lack of examples I could think of to put him in his place. How many times can a girl play the Kathryn Bigelow card? Believe me, that’s not the only card I played, I played every card in my arsenal, and so did a man next to us who overheard the conversation. But it was painfully clear, to all of us, there were simply not enough examples.

The fact is, in 2013, only 2 out of the 100 top grossing feature films of the year were directed by women. And even in the more female friendly world of indie cinema, only 18% of the year’s narrative features were directed by women.

Do not let these numbers discourage you. There is space for us in this business, a gaping space that desperately needs to be filled. There is increasing pressure placed on the industry to get more women behind the camera, and I have to say: it's about time. 

This is your call to arms. This is a rallying cry to women and girls, of all ages, who want to make films. My message is simple: do it. Please do it. Even if you don’t have the money. Even if you don’t have the time. Even if you’ve only ever been a production assistant. Know that you are not genetically pre-disposed to be a better actress, or assistant, or producer. If you want to be one of those things, that’s your choice, and that’s awesome! But if you have a great idea for a film, make it. There is no one more qualified to make it than you. Your story is important. You are not too pretty, or too shy, or too fragile, or too sensitive, or too bossy, or too emotional. (I know you already know all this.) You are ready. And the world is ready for you. There are a million and ten reasons not to make a film. Don't let your gender be one of them.


(Two thoughts I'd like to add:

1. Cinema has not always been an inherently male-dominated industry. Alice Guy-Blaché's film 'La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy)' was one of the first narrative fiction films ever made in 1896. And though pioneering women in film have, on the whole, been few and far between, many of cinema's "firsts" have been women. I.e. Lois Weber, Francis Marion, Maya Deren, etc.

2. ) To say that you should not allow your gender to deter you from a successful filmmaking career is not to say that I believe the lack of female directors in the industry is due to women sitting around feeling helplessly deterred by their gender. Indeed, most women I know don't view their gender as a deterrent at all. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are very real obstacles for female filmmakers to overcome. The vast majority of studio executives, and directors they hire, and cinematographers they hire (etc.) are white males. Plain and simple. It is a discouraging climate for us gals, no matter how self-assured. We must go the extra mile, make the extra effort, and take our careers into our own hands in a notoriously fickle industry. Inevitably, sometimes, this leaves us asking ourselves "is it worth it?" For some of us, it isn't. But for some of us, it is, and I hope this letter serves as a small reminder that what we are doing is worthwhile.)

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