Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ghazaleh Golbakhsh; & The Waking Dream Collective

Ghazaleh Golbakhsh with cinematographer Jarod Murray

It's been thrilling to observe some new trends among New Zealand women who write and direct film. Over the last few years, more of them (us) are also actors. More are or have been part of various diasporas into and out of New Zealand and are global citizens. And, most recently, some have begun to form collectives. These trends profoundly enrich our filmmaking. And Ghazaleh Golbakhsh, like Anita Ross, is a filmmaker who embodies all three.

Ghazaleh’s thesis film Iran in Transit, made for her Masters in Documentary at the University of Auckland, premiered at the International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv after winning the festival’s Alternative Competition and in 2013 won the Outstanding Student Film award at the Beijing Student Film Festival. She used a Fulbright General Graduate award for further post-graduate studies in film production and screenwriting at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, where she became an intern for Sundance and was elected as the Women of Cinematic Arts Student Board co-chair. As an emerging filmmaker she was selected for the first Commonwealth Writers Film Lab in Auckland.

Last year and this year, Ghazaleh’s feature screenplay At the End of the World, a coming of age road trip comedy, was shortlisted for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and last year it reached the Top 10% in the prestigious Nicholls Fellowship. This year, it’s been selected for the Writers' Lab Aotearoa run by Script to Screen and shortlisted for the 48+ screenwriting programme.

With two other other emerging filmmakers, Nicole Van Heerden and Mojan Javadi, Ghazaleh has set up the Waking Dream Collective and a film company, Waking Dream Productions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Anita Ross, 'Cloud Piercer', & Film Fatales

I 'met' Anita Ross five years ago, through her blog, Ophelia Thinks Hard. This is how she introduces herself there–
I'm an actress, a writer, mum to a gorgeous, funny and exceedingly clever little boy, and a proud Wellingtonian. I am inching my way closer to being a working actress. This is my journey.
Soon, she'll take her feature project about climber Freda Du Faur, Cloud Piercer, to the Stowe Story Labs, where mentors include Amy Hobby, Anne Hubbell and Elizabeth Kaiden of Tangerine Entertainment, casting director Ellen Parks and Anne Rosellini, co-writer of Winter's Bone.

And she's just founded Wellington's Film Fatales, modelled on the New York Film Fatales.

So I asked her: And. And. And. How did you come so far so fast? You have a masters law degree, in human rights. When and why did you shift from law to acting and then to writing? 

Pure stubbornness? I had spent about six years studying law but I was never particularly passionate about it. When I did my Masters I loved researching and writing about human rights, indigenous and women’s rights in particular but at the end of my degree I felt burnt out. A friend sat me down, told me to stop complaining and imagine a world where you could be whatever you wanted to be with nothing and no one holding you back. She asked me what I wanted to be and an old, familiar voice at the back of my mind piped up and said ‘an actress of course!’

I’d also always enjoyed writing but had never written with much focus unless someone told me to. Once I had made the decision to pursue acting, the writing started sort of accidentally with my blog as a sort of sounding board to sort through my scattered and often contradictory thoughts on the industry. Eventually, I got frustrated by the dearth of roles for women and wrote to make my own work.

Once I gave myself permission to do the work, I had to finish. Through all the creative ups and downs, I realized that I had found something that I actually felt passionate about.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Whispers, in New Zealand

Pro Quote Regie at the Berlinale
The first part of this series delighted in the roar of the collective, global Activist Complex Female Protagonist who works to improve representation of women in front of and behind the camera. (It was a limited record because I can only access information in English and – sometimes – in French.)

The second celebrated a recent surge in this protagonist's work, in Australia.  

This post focuses on gender equity in New Zealand feature film funding. Like other European and British Commonwealth countries we have taxpayer-funded systems to support local screen production– feature filmmaking, short films, webseries, transmedia work and television. And like theirs, our hard data demonstrates that fewer producers apply for development and production funding of women-written and -directed features than for features that men write and direct. 

One suggestion for New Zealand is that among other taxpayer-funded systems we create a women's film fund, to provide an incentive for producers and support women writers and directors. This sent me back to similar funds in the past and to my own history with women-only initiatives. So, even more than usual – autoethnography has always been my methodology for this project – this is a personal post because I read and thought about what I researched in light of my own experiences, waaay back and over the last decade. 

We've got to get it right this time. –  70s feminist film activist, still working to achieve gender equity in film funding

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hash Perambalam and 'Not Like Her'

Still from Not Like Her, with Livy Wicks and Kate Elliott
I’ve emerged (briefly) from researching the 1930s and 1970s. Freshly aware how quickly women writers and artists and their histories are lost. Not only in New Zealand. The other day art historian Griselda Pollock wrote about how England’s National Gallery is erasing women from the history of art. And I’ve noticed something similar myself, seeing how a New Zealand woman artist's feminism can be erased in just a few years, when an exhibition catalogue omits her participation in feminist exhibitions and a book about her explicitly denies her deeply valued contributions to the women's art movement. I'm re-motivated to make a formal record of women artists' work, starting here.

So, in case her achievement is forgotten, warm congratulations to Michelle Joy Lloyd, whose Sunday just won Best International Feature at a major international women’s film festival, the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto. Thanks to Sarah McMullan for her Facebook post about this delight.

In development news, it’s exciting that Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner (best known as a producer but also writer director of short film Mokopuna) are writing a feature animation, The Song Jar, which ‘turns the child-parent relationship on its head’. And women are strongly represented in the four projects selected for the most recent Script to Screen Writers Lab. This is yet another triumph for women writers in a tough competition where entries were blind read: Script to Screen’s and the New Zealand Writers Guild’s use of blind reading in their initiatives, I believe, is currently the most effective contribution to quality and diversity in New Zealand film that there is. Warm congratulations to Ghazaleh Golbakhsh with her At the End of the World, Rachel House with Mitch Tawhi Thomas and their Hui and Gaysorn Thavat and Sophie Henderson with The Justice of Bunny King. Read more about these writers here. I'll keep an eye out for the projects as they move through development.

And it’s New Zealand International Film Festival time again (and for those of you outside New Zealand, no, it's no better here than anywhere, from a gender perspective). Christine Jeffs selected six finalists for the New Zealand’s Best Short Film competition, from preselection by programmers Bill Gosden and Michael McDonnell. Women wrote and a directed two of the films: Alyx Duncan’s The Tide Keeper, home at last after a very successful circuit of international film festivals, and Hash Perambalam’s Not Like Her.

There’s a beautiful Tim Wong interview with Alyx Duncan here, when she released her feature The Red House (and I'm excited to see Tim’s own film in the festival, Out of the Mist: An Alternate History of New Zealand Cinema, narrated by Eleanor Catton). But I couldn’t find much about Hash Perambalam, born and raised on Auckland’s North Shore. So she sent me the film and I sent her some questions.

Hash Perambalam

What inspired Not Like Her?

A decade of being bored by body image conversations while also being acutely aware that negative body image seriously messes people up - especially teenagers. I think this sensibility contributed to the overall tone of the film - it’s not preachy but it’s not a joke either.

The mother-daughter dynamic was inspired by seeing things like Thinspiration blogs on Tumblr and thinking about the people who made them and the people who frequent them. I started thinking about what kind of mothers they would make if they were to ever have children and what kind of children they would raise if their body image issues were to go unchecked. We are told that motherhood is a sacred and precious thing, so the image of a mother hating herself and hating her daughter for looking like her was striking to me.

Is Not Like Her your first film?

I would say that Not Like Her is my first ‘proper’ film. I’ve made other small things while at university, mostly about teenagers, mental health issues and romantic relationships. I don’t think I’ve sussed my style yet but I’m getting there. I made Not Like Her as part of a year long Masters thesis in Screen Production at the University of Auckland.

I wrote a few short stories earlier in the year and one of them was chosen as the basis for the Not Like Her script. There was a course requirement for students to crew on three of their fellow student’s films. As long as this crewing requirement was met, the university was flexible with letting us acquire other cast and crew members from outside the uni. My supervisor was Brendan Donovan (The Insiders Guide to Love, The Insiders Guide to Happiness) who supported and mentored me throughout the process of making the film.

The university is a good environment to make mistakes and to learn. We were provided with gear and an editing facility which was also really helpful.

In terms of disadvantages… people can be quite critical of working on student films. Mainly because we’re still sussing things out and because we have no money. Fair enough I guess. On Not Like Her I was fortunate enough to be working with professionals who didn’t seem to mind too much about these things.

I especially loved the cinematography. Was the cinematographer a fellow student?

Thanks! The cinematographer was Grant McKinnon. He also shot Ross and Beth which screened in the New Zealand’s Best section at NZIFF last year.

I experienced the film as a feminist work.

Feminism is relevant to me because I’m a woman trying to direct films in a male dominated industry. But when I’m writing I don’t particularly have a feminist agenda. My main priority is to depict my characters, whether male or female, in an honest way by allowing them to have a voice that I feel is genuine.

Sometimes the responsibility to write female characters with feminism in mind is a nuisance because you start second guessing everything that you write. For example– I don’t mind having my female characters do cringey things like pining over men or boys or whatever because I think it’s natural. But some might view this as weak characterisation. It can get silly if you get too caught up in it. Anyway- I don’t like second guessing myself so I basically just do what I want to do. In regards to Not Like Her… the mother and daughter behave in a toxic way which is at times unlikeable. I think this, combined with the fact that’s its a film that deals with body image (something which is often incorrectly labelled as solely a female issue), contributes to it being viewed as a feminist work.

What films or filmmakers, artists or writers influence you?

My favourite films are ones which have rich characters usually with various mental health issues. Some of my favs include There Will Be Blood, Dog Day Afternoon and The Aviator. Those are the films that I would watch over and over again in high school. I’d get something new out of it each time because the characters had so much depth to them. There aren’t many films on that scale with rich and compelling female characters. So for that reason I admire the work of Andrea Arnold, Cate Shortland, Lynne Ramsay and Xavier Dolan.

What's next for you?

I am currently working on a few short stories. I’m developing one of them into a script for another short film about power dynamics in romantic relationships. Should be painful/fun if all goes to plan!

Screening dates for New Zealand’s Best 2015 at NZIFF

July 25th Saturday 6:15 PM SKYCITY Theatre
July 27th Monday 1:30 PM SKYCITY Theatre
July 29th Wednesday 6:15 PM Paramount
July 30th Thursday 2 PM Paramount

Tickets on sale from NZIFF website.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Goes For It, In Australia

Another in my series about the Activist Complex Female Protagonist.  To me, she's all those who work towards increased and more diverse representation of women in front of and behind the camera, globally. 

I'm intrigued. It feels as though a sleeping giant is waking. Back in the 70s and 80s there were many activist women filmmakers in Australia, often making films by, about women and for women. I've been reading about them (again) this week. There was even a state-funded Women's Film Fund that I'll write about soon, in a post about New Zealand's tentative new gender initiatives. But in the last decade or so, it's seemed very quiet over in Aussie.

As the Screen Australia gender stats show, the situation's as bad there as it is anywhere. And similar to New Zealand's. These are very recent infographics.

Yes, Sydney's WOW is an annual festival, in its 21st year (no parallel event here in New Zealand). Yes, there's the Tasmanian Stranger With My Face horror festival (also unparalleled in New Zealand). Yes, WIFTNSW and WIFTI WA keep on keeping on, as WIFTNZ does. Maybe some other Aussie WIFTS too. Yes, there is the Dollhouse Collective. Maybe others like it. And yes, there are films like Catriona McKenzie's Satellite Boy and Sophie Hyde's 52 Tuesdays and Jennifer Kent's The Babadook (Jennifer's about to adapt Alice & Frida Forever, yay.) But yes...from here it seems that Australian women's film activism is just like it is in New Zealand, very very quiet compared with what goes on in the United States and Europe.

And now, suddenly, there's a shift.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Linda Niccol – New Zealand Writer & Director

Linda Niccol at Newport Beach
I love New Zealand-based films about 'us'. And I love the diasporic elements in New Zealand women’s filmmaking: the contributions of women writers and directors who – like me – come to live here as children or adults and contribute differently than those from families who've lived here for generations; and the contributions of the women – some of them the same women – who move in and out of New Zealand to work. Our global reach.

Best known are Jane Campion, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, Christine Jeffs, Niki Caro (in pre-production on Callas, starring Noomi Rapace!) and Dana Rotberg, whose White Lies/Tuakiri Huna is currently attracting acclaim and audiences in Mexico. And there are others. Dianne Taylor wrote the first NZ-India co-production, Pan Nalin’s Beyond The Known World, now in post-production. Writers and producers Donna Malane and Paula Boock define their Lippy Pictures as a production company ‘making quality film and television for the local and international market’. Their Field Punishment no 1 recently won a Gold World Medal for Drama Special at the 2015 New York Festivals International Television and Film Awards and their adaptation of Kate De Goldi’s award-winning The 10pm Question, to be directed by Yasemin Samdereli, is steadily moving forward as a co-production with Germany with production funding secured from the New Zealand Film Commission. Fingers crossed that their project also benefits from Pro Quote Regie’s activism and the new European awareness of the inequity of women's film funding, thanks to the European Audiovisual Observatory's research and the work of many others.

Linda Niccol’s diasporic elements also interest me. Co-writer of Second-Hand Wedding (2008), the eighth-highest grossing New Zealand film ever in the most recent list I could find, her Miss Adventure won the highly competitive New Zealand Writers Guild Unproduced Screenplay Award in 2012 and her Poppy and Looking for Lila Ray were also placed in the top 10, an extraordinary achievement. And she’s been consistently a finalist or winner in overseas script competitions.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Roars

Introducing The Complex Female Protagonist Roars

This year, I got a stall at the local queer fair Out in The Park, to sell my neonics-free bee-loved flowering plants, another artist's beautiful work and this cap, which I had made in New Zealand from a design by the Bluestocking Film Series, thanks to its director, Kate Kaminski. The fair was postponed – Wellington wind – so I distributed some caps to family and Facebook friends. I’m delighted that the new owners tell me stories about when they choose to wear the caps, how they feel wearing them, the responses of those they meet when wearing them. Wearing a cap with the Complex Female Protagonist slogan has many effects. I love it.

Last year, when I wrote Get Your Hopes Up, near International Women’s Day, I recalled what David Mamet wrote, about drama being about the creation and deferment of hope. This year, because of those caps and the stories their owners tell me, my mind and heart are on the Complex Female Protagonist. So I’m writing three posts. This first post moves on from hope, to explore some characteristics of the the delightful collective Complex Female Protagonist-working-for-change-in-long-form-screen-storytelling (henceforth 'the Activist CFP'), from as much of the globe as I can access. Who is she, right now – the informal and ever-changing collective of activists who work to increase the volume, diversity and quality of screen storytelling by women writers and directors, often focusing on women and girls?

And why does this Activist CFP ‘roar’? I’m thinking back years, to the first time I found CampbellX’s BlackmanVision website and its header ‘When the Lioness Can Tell Her Story, The Hunter No Longer Controls The Tale’. Today the lioness roars without cease, thanks to the Activist CFP.

In the second post, I’ll write about equity and public funding for screen storytelling, with reference to the research I’ve done on women’s film funds and women’s studios. That’s because I’m in New Zealand, where, thanks to Jane Campion’s commitment as a member of the national Screen Advisory Board, the New Zealand Film Commission will today announce its very first gender policy. Yes, we’ll roar anyway. But we’re entitled to an equal share of taxpayer funding to do that.

The third post considers what might happen if we have equal numbers of screen stories by women and men. In New Zealand, (white) women poets now publish as many books of poetry as men do. How did this happen? What effects does it have?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

NZer Jackie van Beek wins First Prize in WIFTI Short-Case!

Members from Women in Film chapters all over the world submitted over 800 films for Women in Film International's 10th anniversary Showcase, now called Short-Case, and for the first time ever, WIFTI awarded cash prizes to the top three winning films. What a thrill that New Zealand's Jackie Van Beek won First Prize. Here's the info about all the winners and their films, from WIFTI, with some additions about Jackie's work. And if you're interested in short films by women, you can check out all the finalists here.

First Prize Uphill
Desperate to be alone, May escapes to a tiny hut in the mountains, but her peace is destroyed when another couple turns up for the night.

Director: Jackie van Beek

Jackie's  an actor, writer and director who works in both theatre and film. Her six short films have played in festivals that include the Berlin Film Festival, London Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival. They've picked up a number of awards in Australasia and are used as educational resources in Australia, France, Denmark and the UK.

Jackie won Best Actor at New Zealand's Show Me Shorts festival, for her portrayal of May in Uphill and Ari Wegner was nominated for the Best Cinematographer award.

Jackie won Best Supporting Actress in the 2014 New Zealand Film Awards for her role in the vampire mockumentary, What We Do In the Shadows and was also awarded the SPADA New Filmmaker of the Year in 2013. She's currently in pre-production – or production! – with her first feature, The Inland Road, with a Facebook page here.

WIFT New Zealand

Second Prize FaimHunger
In a grim not-so-distant dystopia, all food distribution is rigidly controlled. Table scraps are monitored to guard against waste. Despite tomorrow's compulsory medical check-up, worker Jean-Paul rebels by secretly cooking forbidden food. His friend Nathan arrives to enjoy the delicious dinner. The next day, they may bear the consequences, but Jean-Paul will relish the memory.

Director: Matilde Rousseau

Mathilde Rousseau is a scriptwriter-woman director. She is also working in the television industry. Currently, she is working on several short film projects. Faim is her first short film.

FCTV Paris (France)

Third Prize Mbeti: The Road to Kisesini
In Kenya and other African countries, many newborns die within the first year of life - usually from infection or other preventable causes. This compelling documentary is designed to engage a diverse international audience with a powerful visual narrative.

Director: Ann Bromberg

A native New Mexican, Ann Bromberg has worked on both television and film projects since 1990.

New Mexico WIF

Best from an Emerging Chapter (Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East) Keli
Animated tale of a young girl dealing with the issue of self-determination. Ponnu is fascinated by Pottan Theyyam, an ancient rebel who stood for equality. She dreams to be like him, dance like him, but she is realising how hard it is for 'her' to be like 'him.'

Director: Ranjitha Rajeevan

Ranjitha is a prolific Animator/ Filmmaker from Ahmedabad, India. Keli is her post graduation film from the National Institute of Design.

WIFT India

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Driven By Complex Female Protagonists

Filmmaker Kate Kaminski founded the now-legendary Bluestocking Series, of films with complex female protagonists that pass the Bechdel Test.  Her ideas in this piece are American-oriented, but they inspire me to consider similar stories set in New Zealand. Maybe they'll inspire you too, wherever you are?

by Kate Kaminski  

Yesterday I was asked by @Winstonwrites on Twitter “What female-driven films would you like to see in 2015?” Because discovering films driven by complex female protagonists are a personal obsession, I knew immediately if I tackled this question, it would take much more than 140 characters so here we are.

But I still had to narrow the topic down. As somebody who sees stories wherever she looks, let’s just say, I have enough story/novel/film ideas scribbled on bits of paper to fill several notebooks.
I also run a women’s film festival called Bluestocking Film Series and this year, one of our short film categories is The Blue Collar Heroine Challengewhich focuses on working class women under-represented onscreen.
So to narrow down my response to the question posed, what follows are just a few of my ideas for films I would love to see about working women.And just for the record, I’d like to imagine that 2015 would only be the beginning of a new rosy future of female-driven films, a utopia that would see 50% of films featuring complex female protagonists.
First up, the biopics.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jane Campion: "Let's Really Say 'This is Enough'"

Steven Joyce (Minister of Many Things), Jane Campion, Maggie Barry (Minister for Arts & Culture), James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Jon Landau
New Zealand has a heavyweight Screen Advisory Board, appointed by the government just over a year ago: Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, James Cameron, Jon Landau, Andrew Adamson.

The board was appointed to help the New Zealand screen sector create the skills and connections to be able to generate their own intellectual property, compete internationally, attract overseas finance and to assist the New Zealand Film Commission, Film New Zealand, and the New Zealand screen sector to market and promote the New Zealand screen industry overseas. A huge ask. But something these imaginative, generous and enterprising board members can deliver on.

Last September, Dave Gibson, CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission, announced that the board members would each follow particular interests
Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have identified early talent and connections as theirs. James Cameron and Jon Landau are keen to help with US connections and a push we hope to make into Los Angeles next year. Jane Campion is interested in gender equality.
At the press conference that followed the board's meeting this week, where according to one report Jane Campion confirmed that one of her goals was encouraging more women to become filmmakers, she restated her interest in gender equality in strong terms (watch her here, about 46 seconds in)–
It's kind of completely disgusting and teeth-clenchingly irritating that [only 9% of New Zealand films are directed by women]. But that's not just New Zealand, it's a worldwide issue. And my challenge to this group, the board, is "Let's be the first. Let's really say 'This is enough'."
The board has ideas that include offering – presumably paid – internships and collaborating with film schools. And Sir Peter Jackson (when o when will we be able to refer to 'Dame Jane Campion'?) described New Zealand as an untapped mine of fantastic stories–
The history, the culture here is just unbelievable, so rather than see another cowboy movie or another Chicago gangster movie or another Elizabeth I film from other people's cultures how do we get really great looking films that are telling our stories?
I fervently hope that each of the board's members – and those politicians – strongly support Jane Campion. I hope each has said 'Yes! This is enough! Let's engage with diverse women writers and directors, with all of the talent pool, because that makes it more likely we'll compete successfully at an international level. It makes sense'. I hope too that each board member has explicitly acknowledged that women are 50% of those New Zealanders with access to an untapped mine of fantastic stories, many of them about women. I hope each member has myriad new ideas about how to welcome and support women's participation in every initiative they propose.

I dream that the board members remembered New Zealand's human rights obligations, so they added 'Regardless of our other concerns, we have to find ways to distribute taxpayer funds equitably. Shall we try the British Film Institute's 'three ticks' policy?' And that when they heard this, Steven Joyce and Maggie Barry gave them a standing ovation.

And I wonder whether the board's considered investing in a formal, rigorous  'talent audit' of women already identified as part of that 50% of the national talent pool, from Aidee Walker and Andrea Bosshard to Zia Mandviwalla, with a view to accelerating these women's progress. (It's such a simple idea that probably the board members have thought of it.) Because many of these women are feature-film-ready or can become so quite quickly. But until now they may have been affected by implicit bias, particularly in late development, when it's been hard to attract the crucial commitment from investors and distributors because they've tended to define women directors – and women protagonists – as risky and women as audience as insignificant. (Internationally, this may now have changed to some extent, because of the recent commercial successes of films with women and girls as protagonists, but we have yet to see any evidence of this shift in state-funded or other New Zealand filmmaking.)

There are so many gifted women storytellers who are already dedicated and sometimes award-winning screenwriters, already dedicated and sometimes award-winning directors and/or producers. As well as the women who've made their first features, I'm thinking of women like writer/director Fiona Samuel and writer/producers Donna Malane and Paula Boock, who have all made successful telemovies. I'm thinking of all those women – including lots of Maori women – who've made successful short films, most recently Kate Prior and Abigail Greenwood with Eleven and its 70%-women crew. I think of one writer/director in particular, whose feature script the late, great New Zealand screenwriter Graeme Tetley described as the best New Zealand script he'd ever read. There's the prolific Briar Grace-Smith. There are women best known as playwrights, like Pip Hall. Versatile, risk-taking and film-making artists like Alyx Duncan, Lisa Reihana, Rachel O'Neill and Sally Tran.

There are film and scriptwriting graduates like Becca Barnes, consistently honing their skills and getting all kinds of experience, on their own projects and on international projects, well beyond the internship stage. There are the Candle Wasters – Sally Bollinger and Elsie Bollinger, Minnie Grace and Claris Jacobs (aged 17-21) who have produced an astonishing 76 episodes of Nothing Much To Do, a YouTube webseries inspired by Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, with a strong following in the United States. They've just raised around $23,000 for their next series, Lovely Little Losers, based on Love's Labour's Lost. And Roseanne Liang must be just about ready to make another feature, after her successful webseries, Take 3. There's Lorde, too, who might want to diversify? (I imagine her directing one of  Miu Miu's Women's Tales, to start with.)

What would happen, I wonder, if the board made this audit? What if they then asked all the women writers and directors: "How can we help you? How can you help us? What interests you? Any thoughts about animations, hybrids, docos, video games, adaptations, new era television, webseries, co-productions?" (remember, this is the Screen Advisory Board, not the Film Advisory Board).

My guess is that there'd be some surprises. And, before too long, some fine work that would compete internationally.

Hoping and dreaming and wondering. Sending Jane Campion much gratitude. And every good wish, for everything, including the next series of Top of the Lake.

Monday, January 5, 2015

In The Garden

A beautiful moment in herstory. Kathryn Bigelow and Ava DuVernay converse after a showing of Selma.
Hoping someone recorded it. 

Half-way through some longish posts. But there are some thoughts I can't resolve. And it's mid-summer here so I'm also gardening and watching the bees (see Bee-Loved blog at right), hoping that the physical work will help me articulate what I think and feel.

Sending you every good wish for a beautiful 2015. And warm thanks for being there for me to write to and for your responses, which I always love to bits.

I may be gone for a while.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Niki Caro's 'McFarland USA'

Yes, champions can come from anywhere. And New Zealander Niki Caro's a champ, director of McFarland USA. But she's the only woman director on the Disney list for 2015, which includes Pixar films. Furthermore, there's only one film on the list with a female protagonist, Pixar's Inside Out, an animation 'told from the perspective of the emotions inside the mind of a girl' and written and directed by men.

This is no good for those of us who enjoy films by and about women and girls. But on this first day of 2015 – happy new year to all! – I'm delighted to celebrate a new film by Niki Caro, her first since A Heavenly Vintage (2009).

McFarland USA is based on a true story about Jim White, a teacher (played by Kevin Costner) who noticed that young Latino farm workers ran great distances each day just to get from their exhausting jobs to school and back home. He creates a cross-country team and transforms the team into a state championship powerhouse.

In a USA Today article Niki Caro says that the story focuses on White's perseverance to create the team and his unconventional runners' inner strength, which was forged through hardship.

Niki Caro was inspired by the runners' physical, mental and spiritual endurance and immersed herself in the lifestyle. "My mandate is to be culturally specific and authentic. And I backed that vision all the way," she says, in the USA Today story. "I hope this story breaks new ground in the types of stories Disney tells." She took up long-distance running herself and insisted on shooting part of the production in McFarland, despite the cost. The cast, a mix of actors and McFarland runners, lived together and trained extensively to truly inhabit the team-running lifestyle.

"It's very cinematic. To see them running in the fields with the dust kicking off their feet with the sun going down. I had a very strong feeling for what the story was and how I could put it on the screen," says Caro. "I knew I could make it beautiful but keep it absolutely real."

McFarland USA on Facebook

Opening in the US 20 February, Australia 12 March, no New Zealand date on imdb.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Michelle Joy Lloyd's 'Sunday'

It's always exciting when a New Zealand woman-directed feature comes out. There's been a big gap between Dana Rotberg's White Lies/Tuakiri Huna, in early 2013, and Michelle Joy Lloyd's Sunday, which premiered last weekend.

In what's believed to be a world first, in a carefully designed multiplatform release by Dustin Clare and Michelle as distributors (Fighting Noise), Sunday opened simultaneously across more than twenty New Zealand cinemas, on television and the internet, on DVD and on airlines.

Until now, Michelle was best known as producer of the internationally acclaimed Open Source film project Stray Cinema, which she founded in 2006 while living in Wellington. She produced and directed the first round of Stray Cinema film footage shot in London and screened at the first Stray Cinema screening event in London, 2007.

Starring Dustin Clare and Camille Keenan, two award-winning Australasian actors, Sunday's a relationship drama in the vein of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, about two people whose lives intertwine with the city they inhabit. It's set in Christchurch one year after the major earthquakes and is a story that mirrors Christchurch's story, including past devastation, beauty and a chance at rebuilding bigger and better than before.

Camille Keenan, DOP Ryan Alexander Lloyd, Dustin Clare and Michelle Joy Lloyd photo: Johanna Macdonald 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sapna Samant & 'Kimbap'

I feel very proud that a New Zealand film, Kimbap, written and produced by Sapna Samant and directed by Alex Kyo Won Lee, won Best in Show and the Audience Choice Award for the best film by a male director at the Bluestocking Film Series this year and then travelled with the Bluestocking selection to the LadyBug Festival in Sweden. This all feels special, because Bluestocking is the influential showcase for provocative, well-produced short fictional films featuring complex female protagonists – and the only film event in the world to require female protagonists. Submissions must also pass the Bechdel Test and Bluestocking is the first United States film event to receive Sweden’s A-Rating, which informs consumers that films pass the test.

Best in Show judge, Thuc Doan Nguyen from The Bitch Pack, which advocates better representation of women ‘on the page’, said this about Kimbap
I chose the film because of the excellent acting, the relationship between mother and daughter (also the one between the two children), and the handling of racial and cultural differences as subject matter. All the elements came together well and were refreshing to me.
Kimbap’s writer and producer is Sapna Samant, of Holy Cow Media, which she set up in 2006 to tell stories across all media. She produced The Asian Radio Show, a contemporary and irreverent show about the Asian diaspora in New Zealand from 2008-2012, the only such show on commercial radio. Sapna was a freelance producer for Radio New Zealand before that, and on the WIFT Auckland board for two terms. She also won second prize in Auckland University’s short story competition in 2013.

Kimbap is about a migrant family and how they make their place in New Zealand through food and love. Kimbap is Korean sushi. It also symbolises inclusion.

Broadcaster Sapna, with Liyen Chong

Where did the idea for Kimbap come from?

I was inspired by a true event in Christchurch, New Zealand. A Korean family, a mother and her two daughters, committed suicide and one of the issues that came out of the discourse after was the loneliness and isolation of non-English speaking migrants to New Zealand. I felt great empathy with this family. Here I was, someone who spoke fluent English, and yet I had experienced isolation and loneliness as a migrant to New Zealand. The other issue I learned was the concept of the goose family. These are families where the father lives and works in Korea while the wife and children migrate to an English speaking country for the sake of the children's education. Of course such distances would compound the alienation of any migrant. However I wanted to tell a sweet, simple tale rather than a dark, desolate one which many New Zealand films are. For, if a migrant comes into a host society and feels an outsider, there are also many opportunities to come out on top of the situation in a positive way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How Can 'Female Directors in European Films' Help?

So Mockingjay had a big opening.  And here's @licoricehazel's immediate response–

That' s all terrific. And as a New Zealander, I'm especially proud and delighted because 'our' Lorde curated the music. And wrote and performed some of it too.

But I'm also remembering that men wrote almost all the Hunger Games scripts and directed all of the films. And I'm reflecting on that depressing data on women who make films and about the (mis)representation of women and girls in films. It continues to pour out. A storm. A flood. A tsunami. It's almost overwhelming.

In September, the European Audiovisual Observatory released Female Directors in European Films: State of Play and Evolution Between 2003 and 2012 – the first substantial study to measure the director 'gender divide' at pan-European level.

Since then I've been thinking about the various recent reports and their interrelationships, in an attempt to understand where and how women writers and directors might best choose to work and what might help us to do that, especially those of us who live outside the United States, in countries where the government funds films. Because I fit into this group, the data speaks to me most strongly when it illuminates or confirms ideas about how we might resolve our local 'gender problems', with more films written and directed by diverse women and more films that represent diverse women and girls. I'm also interested in the bigger picture, for the many American women filmmakers I know, working in a country without government film funds.

But it's important to remember that whether or not we live in the United States our practices are as diverse as we are. Some of us want to tell our stories independently, outside the United States and for the world, to reach the audiences we know are there but are largely ignored. And/or to reach audiences unfamiliar with entertainment that comes from outside Hollywood– audiences that may believe that this kind of entertainment consists only of 'arthouse' films. Some want to use film to explore an idea, to experiment, to make an 'arthouse' film. Some of us want to be assimilated into the patriarchy of Hollywood as directors-for-hire. Some of us want to work with Hollywood only if it welcomes our own stories and/or more diversity among its workers and within the stories it chooses to tell. Some of us want to combine elements of several of these options. Some of us want to make a living from writing and directing films. Others don't. Some of us will always put women and girls at the centre of the story. Some of us won't.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Investing in Love: Jacqueline Kalimunda's 'Single Rwandan'

Jacqueline Kalimunda
Jacqueline Kalimunda's Single Rwandan Seeks Serious Relationship asks ‘How do people love after genocide?’ It uses new technologies to explore the rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict and will introduce us to Rwanda’s new generation, using the internet to find love and enhance resilience. In three languages –  Kinyarwanda (Rwanda's official language) English and French – it's the first participatory film on love in Rwanda.

I found Single Rwandan's crowdfunding campaign on Twitter. And then watched Jacqueline's pitch clip and some clips she’s shared from the project (below). Jacqueline and the clips enchanted me, made me think and feel deeply. As an exploration of the 'rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict’, Single Rwandan is extraordinary, I believe, something profoundly important for all of us.

In the English-speaking world, we’re most familiar with Rwanda through films made by other English speakers, who are not Rwandan. And when I googled Rwandan filmmaking I came across, almost immediately,, which Leah Warshawski helped establish, the Kwetu Film Institute and its festival and the Rwanda Film Institute. And I wondered, 'Who are the Rwandan filmmakers?' and 'What’s it like to be a Rwandan woman filmmaker today?' When American investment is involved, are there issues like those in New Zealand, of a new kind of colonisation? But Jacqueline’s responses to my questions attuned me in a different way. Many and warm thanks to her.

Single Rwandan is a four-unit transmedia project on many screens and in many voices: a documentary, a participatory web documentary, a book and an art installation, each looking from a different perspective at the search for love in today's Rwanda and how that search uses the internet and other new technologies. Why did you choose this way to work instead of making a fictional feature film, a documentary or a television series?
I've been making films for 12 years and my two main issues have always been– how do I do to make the movies that I imagine? How do I present my films to the audience I expect to reach? To speak of love in Rwanda after the genocide isn't a story that just belongs to me. If I have a personal interest in it and the will to carry out this project, I nevertheless understood from the beginning that this story is a conversation with many voices. This project belongs to all of those who seek love in Rwanda. It also belongs to all those outside Rwanda who have an interest in, or empathy for, the subject, and, finally, also to those who seek inspiration or insight from this story for their own situation.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Aussie Emma Rozanski's Sarajevo film, 'Papagajka'

Emma Rozanski, writer/director Papagajka
I’m convinced that it’s essential to follow crowdfunding campaigns to learn what’s new and exciting about women in film, that women-directed and crowdfunded films are the most likely to change the gender imbalances, not films that women direct for Hollywood, with its profound ambivalence (at best!) towards women who make films and towards women and girls in films. Crowdfunded and women-directed films are where we’re most likely to experience complex women and girls and exciting stories about them. That's also where we'll be challenged and engaged by experimental work that makes us think and feel, I reckon.

For me, it's easiest to access crowdfunding campaigns on Twitter. That’s where I first heard of Afia Nathaniel, whose Dukhtar (Daughter) premiered at Toronto this year, because she created such a beautiful campaign. I first heard and loved Ana Lily Amapour’s distinctive voice when she tweeted about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, during her campaign. Jennifer Kent crowdfunded for The Babadook, too.

When I can, I contribute the price of a ticket to projects that attract me and as often as possible I add the campaigns to my dedicated Pinterest board and tweet at least once, at a time that I think will work best.

I fell over Emma Rozanski’s campaign for her first feature, Papagajka. As you do.

Live or be lived.

Short Synopsis

A stranger arrives in Sarajevo and barges into Damir's reclusive world. Little by little she takes over his life, even absorbing his dreams, until finally he ceases to exist.
According to Emma–
Papagajka is a cautionary tale about apathy. Thematically I’m interested in exploring how people transform under psychological conflict, and how the mind adapts to survive in different environments. We all change in fundamental ways under society's scrutiny.
Intrigued, I learned that Emma’s an Aussie, from the Queensland Institute of Technology, where she studied stage and drama. Saw that she’d been through a bunch of talent labs. Looked at the pitch clip, read the rest of the info, enjoyed her mood boards. I saw that Emma’s doing her masters in Sarajevo, being mentored by Béla Tarr at his Film.Factory and by an astonishing group of others– Palme d'Or recipients Cristian Mungiu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, award-winning auteurs Carlos Reygadas, Guy Maddin, The Brothers Quay and Fred Kelemen. (I also learned that she was at the Reykjavik TransAtlantic lab with the lovely Matthew Hammett Knott, whose own feature, Bonobo, is out any day.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rachel O'Neill & Pip Adam

All the Cunning Stunts (2010-11) Detail.
A while back, in Courtenay Place Wellington, All the Cunning Stunts installed a series of frames that made me smile. Juxtaposed with the Reading Cinemas complex, it provided me with a short film experience as I walked by, pausing often.

All the Cunning Stunts (2010-11) Detail.
I love it that at home we can now watch films at our own pace, pause on individual images, replay sequences. It's like turning the pages of a book. And at the All The Cunning Stunts installation, instead of clicking on my computer I 'walked' what felt like an experimental film. With drama. Read text that felt like poems. Reflected on the ideas. Delighted in this elegant manifestation of media convergence, complete with reference to the Topp Twins (remember The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls?)

All the Cunning Stunts (2010-11) Installation view.

So imagine my delight when Pip Adam suggested that she interview Rachel O'Neill, who happens to be one of The Cunning Stunts. 

I long for more public discussion between women about the ideas that inform their work as filmmakers, artists and writers. In film, I want conversations that go beyond the difficulties of ‘getting work’ as a writer or director, of raising finance. Conversations that go beyond production stories and stories designed to attract an audience. I want conversations like this one that Pip Adam initiated with Rachel O’Neill. Unedited conversations that engage me, with hesitations and uncertainties among the insights. Without soundbites. Bechdel Test(!) conversations, to help me learn about directors who arrive at feature filmmaking from multiple-medium practices and diverse collaborations. Who fearlessly experiment. Who may illuminate issues around media convergence. Many thanks, Pip and Rachel.

Pip Adam–

Rachel O’Neill is an artist, writer, filmmaker and occasional editor living in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand. You can read more about her here.

Rachel is a graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland University and the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington and I’ve come across Rachel’s work in a variety of places and forms. Her debut poetry collection One Human in Height was published by Hue & Cry Press in October 2013. She is also a card-carrying member of All the Cunning Stunts, with fellow artists Liz Allan, Clare Noonan, and Marnie Slater.

I enjoy how Rachel’s varied pursuits feel like a body of work. I love encountering her ideas and art in different ways. Rachel’s film work interests me particularly, after a conversation we had at a Hue & Cry launch this year about film writing, development and production. I was excited to hear that Rachel is developing a script at the moment and that she’d taken part in The Rehearsal Room run by the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand as a director, workshopping a short scene from one of her screenplays with local actors.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Melissa Dopp 1963-2014

Melissa Dopp

People come and go on Twitter. And Melissa Dopp, of Hanover, Virginia, had lots in her life beyond her energetic @reellives Twitter account and her Pinterest boards, many of them about women's filmmaking. Party politics, life with her partner Pattie (including visits to mountains, wine trails), extended family and friends. And work.  So I didn't notice that she was missing. It was a shock to receive a beautiful email from her sister Liz telling me that Melissa died on 27 August, from complications following surgery, two days after her 51st birthday. It was a struggle to understand that vibrant Melissa was gone.

I don't remember how we met. But it was online, where Melissa made many friends, as she did In Real Life. And it was probably on Twitter, where the @reellives account no longer exists. We also emailed, DM'ed, shared Pinterest boards and briefly met in person, when she flew to New Zealand for Jane Campion's masterclasses.

On Melissa's Pinterest site, there's an RIP pin where others from her online community have posted about how much she meant to them. Another of her friends (someone I don't know) wrote–
Social media has changed the way the world works in so many ways. This week a friend I connected with on Pinterest and FB passed away. We never met in person but 'spoke' online nearly every day and spent many hours privately chatting. We first connected through a love of critical theory and liberal beliefs. She was an outspoken champion for Progressive causes and LGBT rights. I will miss her passion, her humor, and her breathtaking intelligence. My heartfelt condolences go out to her partner Pattie, her family, and her legion of admirers.
I loved that response to Melissa's death, from someone else who met her online. It confirms and extends my impressions of her. But I found it hard to write something myself.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The 'Women's Resolution' from World Conference of Screenwriters

Jill Golick, President Writers Guild Canada, at the Women's Resolution presentation
Hard data about women screenwriters and directors continues to flood in. And some amazing responses. This Women's Resolution for instance, from the World Conference of Screenwriters held in Warsaw at the beginning of the month. The conference is major, attended by by representatives of guilds and professional bodies from around the world, like the Writers Guild of America West, so its resolutions matter to us all. Here's the full text–
Statistics from writers' organizations around the world show clearly that women writers are under employed. We write fewer scripts, receive fewer commissions, have shorter careers and earn less than our male colleagues. Women have the talent, experience and ambition to participate as equals in every aspect of the industry. What stands in our way is institutional gender bias. We the 30 guilds and writers organizations present at the Warsaw Conference of Screenwriters 2014 representing 56000 male and female screenwriters, call upon our commissioners, funders, studios, networks and broadcasters to set the goal of having 50% of scripts across genres and at every budget level to be written by women. 
The World Conference of Screenwriters also streamed a session called Gender, the Lack of Representation of Women Writers, with participants from Germany, Britain, Canada, Ireland, Sweden and France. There were a few streaming hiccups at the beginning and the first thing I heard was something about 'a population of 4 million', the same population as New Zealand's. And that was David Kavanagh, from the Writers Guild of Ireland. I loved hearing him discuss his research on the representation of women writers in Irish films. Here's a slightly blurry screenshot about the Irish numbers–

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thank You, Jane Campion

One day last week I got up early, to watch the stream of presentations at the Washington session of the 2d Global Symposium of the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media (LA session coming soon). It was great to see and hear people I'd only read about and to see the involvement of UN Women.

I was especially inspired by activist, filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney (Pray the Devil Back to HellWomen, War & Peace, founder of Peace is Loud and the outspoken great-niece of Walt.) 'Gatekeepers are wrong 50% of the time', she said, in a fresh version of screenwriter William Goldman's assertion that in the screen industry 'nobody knows anything'. 

The other statement that's stayed with me came from Dr Stacy Smith, of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, who led the Geena Davis Institute research launched at the symposium, Gender Bias Without Borders 'As money moves in, women are pushed out', she said. Still thinking about what I'd heard, and about to write about it, I saw this tweet.

Just about the best tweet ever. O wow. And how did it happen?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The BFI Greenlights Diversity

Kate Sheppard as green light
Yesterday was the 121st anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand. Yes, we were the first country in the world to give women the vote. And this year the Wellington City Council has commemorated this with some special pedestrian green lights near Parliament, portraying suffragist Kate Sheppard.

Also yesterday, I caught up with the British Film Institute (BFI)'s 'three ticks' policy, 'designed to address diversity in relation to ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status'. Green-lit in July, the policy went live on 1 September. The BFI is the largest public film fund in the United Kingdom, invests over £27m into film development, production, international sales and distribution, and supports around 30 new film productions each year.

From now on, to be eligible for BFI Film Fund support for production, producers who apply must demonstrate their commitment to encouraging diverse representation, across their workforces and in the portrayal of under-represented stories and groups on screen. To qualify under the 'three ticks' policy they need at least one tick in a minimum of two areas–
On-screen diversity– diverse subject matter, at least one lead character positively reflecting diversity, at least 30% of supporting and background characters positively reflecting diversity; 
Off-screen diversity– diverse key creatives (director, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer [note: this list does not include 'producer']), at least two Heads of Department from diverse backgrounds, production crew and production company staff (both with a range of targets across different diverse groups); 
Creating opportunities and promoting social mobility– paid internships and employment opportunities for new entrants from diverse backgrounds, training placements for people from diverse backgrounds, demonstrable opportunities for former trainees or interns to progress within their careers.
There will be challenges I imagine – even the Kate Sheppard green light is dependent on the other associated traffic lights –  but it will help that 'the BFI is also committed to engaging the UK film sector to build consensus around the best ways to approach diversity industry-wide, to develop an action-plan for change right across the UK’s film industry value chain'.

These new policies may mean that the UK will be the first country in the world where (diverse) women direct half of its features, instead of New Zealand, as I've always hoped, or Sweden, where gender equity policies have been in place for some time. The 'three ticks' concept must also influence other state funders committed to diversity in allocating production funds and to gender equity policies that reflect current best practice.

Will the BFI model spread to other parts of Europe, to Canada, Australia and even New Zealand?Very recently, the Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand (DEGNZ) held a meeting that resolved to work towards increasing the participation of women directors and editors in feature film making and suggested a state-funded women's film fund, but will it now feel encouraged to advocate for the 'three ticks' concept, or a variant of it?  How might a 'three ticks' idea work alongside He Ara, a  New Zealand Film Commission devolved development fund to assist 'established New Zealand writers, producers and directors of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage to express authentic Māori and Pasifika film perspectives'?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand & WIFT Take Action

Every so often magic happens. Like this public meeting organised by Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand (DEGNZ) and WIFTNZ. I was sad I couldn't go and look forward to seeing the video that was recorded, as shown in the audience pic below.

Many thanks to DEGNZ Executive Director Fiona Copland and to Lucy Stonex, for this brief report of the historic event, including the pics, followed by my response. For those of you not familiar with New Zealand, Annie Goldson is a documentary director and producer and academic, Cushla Dillon is an editor, Gaylene Preston is a director, writer and producer in film and television and Jackie Van Beek is an actor and a writer and director for stage and screen.

l. to r. Gaylene Preston, Kim Hill, Annie Goldson, Jackie Van Beek

by Lucy Stonex
Responding to the release of some concerning international statistics, members of DEGNZ and WIFT gathered in Auckland last week to talk about gender imbalance amongst directors and editors in the NZ screen industry. Broadcaster Kim Hill moderated a discussion with panellists Gaylene Preston, Annie Goldson, Cushla Dillon and Jackie van Beek, looking at why the imbalance exists and what can be done about it. 
The statistics are not readily available for television but are clear for film: in New Zealand only 17% of dramatic features with New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) investment are directed by women. Women are accessing less than half their appropriate share of public funding for film. The packed house at the event expressed overwhelming support for affirmative action to address this imbalance, by way of a targeted fund. 
DEGNZ will collaborate with NZFC and New Zealand On Air, to more fully analyse the data available and look at ways to move the discussion forward. Let us know your view.

The Audience
My Response

An earlier online report stated that the panellists ‘had varying views on how the situation had arisen and what could be done about it’. This isn’t surprising of course. It’s inevitable that a New Zealand discussion will echo global debates, where views also differ widely.

I'm curious about the representation of screenwriters, directors and producers in the audience and hope that there’ll now be a supplementary inquiry amongst women practitioners throughout the country. Even a brief questionnaire would be great.

Because the issues are so complex, I also look forward to a vigorous debate about what strategies will best encourage gender equity in New Zealand filmmaking. I love women's funds, but who would benefit from the one being proposed, and how? What's happened in the past with state-funded women's film funds? What can we learn from that? What's the range of contemporary approaches and how well are these approaches working?