Thursday, November 19, 2015

Celebrating Australian Gender Equity Initiatives; & #womeninfilm in Welly

What amazing news from Australia, via Screen NSW (Screen New South Wales, based in Sydney) and Film Victoria (based in Melbourne)!

Gender Equity via Screen NSW

Screen NSW  has just introduced a gender equity target, of 50/50 allocation of its development and production funding programs by 2020 and will work towards reducing the industry wide gender bias against women in key creative roles.

These are the latest Screen NSW funding figures, according to Danielle McGrane of the Sydney Morning Herald
Just 28 per cent of directors and 16 per cent of writers working on features funded by Screen NSW from 2012-2015 were female. There were more female producers at 75 per cent. 
For those of you outside Australasia, New South Wales is within the film funding territory also covered by the nationally-oriented Screen Australia, which has no gender policy. These are Screen Australia's figures, according to Danielle–
Just 15 per cent of directors for Screen Australia-funded features from 2009-2014 were women, while 32 per cent of producers were female.
Sydney's only three hours away from New Zealand with its minimal gender policy at the New Zealand Film Commission. Screen NSW's office is only FIVE minutes (2.7km) away from Screen Australia. Here in Welly I'm holding my breath. Will Screen Australia pop over to Screen NSW for advice and encouragement? Will the New Zealand Film Commission? Very very soon? I hope so.

Courtney Gibson

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sophie Mayer & Her 'Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema'

And...Action... Sophie Mayer
Sophie Mayer. She arrived at my place via her last book There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond (written with Corinn Columpar) and her beautiful, inspiring and generous online presence brings her here often (scroll to end for details). I love it that she's also a poet – and a couple of years ago, when Jane Campion gave her workshops in Wellington (we're both Campion fangirls) Sophie kindly contributed a post that explained Keats' 'negative capability'. I needed that. And I love it that she makes me laugh as well as challenging me to think and feel more fully.

I'm waiting impatiently for Sophie's new book to reach New Zealand: Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, and was delighted when she agreed to this interview.

One of the most interesting and challenging things about global women's film activists is that as individuals we work hard to share and understand our different views of women's filmmaking; and the different language we use to express our views. This interview is part of that ongoing conversation.

Many thanks, Sophie!   

Where does Political Animals fit in your stream of books on women in film, which you've published over the 15 years you've been researching Political Animals?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

From Paul Feig to Agnès Films' #FavWomanFilmmaker campaign

#FavWomanFilmmaker team photo: Hannah Countryman
A great week last week, thanks to the male allies of #womeninfilm. Paul Feig tweeted several times in support of Destri Martino's fine work at The Director List, where she's created an elegant database of over 1000 accomplished women directors from around the world (more coming all the time!) and, each Friday, provides us with info about the latest crowdfunding for projects with women directors. This kind of very useful tweet –
On Women & Hollywood, award-winning screenwriter/director Matthew Hammett Knott wrote 'Confessions from Above the Celluloid Ceiling: The Truth About White Male Privilege'.

Kyle Buchanan produced a three-part series about women directors, starting with 100 Directors That Hollywood Should Be Hiring, continuing with 100 Women Directors: Actors, Producers, and Twitter Users Suggest Even More Names and ending with 5 Dumb Reasons Why Hollywood Won’t Hire Women Directors.

And in New Zealand, writer/directors Jemaine Clement and Jonathan King and actor Ben Fransham tweeted in support of gender equity in allocation of the New Zealand Film Commission's funding (scroll down here for more details, I was very excited).

And another great week this week. Warmed by all this extra support and info, we can contribute to the #FavWomanFilmmaker campaign,  from Agnès Films, a United States-based collective that supports women filmmakers, in all roles.

The #FavWomanFilmmaker hashtag will be on Twitter for four days (Monday November 9 – Thursday November 12), for us to tweet our favorite woman filmmakers and the reasons why we love them.

Agnès Films, named in honor of Agnès Varda, the French filmmaker who has been making women-centered fiction films and documentaries for over 50 years, hopes 'to bring awareness of the transcendent work being done by women behind the camera and to invite people to check it out and share it with others' and will be twinterviewing many people with intimate knowledge of the issues, like Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein,  writer/director Hope Dickson Leach who's just finished shooting her first feature, The Levelling, and is part of Raising Films ('making babies, making films, making change') and Sophie Mayer (also part of Raising Films) whose Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema has just been published.

Calendar All times are EST. For some of us in other timezones, we may need to keep checking a converter.

Not sure about your faves? Looking for more?

Check out these Women Filmmaker Lists created for people who work 'in the industry'– 
The Director List's thoughtfully curated database. 
Ms in the Biz's #HireAMs database– from Acting Coach (on set) and Art Directors to Production Managers to Writers/Script Doctors.
And then there are those fabulous individuals who commit to reading and watching women's work for an extended period and share that commitment with us–
Maria Judice's ReWrite Hollywood tumblr where she posts a feature script written by a woman each week. Am soooo grateful to her. 
Beti Ellerson provides comprehensive resources through her French/English African Women in Cinema blog. 
Cinema Fanatic's compelling A Year With Women, where every movie she watches in 2015 (at home or in theaters) is written by, directed by, co-written by or co-directed by women. Her idea's been picked up by–  
Women in Film Los Angeles, where we can pledge to watch 52 films by women over a year. 
 Check out the #DirectedByWomen's thorough lists, too.

& let me know if you have an additional list, from anywhere in the world?

There will be videos each day of the #FavWomanFilmmaker campaign. Here's the first one. I like it!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dear Jemaine

You make me smile.

I love it when I see you in the neighbourhood. Once every couple of years or so.

Wheeling the most elegant little pale blue bike I've ever seen, past New World.

At the polling booth at Clyde Quay School.

Striding past me, outside the fish and chippery in Majoribanks Street.

I love the way you show the neighbourhood, in What We Do in the Shadows. The first horror I ever watched (I am a wuss, a generic ancient person with shopping bags, waiting for the number 20 bus to go up Hawker Street; eating spicy eggplant at Cha; buying double ice cream cones at Kaffee Eis; in and out of the Paramount and the Embassy.)

I loved your Cure Kids project.

And I totally loved your work in People Places Things – kept reaching for 'Rewind' to have another look-and-listen, but there wasn't one on my Embassy armrest.  The day after I saw People Places Things I saw another film about an artist parent, Ricki & the Flash, where no performance – except in a fabulous scene between Meryl Streep and Audra McDonald – engaged me in the same way. 

I'll always watch everything and anything you do onscreen.

So of course when I saw a big feature about you in the paper last month I read it immediately and avidly. And wasn't surprised that you said–
But sexism is definitely rife in Hollywood and, as a comedian and writer I'm starting to feel the responsibility to make female roles, to put them in further, to do more with female roles.
'Go Jemaine!' I exclaimed. 'I thought so. Working globally, you're a New Zealand ally for women-in-film. Speaking up and out! Yes!' But then I read your next statement–
I wish...there were more female producers and writers.
And I sighed. Does that ellipsis indicate that you paused for thought, or that something significant's been edited out? I don't know. I could ask, I guess. But if that's in any way your view it's probably the view of others, too. And once it's in the paper, it'll influence the views of even more people.

So regardless, I thought I'd let you know and those others know that there are lots of women writers right here in New Zealand. More than enough, who just need half a chance. (There are lots of women producers too, about half all New Zealand producers.)

A couple of years back, I agreed to write about screenwriting in New Zealand, for a book that's just come out. This one. It costs $249.40 in hardcover and $228.02 on Kindle, so I doubt that we'll see it in airports or at Unity Books or buy it to read on the bus. 

In my essay, reproduced below, I focused on the feature development process and surveyed a group of women screenwriters (details below, where I've also added some notes in square brackets, lengthened some of the quotations and added references I can't find links for).

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Afia Nathaniel, via Raising Films

Afia Nathaniel

I love the Raising Films site and the women who created it.

Raising Films is visionary and absolutely necessary, building a frank-and-fearless community discussion around Family vs Film and developing a rich archive of illuminating and useful information for women filmmakers everywhere. Among other synergies, Raising Films is now associated with the European Women's Audiovisual Network and the Parents in Performing Arts campaign. And the makers – some of them mothers – provide an excellent model of being activists while also getting on with their individual work.

The women who run Raising Films are– Hope Dickson Leach, now shooting her first feature, The Levelling, funded by the iFeature programme (BBC Films, BFI and Creative England); Line Langebek, co-writer of I'll Come Running among other credits and a screenwriting teacher at Regent's University; prolific producers Nicky Bentham and Jessica Levick; writer Sophie Mayer whose Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema has just been launched; and Nathalie Wreyford, former Senior Development Executive at the UK Film Council and for Granada Films, whose PhD explored why there are so few women screenwriters and why the numbers aren’t changing and who is now a Research Fellow on Calling the Shots: Women in the UK Film Industry 2000-2015, the most comprehensive study of women working in the UK film industry so far.

 Here's how they describe Raising Films–
Women continue to struggle for representation across the film industry globally. One social barrier particularly affects women, although it applies to everyone: Family vs. Film

We believe conversations make change happen, and we want things to change. We are losing too much talent to the choice many filmmakers are forced to make, between being a parent and making films. We don’t believe this choice is necessary, but rather a product of social and economic conditions, and we want to start a conversation about how change can be made for filmmakers who want to have a family and continue their careers.

This is about development, sustainability and diversity. Raising Films aims to address one of the issues that prevents many female filmmakers from pursuing their careers, to enable filmmakers with families to keep working and feel supported during demanding times in their personal lives, and to challenge at a structural level the demands the film industry makes of all of us.
Raising Films on Facebook Twitter

Every single item on Raising Films has enriched me, but the interview with Dukhtar writer/director Afia Nathaniel is one of my favourites, because I'm waiting for Dukhtar here in New Zealand, along with Amy Berg's Janis: Little Girl Blue, Gina Prince-Bythewood's Beyond the Lights, Julie Dash's Illusions (yes, it's been a long wait!), Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog and many others.  When-oh-when will Australasian distributors take women-directed work more seriously?

Many thanks to Raising Films for letting me cross-post this interview.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Merata Is Always With Us'

Merata Mita
Aotearoa New Zealand (mostly 'Aotearoa' in this post) held its annual Big Screen Symposium in Auckland last weekend, focusing on 'strengthening our collaborative spirit'. It's run by Script to Screen, a trust whose mandate is to develop 'the craft and culture of storytelling for the screen in Aotearoa New Zealand'.

Many women participated on panels. Jane Campion took a masterclass and spoke with her Top of the Lake producer Philippa Campbell in the final session. I was catching up at home, so followed as well as I could via tweets and tumblr posts. (If I've missed something vital, please let me know?)

In his 'state of the nation' address, Dave Gibson, the chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) referred to the NZFC's gender policy.

Big sigh. According to the latest figures I've seen, women are already in Aotearoa's industry: 44% of those who work there. The 'female' issue is that we're not often enough the storytellers, the writers and directors of feature films and long-form television. But here at the symposium, yet again, the official NZFC response to our women directors' low participation in feature filmmaking (and maybe as short film makers it funds?) places the responsibility for this onto them (us), because we don't apply. And it's dispiriting that Dave Gibson's address also highlights the NZFC's inadequate and 'deficit'-oriented programmes that imply that women directors are not yet ready to make a feature. 

In Aotearoa, we may have been first with the vote, but we're now waaaaaay behind in gender equity in film; the NZFC's erroneous assumptions that it's women's fault our film projects are not funded and that women are 'not ready' or 'not interested' are now out of step with the rest of the world, where many countries have responded to a flood of data that records women's low participation by acknowledging that there are systemic issues to be addressed. 

In Australia, the Australian Directors Guild recently proposed that Screen Australia establish gender quotas like the Swedish gender equity policy, the global model for best practice; and has itself set gender and diversity goals. The United Kingdom (as discussed here) and Europe are also engaging strongly with gender equity. The British Film Institute (BFI) requires diversity 'ticks' for every project that it funds and has just added further guidelines that 'put diversity at the heart of decision making'. There's the Swedish model. And in August 47 European countries signed a Declaration  re policies to reduce gender imbalance in the audiovisual industries.

Things are shifting in Hollywood, too. There's a federal investigation into discrimination against women directors; this is encouraging women directors who've been silent to speak out and I'm hearing stories about small and specific decision-making that benefits women directors. There's even The Ms Factor Toolkit: The Power of Female-Driven Content, produced by the Producers Guild of America with Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein, including statistics that show how profitable female-driven content is. There's a new diversity programme based on this and other  information. And producers are even looking for a woman director for Star Wars!

Dave Gibson's statements, as reported in the symposium's tumblr post, sent me back to the NZFC's own research into gender and writers, directors and producers in its feature development funding from 2009-2014. I wish I'd examined it more closely when it came out, late last year. But I didn't. I was just so relieved that the NZFC was being more transparent and admiring of how good the publication looked, compared to the simple charts that recorded my similar research for the period before 2009. 

And I sighed again as I struggled through the publication yesterday, because it has gaps and raises questions, which I hope someone else will address (it could be you!). For instance, in the total applications for feature development funding, the gender of directors attached to 58% of the applications is Not Specified. This gap in the data profoundly compromises the research's value and is huge compared with the gap during the years I researched the same information from NZFC documents. Then, there were just a couple of individuals identified by initials only and unknown either to me or to NZFC staff.

At first I thought that this gap was because a project in early script development may not have a director attached. But I now understand that data is missing throughout the research because applicants for funding are asked to provide information about gender and ethnicity. But they often don't do so. To be serious about gender and other elements of diversity, the NZFC needs to make the provision of diversity information mandatory. At present, any application is incomplete without essentials like a script or budget. If these elements are not present the application cannot be considered. Why not include diversity information in the requirements? It would be so easy to do. And where funds are devolved, to programmes like the one for short films, why not withhold a portion of funding until diversity data is supplied? This half-hearted effort is a long long way from what's now required in international best practice, like the BFI policies which 'obligate and support funding recipients to reflect diversity'. 

There are nevertheless two findings in the NZFC's gender research that are easy to understand and arguably wouldn't be any different if we had the full data–
1. Men directors are more likely than women to become attached to a project between early development and advanced development, where men directors are attached to 82% of applications. From this I infer that projects with a man attached as director are more likely to advance because of bias at the NZFC or because of bias among producers, both women and men; and
2. Women writers are 'trending up', but their (our) participation decreases between script development (42%) and advanced project development (32%) (and of course even further as features reach late development and production). The upwards trend is, I believe, due to the excellent and NZFC-funded script development programmes of Script to Screen and the New Zealand Writers Guild and because both organisations use blind reading in their assessments. Is the decrease as the scripts move through the NZFC process because biases creep in once a gendered name is attached, as writer or director, or when a woman or girl is the protagonist (my research last year showed that around 80% of features New Zealand women write have female protagonists)?  Is it because feature producers (about half women) are less interested in women's scripts than men's? Is it because men directors aren't interested in women's scripts? I'm sure it's not because there's a shortage of competent women directors. 
These findings alone provide good reasons for the NZFC to investigate its gender equity issues at a much more sophisticated level, and to invest much more strongly in policies that provide better gender balance. 

So imagine my delight when, from the Global Indigenous Network session at the Big Screen Symposium (moderated by Karin Williams, a development executive at the NZFC who herself is a producer, writer and director) came a call for the NZFC to commit to funding men and women equally.  Partly, I think, it came because through the panel's participants 'Merata [and her work, her clarity and her courage] is always with us'.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jane Zusters & Her 'Where Did You Go To My Lovelies'

Mary Dore and Nancy Kennedy's feature about the birth of the American women's movement, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival this year. Afterwards, I got a group email from someone who wrote–
The younger ones wanted to know if there is a similar account of the NZ second wave of feminism.... can anyone give us a reference?
Since then, I've become aware of Australian women's filmmaking in the 1970s and 1980s and I've kept my eye out for films from and about the women's movement in New Zealand in those years. But the woman-made moving image record of New Zealand activities of those times, from those times, seems to be tiny.

I’ve searched in the Nga Taonga Sound & Vision collections and I now know, for instance, that there were at least three films made in 1975: Meanwhile with a crew that included Annie Collins, Deidre McCartin’s Some of My Best Friends Are Women; and You Wanna Talk Feminism? from the Auckland Community Women's Video collection awaiting cataloguing at the New Zealand Film Archive. In 1976, Stephanie (Robinson) Beth’s I Want to be Joan, filmed at that year’s United Women’s Convention. A few others came later. I hope to find more.

In the almost-absence of ‘our’ films, images in books become especially treasured resources. So I was thrilled that Christchurch artist Jane Zusters has just released a limited edition book called Where Did You Go To My Lovelies, of photographs and interviews of women, men and children she knew way back then in Christchurch, where there were radical communities and activities, some of them feminist. In a city where many lovely buildings are now forever gone, following the major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and their aftermath.

Where Did You Go To My Lovelies includes an essay by Andrew Paul Wood that places the work in its art historical and social context, but I was curious about some other aspects of the work. Where Did you Go To My Lovelies features three artists from New Zealand's women's art movement,  which began in Christchurch– Allie Eagle, Tiffany Thornley and Jane Zusters; and it documents their activism as artists among other activists.

pro abortion protest (1978)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pause. Reflect. Cherish.

Chantal Akerman (image: Liberation)
Chantal Akerman's Death
I tried to write about why I felt so deeply sad about Chantal Akerman's death, then read a post from poet Ana Božičević, who got it just right for me–
No one knows for sure why a woman takes her life but that Chantal A might have done so in part because her No Home Movie – about her mother Natalia an Auschwitz survivor, which was grueling to make – was booed...really breaks my heart this morning. I wonder always, who cares, as in provides care, for the women artists who go to deep dark uncommercial places? Which intimate understands the skill, of craft and emotion, necessary for the work that they do? I wrote in some napkin or tweet once 'they only love the Sylvias after they are dead'. Give care to the woman artist in your life even and especially when she does the hard depth work that challenges the mind and body, yours and hers. And if you are that woman, thank you today & every day.
Thank you, Ana. And many thanks for letting me reprint your words. An extract from No Home Movie is at the end of this post.

Short Film as Pipeline to Features: New & Old Research
On the same morning Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California (MDSC) released its new study which shows this–

This reminded me that in 2007 there were similar issues for New Zealand women, according to the New Zealand Film Commission's (NZFC) research, which I wrote about in my PhD
...making a successful (usually NZFC-funded) short film is an established pathway to feature making. Analysis of the director information in the NZFC’s Review of NZFC Short Film Strategy shows that over the last decade fewer women (37% of the total) than men directors make NZFC-funded short films. However the women directors make a proportionately higher share of films accepted for ‘A’ list film festivals (42% of all accepted) than the men; and as individuals are significantly more likely to make an ‘A’ list film: 60% of women-directed short films get accepted for an ‘A’ list festival, but only 48% of those with male directors. I don’t know whether women from other countries use short films as stepping-stones to features more or less successfully than New Zealanders. [In the last ten years, New Zealand women directors made 13% of all our features, or 17% if we include features they co-directed with men; women also directed 20% of our all-time top-grossing films.]
It's probably time the NZFC repeated their short film research.

Now, thanks to the MDSC I know more about the United States' pathways. And about the barriers the women in the MDSC research identified (I wish the research had had a male control group: would they have had greater or lesser concerns about 'General Finance', which I think is an issue for every single filmmaker? If they were not white men, would they have had greater or lesser concerns about stereotyping?)

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.