Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sue Clayton & 'Calais Children: A Case to Answer'

Sue Clayton in the Calais Jungle camp

Director Sue Clayton is perhaps best known for her award-winning Hamedullah: The Road Home, about the forced removal of young people from the United Kingdom (UK) to Kabul and for her archive of interviews with young asylum seekers in the UK and her work with a team researching best outcomes for young asylum seekers.

Today, she’s in the vast refugee camp called ‘the Jungle’ in Calais, northern France, which acts as a border to the UK. According to Sue, it is 'not an official camp. It’s run by about 100 young volunteers, mainly untrained, and no infrastructure at all’. In a few hours, the French will begin to demolish the camp and scatter its occupants all over France, in buses.

Sue is focusing on the over 1000 unaccompanied children and young people in the camp, the 'unaccompanied minors', who live in cold tents with no food or power. She is finding as many as possible, making making Calais Children: A Case to Answer, a film about them (‘with due respect to their privacy — may not film them directly but there are ways of doing it where I don’t need to’) and and signing them up to apply for entry into the UK. It's not easy. She writes–
On Oct 8th 2am the legal centre in the camp (a portacabin) burnt to the ground, severely hampering our work. I'm meeting kids of 11 and 12 with no family in Europe, and no prospects after next week. Nobody here believes the French will magically provide buses and accommodation for 10,000 people. It's a human rights disaster.
Although the UK has has known for a long time that France plans to close the camp and has had months to process the unaccompanied minors, it’s chosen to delay assessment of their cases until the last week or so.  This, Sue says,  is ‘the greatest human rights abuse from the UK government I’ve seen in my lifetime’. Only about 1/3 of the unaccompanied minors have mobiles, so when the French disperse them, they have little chance of staying in touch with people who can help. Sue says,Many will be too scared to get on buses, if buses even show up. They'll run away.  We have to get them mobiles'.

Some of the children and young people qualify to enter the UK because they have family there. Others are eligible under the Dubs amendment, which grants sanctuary to vulnerable unaccompanied children, initiated by Lord Dubs, who himself arrived in the United Kingdom as a child refugee, on the pre-World War II kindertransport.

Sue is not alone of course. With her are her film crew and, this weekend, ten lawyers and eleven people from Social Workers Without Borders, all working hard to find and sign up more unaccompanied minors and to distribute cell phones. They work with Safe Passage, which listed 387 children six weeks ago and there are organisations like the Women’s and Children’s Centre run by Liz Clegg and her daughter Inca Sorrell (and here on Facebook),  Citizens UK. And Help4Refugee Children which writes–  
There is nothing officially in place to support children during and after the destruction of the camp. During the last demolitions, more than 300 children went missing and many remain unaccounted for to date. 
There’s also some good news. The first Dubs amendment cases have just been accepted and a group of Eritrean girls at risk of being trafficked have reached the UK.  Sue’s group has this weekend found and signed up more than 100 unaccompanied minors who they hope will also be eligible under the Dubs amendment.  Hundreds of unaccompanied minors will now be kept in the camp in converted shipping containers, until their claims to enter the UK are processed. 

But Sue needs our support urgently, to continue with filming, which costs about US$1000 per day and continues day and night. Last week, her crew filmed the French riot police when they came into the camp to close the small shops that supply refugees with batteries, SIM cards, basic food like 30 cent home made naan bread if people have money to buy it, hammering notices, Nazi-style, on the doors of all tiny shops and cafes. That night, when hundreds of people tried to move towards the UK border in Calais, the riot police repelled them, including children, with tear gas and batons and riot shields.

Very soon, those riot police will be back. With or without buses. But some unaccompanied minors may go missing, on buses or because they are frightened and run away. 

Sue wants to ensure 'every last Calais child gets safety, and that they’re not just cherry-picked by race, nationality or [UK] numbers games'. We can help her to do this and to document what happens. She and her crew are there for the duration. 

Some children in the camp (photo: Sue Clayton)

Calais interviews/reports with Sue here & here. 

And more here & here.  


from the Guardian

Later, 23 October 

The Continuing Story, via the Guardian, as French police arrive.

Liz Clegg, from the Women’s and Children’s Centrehas provided a list of children to the UK's Home Office. A few of them have gone missing and she is desperately trying to track them down–
We are particularly worried that this evacuation has been left so late that we will see total chaos. The youngest child we have dealt with is eight years old, and tomorrow he will be herded in with thousands of adults. 
We are told once they are in the hangar there will be a separate queue for children, but in between the camp and the warehouse there will be utter chaos, with thousands of stressed inhabitants of the camp and large numbers of French riot police. It is gobsmackingly inappropriate that the most vulnerable of children will be put in this situation. 
I am sure we could have found a better and more suitable way to do this.

Lily Caprani, the deputy executive director of Unicef UK, said there would be 'no second chances' for the children once demolition began–  
If it results in a single child going missing, or forces them into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, then we will have failed them.
24 October update
photo: Sue Clayton
The camp is being dismantled and Sue is helping to find all the little ones and get them into the system. No one has even told them what's happening and although the French are being great and say no minor will be left unsupported, Sue and the others are the ones who are looking for them! As well as the Safe Passage quota, several more of those she's found have been accepted and left Calais for UK yesterday at dawn.

The filming is 'going great'.

It is going to take 2/3 weeks to process the minors and Sue will stay at least part of the time to make sure that goes ok and to support the kids who are scared. They will be rehoused in the containers in camp, while rest of camp bulldozed. Some riots are likely.

If you'd like to donate, here's the link again.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

WARU: Breaking the Silence

WARU l to r Chelsea Winstanley, Katie Wolfe, Briar Grace-Smith, Paula W. Jones, Ainsley Gardiner, Renae Maihi, Casey Kaa, Awanui  Simich-Pene (not shown, Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu)

If you're excited by Ava DuVernay's work, especially her Queen Sugar series, entirely directed by women, and by We Do It Together and its Together Now, seven short films in one (1), you'll want to know about WARU.

Māori women excel in the literary world, as writers of fiction and poetry and as playwrights. They've also made many short films and docos and television programmes. But only two Māori women have directed feature films: Ramai Hayward directed 1972's To Love a Māori, with her husband Rudall, and Merata Mita directed Mauri in 1988. WARU ('Eight'), responds to that history with a powerful, collaborative and change-making intervention.

WARU is an 80-minute feature produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton of  Brown Sugar Apple Grunt and now in post-production. It follows the lives of eight women connected by a single event. Shot over eight days, each episode of WARU has a different director and follows a different character in a self-contained 10 minute vignette, told in real time, and shot in a single take.

This weekend, the WARU group presented at Aotearoa New Zealand's annual Big Screen Symposium, an event about screens large and small. From these tweets I learned their presentation was amazing (no surprise!). I'm sad I missed it but will be first in line to buy a ticket when WARU reaches cinemas.

And the excitement about WARU is even more of a special delight because until now we haven't had a recent collaborative model of women's filmmaking like this here, although there's a small Film Fatales group and there are several groups of women making fictional webseries, some, like WARU, funded by New Zealand on Air.

The nine women of WARU represent just a few of the highly skilled, and experienced Māori women writers and directors available and ready to go global. Look out for their movies over the next few years! Look out too for the television series that I imagine they'll make!


And in other announcements from The Big Screen Symposium, New Zealand On Air is calling for submissions re its new funding strategy. If you want to submit and need more background about New Zealand On Air and gender, just scroll down to 'NZOA' here. (Note, in the year covered by its 2016 diversity report, no Māori woman had directed any television drama.)

And some reported statements from the CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission–

Fingers crossed both organisations formulate plans that work well, for Māori women and for a diverse cross-section of all women who live here.  I hope they take advice from the Swedish Film Institute's Anna Serner, particularly re targets and dealing with bias, and from Ava DuVernay if she is here to film A Wrinkle in Time and has a moment.

I hope they take Jill Soloway's words to heart, too–
I’ve been dealing with what white cis men have been projecting about their fantasies about how women should behave since I was a child. We've all had to perform within those expectations for access to their tools, money, success. People of color have as well, of course. Trans people have especially, forcibly, violently been expected to conform to cis males' ideas about life—often by penalty of death if they don't stay under that radar.

Until trans people have more narrative representation, until women have more representation, until people of color have more representation, we absolutely have to be asking people of privilege—especially white cis men — to curtail their desire to project their notions of Otherness onto the characters they create and, instead, provide opportunities to trans, queer, female, Black artists and simply step away from the steering wheel.
'Step away from the steering wheel' is an excellent suggestion? Those who do will be pleasantly surprised, I reckon.

(1) Together Now is seven short films in one, each pairing a woman director with a prominent actress. The directors who have signed on include Robin Wright, Catherine Hardwicke, Katia Lund (City of GodAll the Invisible Children ), Patricia Riggen (The 33), Haifaa al Mansour (Wadjda), Malgorzata Szumowska (Elles) and Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce’s Formation).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Xuanyi Fu 傅煊贻 & Suicidal Female Protagonists in Chinese Narrative Films

Xuanyi Fu

Back in April, I was invited to speak at Resistance, backlash and power – Gender equality and feminist new practice in EU and global discourse, at the National Centre for Research on Europe at Canterbury University. Afterwards, Xuanyi Fu came and chatted. I was thrilled because her project excites me and I always love to hear more about women’s filmmaking in China. And now she's kindly answered these questions.

Where are you from and what’s your film background?

My name is Xuanyi Fu 傅煊贻. I was born in Chongqing, China. I did my bachelor degree in Cinematography at Sichuan The Fine Art Institute in China and I got my master degree with merit in Film and Screen Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London in the UK. I’m a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at the University of Canterbury. My supervisor, Adam Lam, is an expert in Chinese films, literature, language and culture, which is why I came to New Zealand.

What’s your thesis about? 

My thesis is about Narrative, Spectator, Sexuality and Aesthetics: A Study of Suicidal Female Protagonists in Chinese Narrative Films from 1990-2010. I focus on Chinese films and female roles in society, especially, what the function of female protagonist is and why she has to commit suicide in Chinese films; these questions inspired me to continue my research.

What have you learned so far?

At this stage, I am doing a case analysis: The Lovers (1994, Tsui Hark). I’m also considering what Chinese women’s love is in Chinese cinema. Does their gender relationship play an important role in the female protagonist’s decision to commit suicide?

When female protagonists commit suicide for their lovers, I have observed an interesting point, heterosexual love, so my research is concerned with the position of the female protagonist in heterosexual relationships.  I have read Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, and Chrys Ingraham’s Thinking Straight: the Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality in order to better understand how heterosexuality is a social construction.

Love contributes to the reproduction of heterosexual norms, according to Paul Johnson (1). Although there are theorists who declare that love is biologically ordained and subject to various evolutionary processes, love has been conceptualized and transformed to support normative heterosexual relationships and marriage as an institution.

What is the relationship between love and women in heterosexuality? Adrienne Rich states that woman has been woven into the ideology of romantic and sacred love by the male subject, who constructs the form of the female’s fantasy which corresponds to the male’s needs and desires in heterosexual love (2). Why does Rich point out the man as producer in this relationship?

Stevi Jackson responds to this question by pointing out that normative heterosexuality tends to be a male-dominated heterosexuality, while feminism posits heterosexuality as a hierarchical relation between men and women, within which heterosexual love is and has been produced and controlled by the male’s narcissism (3). If film is the representation of heterosexual love, does the dead woman signify the Other in the structure of Chinese films?

From Monique Wittig’s perspective, the discourse of heterosexuality relies on the heterosexual desire which restricts female identity (4). Heterosexuality does not distinguish between female and male desires, however, love builds up the male subject. Therefore the question arises: what is the function of the suicidal female character in the structure of narrative film, and does it or does it not follow the heterosexual desire?

In addition, Luce Irigaray’s ideas of phallogocentrism expose heterosexuality as a false dual structure. Irigaray considers heterosexuality to be an illusion of symmetric difference, consolidated around the metaphysics of the phallic logical center. The male controls the Other which exists on behalf of the male subject, and consequently women cannot be equal to men (5). Additionally, Irigaray points out that male fantasies are consolidated within a heterosexual relationship. The discourse of heterosexuality not only constructs these fantasies that correspond to fetish worship, but also establishes competition and contradiction within women’s relationships to each other. So is the female protagonist who commits suicide a man’s wish in The Lovers? Does the suicidal female protagonist show phallogocentrism in The Lovers?

What are the most important issues for Chinese women who write and direct feature films?

In Chinese cinema, only a few Chinese women can write and direct feature films. The main problem is that Chinese male directors occupy domestic and international markets; their films satisfy marketing and film industries’ needs. Men dominate Chinese cinema and as a result, Chinese women hardly get an opportunity to be in a position of influence; one could say that Chinese women are a vulnerable group in filmmaking.

It is quite difficult to find film organizations in China that support/fund female filmmakers, who produce films that utilize aspects of feminism and gender equality. Personally, I feel there is a distinction to be made between films made by women and films made by women who define themselves as feminists. If female directors/screenwriters are feminists, they would pay more attention to female perspectives, feminism and gender equality in film.

How does funding work there? Do you have something like the New Zealand Film Commission? Does it keep gender statistics?

Sorry, I don’t know this area.

Can you provide a list of Chinese women’s film festivals, and maybe a few details about them please? 

I reckon that women’s film festivals are very new and are still in an early stage in China so I couldn’t find a lot of information on websites, articles and books. These are film festivals that mainly focus on women, in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

China Women’s Film Festival (中国女性影展)
Location: Beijing
Short Description: China Women’s Film Festival is presented and hosted by China Women’s Film Festival Organizing Committee, dedicated to the exploration and promotion of Chinese female talents in all aspects of film industry, and promoting international communication as a platform.

Shanghai Pride Film Festival (上海骄傲节)
Location: Shanghai
Short Description: ShPFF is celebrating gender in all its forms, with films on transgender, non-binary and agender people, as well as a focus on queer women.

Reel Women Hong Kong (女影香港)
Location: Hong Kong
Short Description: Reel Women Hong Kong is dedicated to organizing Hong Kong’s first women's film festival.

Women Make Waves Taiwan (台湾国际女性影展)
Location: Taiwan
Short Description: Women Make Waves Taiwan aims to provide a perspective on humanities and the arts through film, gender diversity, a strong network between social groups, and the establishment of feminist film resources. It's a window for local filmmakers, and a platform for their international exposure.

Are there films and women filmmakers that you particularly recommend, especially if they’re widely available outside China?

I highly recommend Ann Hui On-Wah(许鞍华) , Song of the Exile(1990) (客途秋恨) and Joan Chen(陈冲), Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998) (天浴). Both of these films are widely available outside China, however, it is so difficult to find films and female filmmakers that are representative of female agency in Chinese cinema.

(1) Paul Johnson, Introduction, Love, Heterosexuality and Society (USA and Canada: Routledge, 2005), 2.
(2) Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in Journal of Women’s History. Volume. 15, Numbers 3, Johns Hopkins University Press. (2003): 14.
(3) Stevi Jackson, “Sexuality, Heterosexuality, and Gender Hierarchy,” in Thinking Straight: the Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality, ed. Chrys Ingraham (New York & London: Routledge, 2005), 22.
(4) Monique Wittig, “One Is Not Born A Woman,” in Feminist Theory Reader, eds. Carol R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2013), 247.
(5) Luce Irigary, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 68.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Women Are *Not* The Problem?

Writing buddy 1B sneaks in through the kitchen door. I don’t hear a thing.

A little later, she slides down the hall, pauses in the doorway of my work space and, because she’s like that, she poses, grinning at me over the top of my screen.

Kare, she says, throwing her arms wide. Jug’s on. Off your nono. A cuppa and a double feature at the Cuba Lighthouse. If we get going, there’s Florence Foster Jenkins followed by Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

I don’t move.

–It’s ten o’clock on a weekday morning, I say. I have to finish this. And I’ve seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

– So? You like watching them again with a mate, particularly avec moi.

– One more man-directed New Zealand movie with a male protagonist and I’ll die.

She shakes her head, beckons.

–I’ve been six hours on the road. Com’on, girl, a cuddle at least.

–I didn’t know you were coming.

–Because you don’t answer your ******* phones. Because you send out-of-the-office emails.

I shrug.

–I’m busy.

–Saw that the moment I walked in the door. You white girls. You get busy, and your kitchen is a tip and there’s nothing-in-the-fridge.

– So?

–I came prepared. Armed and dangerous, with almond croissants.

–I’m not eating sugar. Or wheat.

– **********. 1B is cross.

She edges round to look at the screen.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Natalie Wreyford: Radical Academic

Natalie Wreyford has a unique perspective, as an academic who was deeply embedded in the UK film industry for many years and is also politically very active. She held a senior role at the UK Film Council; commissioned one of the first reports into the lack of women screenwriters; read, advised on and script edited hundreds of film scripts; and worked with Academy Award-winners and those trying to get their first break.

Natalie is now Research Fellow on Calling the Shots:Women & Contemporary UK Film Culture, at the University of Southampton, where she co-authored Calling the Shots: Women working in key roles on UK films in production during 2015 (2016), and is the author of ‘Birds of a feather: informal recruitment practices and gendered outcomes for screenwriting work in the UK film industry’. Her PhD thesis, The gendered contexts of screenwriting work: Socialized recruitment and judgments of taste and talent in the UK film industry is online here.

A couple of years back you initiated the #wewantleia campaign. Can you write a little bit about that and what you learned from it?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ally Acker: An Update

Many cross-border conversations about #womeninfilm take place on Facebook now, rather than in blog comments or elsewhere online. This week, several of those conversations were about Geena Davis’ participation, as one of five executive producers and the ‘star’, according to imdb, of Tom Donahue’s Untitled Geena Davis/Gender in Media Documentary. And the conversations were notable for their rich diversity of viewpoints, because there’s now a rich diversity of #womeninfilm activists (including some men), many of us also filmmakers.

And as I enjoyed the debate, I recalled Ally Acker’s project, Reel Herstory, with Jodie Foster and wondered if she had asked Geena Davis to participate in any way. I also recalled that this year at Cannes, one of the few features directed by women was The Women Who Run Hollywood/ Et la femme créa Hollywood, by sisters Julia and Clara Kuperberg.

Clara and Julia Kuperberg

Time for an update, I thought. Just a little one. ‘Nothing too long or demanding, just updating,’ I emailed to Ally, whom I interviewed for Wellywood Woman almost two years ago — she’s always super-busy. Back came this wonderful response.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Women-Directed Docos About Women Directors

Because of the news about Geena Davis' involvement in Tom Donahue's project about women directors, and the very interesting Facebook conversations it stimulated, I'm collecting info about women-directed docos about women directors. Some are finished. Others are in progress. Each is to be treasured. What have I missed?

On the list so far–
Ally Acker's Reel Herstory 
Amy Adrion's Half the Picture 
Another Gaze's  (Dorothy Allen-Pickard & Daniella Shreir's) In Conversation With 
Beti Ellerson's Sisters of the Screen 
Cady McClain's Seeing is Believing: Women Direct
Caroline Suh's The 4%: Film's Gender Problem 
Julia & Clara Kuperberg's The Women Who Run Hollywood/ Et la femme créa Hollywood 
Jennifer Dean'The 2d Sense & the 7th Art 
Louise Hutt's Online Heroines  
Yvonne Welbon's Sisters in Cinema (thanks for the headsup on this one, HerFilm)
Yvonne Welbon's Sisters in the Life (Yvonne's current project, on the history of black lesbian media makers)

(Just click on the pic to go to the full FB post and add your two bits.)

I'm also very interested in fictional movies about women making movies. My big ambition is to see Julie Dash's Illusionsavailable only through the fabulous Women Make Movies and a little costly for me because Women Make Movies is geared to an educational market: bring on an online, all-territory women's-film-distribution-service! I believe there are more on similar themes out there, so if you know of any, please let me know!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Alison Maclean's 'The Rehearsal' is opening very soon!

So Alison Maclean's The Rehearsal will have its international premiere in New Zealand, at the New Zealand International Film Festival, in July. It goes on general release in New Zealand in late August and then off round the world, I hope.

The Rehearsal is Alison's third and long-awaited feature. She also wrote the script, with Emily Perkins, from Booker Award-winning Eleanor Catton’s first novel. It is produced by her long-time collaborator Bridget Ikin, with Trevor Haysom. “I wanted it to be an intimate, authentic experience of what it’s like to be a young person in New Zealand now,” said Alison, according to the festival’s announcement.

Alison also made the classic Kitchen Sink, that debuted in Cannes in 1989 and won lots of awards. In the early 90s, after making her first feature, Crush, which played in Competition at Cannes, she disappeared to the northern hemisphere, where she made a second award-winning feature, Jesus’ Son; and directed lots of commercials and some shorts, as well as episodes of Sex and the City, Carnivale, The L-Word, Homicide and The Tudors. She also co-directed Persons of Interest, a series of interviews with New York Arabs and Muslims detained on immigration charges after September 11th 2001.

Here’s more about The Rehearsal, from the festival’s site. And just look at that cast!–
Unpacking the dramas that energise a class of budding young actors, The Rehearsal mounts an enticing inquisition of performance, identity and moral anxiety with resonance far beyond its hothouse setting. 

James Rolleston [from Boy, The Dark Horse, The Dead Lands] vanishes into the part of Stanley, a naive newcomer drawn to the city by his passion to make it on stage. While his new best friends indulge in wilder stuff, gentle Stanley tentatively romances 15-year-old Isolde (Ella Edward). 
His sweet dreams may have found their nemesis in Hannah (Kerry Fox [o wow!]), the school’s grandstanding senior tutor. Students must deconstruct themselves, she contends, before they can play at being anybody else. Stanley gradually bends to her taunting style, until, in one of the dazzling turns that stud the film, he earns her applause with a hilarious, treacherously accurate impersonation of his salesman father. Even murkier waters await when his class decides that a sex scandal involving Isolde’s older sister (Alice Englert [remember her from Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa?and, in a lovely New Zealand connection, Jane Campion’s daughter]) should be intensively researched for their end-of-year show. 
With Michelle Ny, Marlon Williams and Kieran Charnock providing vivid support to the young principals, The Rehearsal carries a potent extra-textual charge: there’s enough talent in this fictional drama school to constitute a real-world new wave. 
Like the novel, the film is as attentive to the misleading effect youthful nerve can have on the ‘mature’ as it is to the crises the teachers so blithely incite in the taught. It’s also its own sharp, original thing, a film by Alison Maclean, alive with ambiguity and cinematic verve.

I can’t wait to see this!

Here's the trailer.

Follow The Rehearsal on Facebook and on Instagram.

Find more about Alison’s work here, at New Zealand Onscreen

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Zealand On Air's Diversity Report

A fabulous first!

New Zealand on Air (NZ On Air), our government broadcast funding agency, invests in local television, radio, music and digital media for New Zealand audiences. It's required to consider audience diversity and has just produced its first NZ On Air Diversity Report.

The report shows the gender and ethnicity make up of ‘above-the-line’ roles in screen productions that the agency funds.

Here's the full report, which covers the 2014/15 and 2015/16 years, for projects completed by April 2016. And here's its infographic, summarising the report's findings.

This will be an annual report. This one shows–
Women comprise 55% of funded television producers, 33% of television directors and 38% of television writers or researchers.

Women are most under-represented in drama, where they make up just 11% of all directors. (This is a really important bit of data, at last!)

Pākehā are over-represented in all roles, compared to general population statistics.

13% of television directors identify as Māori (a little under the census figure of 14.9%). (I wonder how many of these are women, given that we haven't had a feature film directed by a Māori woman since 1988 and one reason sometimes given for this is that Māori women prefer to work in television.)

1% of television producers identify as Asian compared to 11.8% of the population at the last census. (I wonder how many of these are women.)

12 % of directors identify as Pasifika, exceeding the national population figure of 7.4%. (I wonder how many of these are women.)

Trends are similar in digital media production, although there was a higher representation of Pacific people among directors at 14%, and writers/researchers at 17%.

Beti Ellerson & ‘African Women In Cinema’

Beti Ellerson (photo: Christophe Poulenc)

Beti Ellerson established the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l’étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma in 2008. It is a virtual, dynamic and in-depth archive of information on the research, study and documentation of African women in cinema. Beti’s African Women in Cinema in French and English, is a database with a lively blog, details about women filmmakers, video interviews, essays and reviews and various associated social media accounts. In today’s intense dialogue about inclusion in filmmaking it’s a vital resource and I want to celebrate Beti and her work.

How did the centre start? Were you a filmmaker?

This passion began twenty years ago. It grew out of my desire to continue my post-doctoral research project, entitled African Women in the Visual Media: Culture and Politics, that I started as a 1996–1997 Rockefeller Humanities Fellow. I was really interested in being a cultural activist, extending my interest and work beyond the academy. I had already studied film history, criticism, and analysis. I wanted to actively engage with the moving image and to better understand its process; hence, I acquired skills in scriptwriting, video production, editing and television production at the local public access community television.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Women Win At Cannes: Will We All See Their Films Though?

Andrea Arnold dancing with her beautiful American Honey cast

What an exciting Cannes it's been! Lots of debate about films directed by women and about how we can get more of them. And although there are only three women-directed films among the 21 films in the main competition, 12 of the 21 have female protagonists. What does that mean for the future?

I've had a fine time watching Cannes online, through its official streaming, on Youtube and including some of the women's events run by Kering's Women in Motion programme. Is Cannes Any Better? I asked in one post. Maybe it is. Here are the women directors and writers among the prize-winners in various categories; and an actor. But note this–
I knew about Jane Campion being the only woman to win a Palme d'Or but this too is significant. 1961!!!

Now the big question is: Will these Cannes 2016 directors' work be well distributed, right around the world? I hope so! (I have great hopes of Tanji, a partnership between Echo Media and Tangerine Entertainment, the first mobile app to curate, personalise and guide us to women-centric film, tv and online content, but that won't resolve distribution problems.) 

We Do It Together

Marianne Slot, Chiara Tilesi, Patricia Riggen and Juliette Binoche speak at Cannes
We Do It Together is a globally oriented non-profit production company, founded by Italian producer Chiara Tilesi. It's a wonderfully ambitious concept. According to its website We Do It Together aims– use the power of cinema, and all those who join us, to stir and shake human hearts and minds, to balance these numbers and change deep-seated perceptions about female stereotypes. As a first practical step, we feel that the way to make this a reality is to give women from around the world a concrete way to express themselves, their talent, and tell their stories.

We will choose a diverse group of female directors to join us in making films that will challenge and dismantle these perceptions. We feel that good intentions are not enough, and that when given the chance, women will deliver compelling, accessible, and equally commercial stories, and break down these invisible walls in doing so. Outworn stereotypes will give way when we defy the status quo. We have been joined by producers, writers, agents, managers, University Presidents, renowned professors, actresses, actors, directors, from Hollywood, and from around the world.
It has just announced its first project at Cannes, where it also presented one of the Women in Motion panels. The project, Together Now, seven short films in one, each pairing a woman director with a prominent actress. The directors who have signed on include Robin Wright, Catherine Hardwicke, Katia Lund (All the Invisible Children), Patricia Riggen (The 33), Haifaa al Mansour (Wadjda), Malgorzata Szumowska (Elles) and Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce's Formation). Freida Pinto and Juliette Binoche are among the actors attached.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#DirectedbyWomen is back! For all of September!

Barbara O'Leary

Women’s film activism goes from strength to strength. 

Part of this is due to sustained commitment from organisations like Bitch Flicks, Le Deuxieme Regard, the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, Raising Films, the Swedish Film Institute, Women Make Movies and many others; and from women’s film festivals and scholars within the academy. 

There are also many individuals, like Beti Ellerson at African Women in Cinema, Destri Martino at The Director List, Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood and the Athena Film Festival, versatile independent film writer, critic and poet Sophie Mayer and Maria Giese, the extraordinary director who initiated the American Civil Liberties Union investigation into discrimination against women directors that has blossomed into a United States federal investigation. 

Among these brilliant individuals there’s also director, producer, activist, distributor Ava DuVernay who has effected – with collaborators – a one-woman revolution for black women directors. Here’s a recent instagram from her, with two of the six women directing episodes of a series adapted from Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar.

Barbara O’Leary is another of these activists. Last year, she initiated a two-week worldwide viewing party, to encourage us all to watch and celebrate films by women directors. Now she's sent out her invitation to a second party–

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ivana Massetti & Women Occupy Hollywood

Ivana Massetti & the Swedish Film Institute's legendary Anna Serner
#Womeninfilm activists continue to build powerful cross-border networks. Ivana Massetti is one of these activists, a filmmaker with a new TV show, who this year founded Women Occupy Hollywood (WOH), to help bring the voices of women filmmakers to the forefront. She spoke with Niger Asije of the New Current (tNC) about her filmmaking and inspirations as well as what she hopes to gain from WOH.

Hi Ivana, many thanks for talking to tNC, how’s things going?

Hi Niger! Everything’s going very well! So many things are happening right now that make me euphoric! Not just in my life but in the entire world. Women are in the spotlight. The world is talking about women and gender equality. Awareness about the injustice women are suffering not only in the entertainment industry but in every field of society, is spreading everywhere. Awareness brings change. And we need change. We can’t continue to accept a narrative that is coming from just one point of view, that of the male, and to be more exact, of the white male.

Women must participate equally in the cultural conversation of our society!

Great to hear about your TV/Digital Series One Day In America. What does it feel like to be working on the pilot?

One Day In America is a passion project. It’s a reflection through narrative fiction of the states of Justice in the U.S. A series of intertwined fictional stories, linked together by the common denominator of justice, all happening on the same day. The series deals with the most controversial issues that divide the country. The pilot is seven intertwined stories about Americans who are dealing with immigration, an eviction, the death penalty, their sexual identity, the danger of guns, violence in video-games and sexual abuse in the Church. Those are some of the issues we are facing in the series. The kind of social issues that we confront every day in our communities, work places and personal lives. The tone is dramatic but with hints of humor and each one of the stories ends with a twist.

How did the series come about, have you been working on the idea for awhile?

I have made films and lived in many places, and wherever I lived, I wanted to participate in social advancement and social awareness with my work. Because there are issues that were and are very close to my heart, like sexual violence against women, women’s rights, child abuse, elderly rights etc, from the very beginning of my career I created series of short films about those themes. From the beginning, I preferred the fictional medium, the film medium. I believe that the filmmaker’s eyes, heart and mind must filter reality, and give birth to something that reflects her or his point of view.

In Italy and in France I created a series of short films called Cinema Against Violence. They examined many aspects of violence in our society.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#gendermatters at the Swedish Film Institute: Anna Serner's Update

Anna Serner heads the Swedish Film Institute. This is a masterclass (a mistressclass?) in #gendermatters, where she describes how she's achieving gender equity at the institute. I love her careful analysis of the problems, the obstacles and the achievements. She's developed a brilliant model for every country where the taxpayer funds film.

Anna was filmed at the 'Women in Irish Film' Colloquium at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, a few weeks ago. Yes, in Ireland, where #gendermatters too (and where the population is about the same as New Zealand's). The colloquium was organised by Dr. Susan Liddy of the college’s Department of Media and Communications and a member of the Equality Action Committee, with Lauren MacKenzie, Liz Gill and Marian Quinn, who together represented the Writers Guild of Ireland and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland in discussions with the Irish Film Board’s Gender Equality Plan.

Many thanks to actress/writer/producer Maeve McGrath for this link.

More re Ireland

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Progress: Scriptwriter Mya Kagan's 'Submitting Like a Man' Project

Mya Kagan at work
Women writers have often used male pseudonyms. There are the Bronte sisters of course; and more recently the writer known as James Chartrand, of the Men With Pens website. But as far as I know, Mya Kagan’s the first scriptwriter to submit her work under a man’s name (which of course she hasn’t revealed, referring to him only as ‘Max’). Her project is also different from other uses of pen names. She doesn't simply send out her work under a pseudonym; she uses the new pen name to re-submit previously rejected work, to see if there will be any different response. She documents the experience in Submitting Like a Man (SLAM). 

Mya’s based in Brooklyn New York and her description of herself charms me and reminds me a little of another New York filmmaker and webseries writer, Anne Flournoy–

[Her] work is known for being a spiky blend of smart, lively, deliciously absurd, and wildly entertaining. 

Mya's main specialties and experience are playwriting, TV-writing, comedy, and webisodes. Additional experience includes screenwriting, radio, writing for kids & teens, musical theatre (book/lyrics), animation, puppets, short stories, blogging, news coverage, food writing, and educational content. She's even been hired to write online dating profiles. Really.

Mya is also half South African, a freckly person, and a summertime enthusiast. Strawberries are her spirit animal. 

And she’s a hard worker. Since she graduated nine years ago she’s sent out 117 scripts to open calls for submissions. About 10% were accepted, 5% have been semi-finalists or ‘almosts’ and the rest were rejected.

Mya launched SLAM on January 10 and will resubmit her rejected scripts under Max’s name for a year. She emphasises that it’s an unscientific project. But I don’t think that makes it any less interesting and valuable, so I’ve asked her some questions.

Was there an inciting incident for this project?

More so than one single incident, I’d say there were a series of events, mostly the number of articles I started reading about the statistics on women writers—that in the US, 51% of the population is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female. I started following the subject, and as time went on, it wasn't getting better. 

And it got me thinking about what things might be like if nobody could figure out my gender. Like, what if my name was Jordan? Or if it was something foreign and unfamiliar? I started considering that maybe I should begin using an ambiguous pen name or my initials. And then I thought: Why stop there? What if I actually use a man’s name? I was in a unique position because I’ve kept a pretty organized list of everything I’ve applied to, and the idea clicked—not only could I use a man’s name, but I could use it on all these rejections to see if it would make any difference.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Hollywood Cure

by Susan di Rende
Susan di Rende

I’m trying to understand how creating the Broad Humor Film Festival changed my taste in films and cured me of Hollywood story fever.

I started Broad Humor in 2006 to give women a place at the table, a table I valued but which failed to validate work by women I saw and liked. For 9 years, I watched every submission to the festival and read every screenplay, good, bad, and ‘meh.’ Before, I loved TV and many mainstream movies. In my teens I was addicted to the flickering screen. Now, I can hardly bear to watch any of it. There is good stuff in those shows and stories, but my overall reaction is ‘meh.’

I’ve written about how women’s stories tend to be structured differently and why I say women’s comedy is a way for men to experience the multiple orgasms women take for granted. Hollywood understands the Aristotelian big climax and Denouement brand of cigarette. But lately, there have been a lot of great female characters showing up, especially on TV, and I still have a hard time getting into the shows. Yes, these women are complex people in themselves, but they are still drawn with an Aristotelian pen. They still are massaged and colored so as to deliver the conflicts of the Aristotelian paradigm mostly because they DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER.

If you read Carol Gilligan any time since the 1970s when she published In Our Own Voice, you get her insight into the way women move through the world in a web of relationship instead of on a ladder or hierarchy. But as the Bechdel Test noted, even when women are present in a film, they rarely talk to each other and then usually only about men.

I don’t blame the guys for not writing other kinds of scenes. After all, they are never present when women are only talking among themselves. Even if they were to listen, they might not hear what is going on, or misinterpret it as something they do know. I mean, if dominance hierarchy in males is 50 million years older than trees, of course they see dominance everywhere.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kōrero Ki Taku Tuakana: Conversation With My Big Sister

Merata Mita and Mauri

by Cushla Parekowhai

2016 edit. First published in Illusions, 1988:9: December. VUW, Wellington.

So you heard eh? Went to this hui at Taiwhakaea Marae round Whakatāne way where there was all this talk about Māori making Māori films. Hooked up with the director Merata Mita. It was full on. Kōrero going, hammer and tongs. Merata decided she needed a break so the two of us went outside and sat in the sun, not doing nothing. Well maybe thinking a bit, taking care of the baby and listening to the sound of the sea. Was nice, relaxing even, but eventually I switched on the cassette recorder, opened up the notebook and asked, ‘So what do you reckon about the honky film industry then?’

Merata plucked at a wayward strand of late spring grass.

You know I find it tragic that Māori aren’t left to make our own stories, ourselves. We just don’t get a chance to address our own problems, our own personalities and our own ways of looking at life.