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Apron Strings & Mamma Mia


I was excited: two films made by women and about motherhood, showing at the Embassy Theatre, just down the road. Apron Strings, a New Zealand film written by Shuchi Kothari and Dianne Taylor and directed by Sima Urale (with mothers who cook for a living) and Mamma Mia (with a mother wearing a carpenter's apron).

That was my second photograph. With a mother crossing the road and people sitting at the celebrated Deluxe cafe next door to the Embassy. And yes, it's the same Embassy Theatre where The Return of the King had its premiere in the era when Wellington became known as Wellywood because Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh made the Lord of the Rings trilogy here.

I've been trying to find out why Apron Strings is the first New Zealand film written and directed by women since Gaylene Preston's Perfect Strangers (2003).

Does the New Zealand Film Commission, the state agency that develops and supports our film-makers and feature films prefer to support men who want to make feature films?

Or is it women filmmakers' own fault? Do we have to learn to write better stories? Be better directors? Be more competitive? More courageous? As energetic as men in advocating for our work? More willing to work as writers- and directors-for-hire? Over the last couple of years I've heard so many people, women and men, say that if we're good enough and do the 'right' things, our films will be made.

Jane Campion or Meryl Streep might not agree. Getting the money to make a film is a problem for every filmmaker. But according to them, it's harder for women.

When Jane Campion presented a short fantasy film, The Lady Bug,  at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival—about a woman dressed up in an insect costume, who gets stomped on in a movie theatre—she described The Lady Bug as a metaphor for women filmmakers:
I just think this is the way the world is, that men control the money, and they decide who they're going to give it to.
And when Meryl Streep was in Australasia promoting Mamma Mia she too talked about studio executives' lack of support for 'women's' projects. They don't think women's projects are marketable and are surprised when films with women as central characters are successful:

M.S. Devil Wears Prada took [studio executives] completely by surprise. Mamma Mia had a budget about this big. [She demonstrates a tiny budget.]... A musical is expensive. We did it on a diet... I'm hopeful that they'll learn that there's a market for these entertainments but they seem to need to learn the lesson every year.
On the days when I hear "We have so few films written and directed by women because women just aren't good enough", as I often do, I hold on to what Jane Campion wrote in support of the Gender & Women's Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington:

Women may be 50% of the population but they gave birth to the whole world, why wouldn't we want to know what they think and feel?

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