Skip to main content

Women and the Documentary Feature Academy Award short list (& the rest!)

Five docos that women directed or co-directed are among the fifteen films short-listed for the Documentary Feature category of the 2012 Academy Awards. Warm congratulations to all these women!

Nancy Buirski directed The Loving Story. Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, lived in Virginia in the 1960s, where there was a law against interracial marriage. The Loving Story is about their landmark Supreme Court Case, Loving v. Virginia, which changed history. There's no trailer yet, but The Loving Story website is beautiful and here's an interview with Nancy:
.

Cindy Meehl's (Buck) and Susanne Rostock's (Sing Your Song) films are both about men.

Buck is about Buck Brannaman, "a true American cowboy and sage on horseback who travels the country for nine gruelling months a year helping horses with people problems". As he says in one clip I found, it's about horsemanship as an art form. Here's the trailer:





Sing Your Song is about Harry Belafonte. It too has a great website, which includes a journal from Harry Belafonte himself. In the latest (video) entry he talks about Occupy Wall Street.




The other two women directors co-directed with men.

Suki Hawley co-directed Battle for Brooklyn with Michael Galinsky. According to its website, Battle for Brooklyn explores the poorly understood phenomenon of eminent domain abuse. It investigates how real estate developers, local government, community activists, and the media have clashed over the largest single-source development project ever proposed in New York City, the Atlantic Yards project.





Rachel Libert co-directed Semper Fi: Always Faithful with Tony Hardmon. It follows drill instructor Jerry Ensminger's mission to expose the Marine Corps and force them to live up to their motto when thousands of soldiers and their families are exposed to toxic chemicals. His fight reveals a grave injustice at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and a looming environmental crisis at military sites across the country.




Also on the short-list, Lorenz Knauer's Jane's Journey about Jane Goodall.





And Wim Wender's Pina, which pays tribute to the legendary German choreographer Pina Bausch. Pina has also been entered in the Best Foreign Language Film category.





I'm disappointed that women directors' acknowledged strength in documentary isn't reflected in this list, with just a fifth of the films short-listed directed only by women, or a third if the co-directed films are included. And I'm interested to see that The Loving Story is the only woman-directed film on the list that is about a woman. Are documentaries a little like fictional features, where—in general—if women's projects centre on men, their films are more likely to be taken seriously, by investors and in competitions? Are stories about women's lives taken seriously only if men tell the stories?

This week, when the new Bertha BRITDOC Documentary Journalism Fund was announced, I asked these questions again. Here's the fund's self-description. It is:
...an international film fund dedicated to supporting long form feature documentaries of a journalistic nature...looking for films that break the important stories of our time, expose injustice, bring attention to unreported issues and cameras into regions previously unseen.
On its website's front page, the fund gives six examples of the kinds of films it might have funded, as a guide. Not one of them is about women. One of them, Julie Bacha's Budrus, has a woman director, and it is about a man. Like the Documentary Feature short-list, this gives the message that docos by and about women are not as important as those by and about men. As money for documentaries becomes tighter, will funded documentaries by and about women become more rare? Will women storytellers be shut out, as they are from fictional feature storytelling?

Also this week there's been considerable discussion about the annual Hollywood Reporter Roundtable discussions with directors and writers, because no women have been included, by the wonderful Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood, and by Sophia Savage, also at Indiewire, where there are some interesting comments. As a writer, I'm frustrated that there's no corresponding roundtable that honours women writers (many of them also directors) of new and significant films, where they talk with one another and to us. It doesn't need to be in Hollywood, which hasn't served women well. I just want to hear what gifted women writers have to say when they're together; I can often find them as individuals on YouTube. 

There's Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights, with Olivia Hetreed); Madonna (W./E.—and if you don't think about Madonna as a writer, please check out her Venice Film Fest YouTube interviews which make it clear that she is); Dee Rees (Pariah), Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids); Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty, also a distinguished novelist, who would have plenty to say). Then there's the very independent Kelly Reichardt with Meek's Cut-Off and Nancy Savoca & Mary Tobler with Union Square. Lynne Ramsay who wrote We Need To Talk About Kevin with Rory Kinnear.  Ava Du Vernay who wrote I Will Follow and followed it up fast with Middle of Nowhere now in post-production AND is the visionary behind AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, introduced in this article. Abi Morgan wrote The Iron Lady. Miranda July, The Future. How can these women be brought together? And the many more women writing films in other languages as well as English? 

When men are foregrounded in Documentary Feature short-list, in the list of men's films on the Bertha Britdoc site, and at those Hollywood roundtables, it feels as though nothing's changed and nothing will ever change. According to webseries maker Anne Flournoy, commenting at Women & Hollywood, it's no better for women who write webseries, although it's seemed that women storytellers were leading the way in that medium, and probably they still are, but are under-appreciated:

Sorry to report in from the world of web series that it doesn't look much better over here. NYTV Festival recently had a whole day of panels with not one woman on any of them. (Don't get me started on the difficulty of a woman's web series getting into this festival if it doesn't show women in a T&A type situation...with rare exceptions.)

Is it time for those of us who care about this situation to get together to problem-solve, to support one another and to assert ourselves, more effectively than ever before? Are you in?

----------------------
More on The Bertha Foundation



When I read the mission statement of The Bertha Foundation, and looked at its projects, as a storyteller, a lawyer and a social entrepreneur I was excited. Here it is:
The Bertha Foundation believes that in order to affect positive change in the world, you need activist lawyers, storytellers and social entrepreneurs. 
Lawyers: We aim to inspire and enable the work of socially minded lawyers and are committed to strengthening the field of public interest law. 
Social Entrepreneurs: When people have the right tools and opportunities, they are best placed to solve their own problems. We support those using business principles and innovation to create sustainable large-scale change. 
Storytellers: We believe in the power of visual storytelling to educate, inform and inspire action, and are dedicated to supporting the creation and distribution of social impact media projects. Documentaries are central to this vision.
As well as the Bertha BRITDOC Fund for Journalism, there's the Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund. It is open to filmmakers around the world  and supports "smart, strategic outreach campaigns for ambitious independent documentary films with a social issue at their core; films which have the ability to achieve real change on a local, regional or global level."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

'Water Protectors', by Leana Hosea

Leana Hosea's Water Protectors isabout ordinary women in Flint, at Standing Rock and on the Navajo reservation who have had their water poisoned and are at the forefront in the movement for clean water.

Water is a big issue in Aotearoa New Zealand, too– the degradation of our waterways; drinking water contamination; the offshore sale of our pure water; the debate about Maori sovereignty over water, under Te Tiriti o Waitangi/ the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840.  Partly because this has raised my awareness about the significance of access to water, my heart is absolutely with the women in Leana's work. And with Leana, editing through the night as I write this.

Leana is a reporter/producer for BBC's World Service Radio and has held many other roles within the BBC. As a highly experienced multimedia journalist she's originated ideas, fixed stories, written scripts, filmed and edited them.

She was a shoot/edit/reporter/producer for the BBC in Egypt during the revoluti…

Safety in Paradise?

Children play in safety on the beach beyond my window. Some aren't safe at home, but they do not die in rocket attacks. Along our promenade, this year’s most sustained sirens wailed from motorbike cavalcades, as they escorted royalty to and from the airport. At school, our children may arrive hungry. But they're safe from abduction. The closest I’ve ever been to a war is my parents' silence about 'their' war, refuge women's stories about men returned from wars and Bruce Cunningham’s stories, after I met him selling Anzac poppies. (He was a Lancaster pilot in World War II and then a prisoner-of-war and I’m making a short doco about him.)

Yes, in many ways Wellington, New Zealand is paradise and I’m blessed to live here and to benefit from love and generosity from women and men, my beautiful sons now among those men. But in an interview with Matthew Hammett Knott earlier this year, I found myself saying–
We have to deal with serial violation, direct and subtle, on…

The NZ International Film Festival – 1. New Zealand Women

The Context
This week, the United Nations women's agency, UN Women, joined forces with activist and Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis, to support the first global study of how women and girls are portrayed in family films. The study will examine the top-grossing international movies in Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom. According to Geena Davis, the current dearth of female characters of substance in family films means that children are being taught that girls and women 'don't take up half of the space in the world'. And for Lakshimi Puri, acting head of UN Women:
Gender representation in film influences the perception of women and girls, their self-esteem and the relationships between the sexes... We cannot let the negative depiction of women and girls erode the hard gains that have been made on gender equality and women's empowerment.Also this week, in a  report for CNN, Melissa Silverstein of Women &…