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A Golden Age For Women Who Make Movies? (1)

This is based on  a study done by the USC Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism and comes from Equality Myth
This wonderful infographic illustrates some of the complex problems that face those of us who want to enhance our lives with more films by and about women. It's a call to action. But sometimes it's difficult to unpick the problem and find spaces where it's possible to make change. So I was delighted when I fell over Kurt Andersen's A Golden Age For Women in Hollywood? podcast and text summary at Studio 360, with extended interviews with Sarah Polley and Lynn Shelton. Collectively the post is a fine update on the current state-of-the-play for women filmmakers. But it also provides a possible vision for the future. I've never cross-posted before, but Studio 360 kindly gave me permission, and here it is below.

Making a movie's hard for anyone, but as the infographic shows, it's more challenging for women. We need new ways of working. It's always been a collaborative process, but in A Golden Age For Women in Hollywood? Anne Thompson took me to Kurt Andersen's indie model that is differently collaborative, exemplified in aspects of Sarah Polley's and Lynn Shelton's work, that may especially benefit women filmmakers (and their audiences). I love it that Anne Thompson states that "women are really good" at what this new model entails. (Perhaps because we're conditioned to play well together? Though not all of us do!) I love it that Sarah Polley and Lynn Shelton are so open about their work: the extended interviews are gold. And I love Lynn Shelton's idea: "‘Let’s go make a movie!’...And if we fail, like, we’ll just shove it under the rug.” This inspires me to imagine movie-making as a kind of quilting bee, with lots of experimentation and risk.

I hope that this new model will spread like wildfire and encourage many more women to give film-making a go. Of course there will be films (like the novels we leave in a drawer) that we'll shove under a rug – just think of all those films you wish someone had shoved under the rug but spent millions distributing. But there will also be films that will last as long as a beautiful quilt, screened at home and on other screens across the globe.

I remember hearing a very successful writer talk about the importance of quantity in developing high quality literature. In her view, quantity – probably of very uneven quality – works as a kind of compost; it feeds new and exciting growth. The New Zealand 48 Hours competition – "Let's spend a weekend making a movie!" has generated this kind of compost, primarily for male writers and directors. After ten years there are highly skilled teams who make some excellent short films and this week is the premiere of the first feature that one of those teams made, after winning the related Make My Movie competition. The MOFILM projects also provide compost, again mostly for men who write and direct. I can easily imagine that the quilting bee "Let's go make a movie! ...And if we fail..." concept will do something similar for films by and about women, partly because the process is more time-flexible than a single intense weekend.

If 'new' collaborations have different expectations and rhythms than 'conventional' filmmaking and give pleasure, perhaps over time film-making will become more sustainable for women than – for example – some of the women-directed film projects that I pin on my crowd-funding board on Pinterest, and all the other low-budget films where cast and crew tend not to get paid and it is often so difficult to finish the film that doing another one becomes less likely than it would if the conditions weren't so gruelling. What do you think about it all? Does it make sense to you, too?

A Golden Age For Women in Hollywood?
A couple years ago, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker. It wasn’t quite the tipping point for women many in the industry had hoped for: of the 250 major movies that came out last year in the US, women directed only 5% of them. But when it comes to commercial and critical breakthroughs among independent films, a shift seems to be happening.

Industry observer Anne Thompson says there’s a reason why Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are Alright), Jennifer Westfeldt (Friends With Kids), and other women have been successful in the independent scene. “The new indie model that is emerging is much more collaborative — barter talent, share roles,” she tells Kurt Andersen. “All these filmmakers are sort of roaming the country helping each other make films in all these different locations and all these different ranges of experiences and it works. Women are really good at that kind of thing.”

Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley’s new film, Take This Waltz, is populated by characters who feel refreshingly real and particular — unlike most of the romantic comedies and dramas Hollywood is now churning out. “Women aren’t really trusted with anything else right now,” Polley says. “I know female filmmakers who would love to make an action film or a horror film or some kind of thriller and they just don’t get the financing for those kinds of movies. So I think that women aren’t necessarily trusted with [that] subject matter.”

Kathryn Bigelow, Thompson argues, was the rare exception. “She’s known for being a man’s director,” Thompson says. “She puts men in her movies, she does action, she’s not doing female genres. And she’s resolutely not interested in doing them. But what she did was do them independently. And the Bin Laden movie that’s coming up later this year was raised overseas as well. And if women can raise their own funding, then they can get the movies made.”

New technology helps filmmakers clear the financing hurdle. Digital cameras allow filmmakers like Lynn Shelton to capture extra-long takes — including 40-minute takes for her film Humpday. That freedom allows her to “pick up a camera, and call [my] friends and say, ‘let’s go make a movie!’” she says. “And if we fail, like, we’ll just shove it under the rug.” (Shelton’s new movie is Your Sister’s Sister.)

Lynn Shelton
Hollywood continues to place its chips on guys making movies for guys. But would-be blockbusters like Battleship and John Carter prove the risk of big-budget action flicks. “The studios are stumbling right now,” says Thompson. “And they seem to be avoiding the fact that there’s a huge demand for movies that are aimed at women, that have a women’s point of view, and demonstrable statistical evidence that movies like Mamma Mia and Bridesmaids do really, really well at the box office. So why don’t the studios pay attention to this? It’s because they’re used to doing things the old way and they’re used to hanging on to these old conventional ideas.”

On the information here, I think the question mark after the headline has to stay: Anne Thompson provides no evidence that Hollywood studios are 'paying attention' to movies aimed at women in a way that benefits women who make movies. But outside the Hollywood system, there may be a 'golden age', a revolution-in-progress.

I have some questions that I think are relevant to 'golden age' discussions. Is the golden age well-established? What role do film festival curators have? What role for all-women teams? Does where we live make a difference and what can we learn through making cross-border connections? Does 'film' matter so much now we have multiple platforms? I'll discuss them in A Golden Age For Women Who Make Movies? (2) Coming soon.

New Zealanders: Your Sister's Sister is on at the New Zealand International Film Festival.
The edited programme

Extended interview with Sarah Polley

Extended interview with Lynn Shelton

Take This Waltz 
Sarah Polley on Twitter

Your Sister's Sister 

Lynn Shelton on Your Sister's Sister

Anne Thompson blog

Kurt Andersen Twitter (He's also a novelist, which may explain the qualities of his excellent interviews.)

Studio 360 Twitter

A Golden Age For Women Who Make Movies? (2) (The Venice Film Festival/ Media Convergence)
A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies (3) (the International Women's Film Festival Network)


  1. Marion,

    I'm so glad you posted this! Can't wait to listen to the extended interviews. I really see social networking helping make a dent in the progress of women - if we continue to band together, to support each other, we can make a difference!

    I saw "Your Sister's Sister" in NY last month and really enjoyed it!

  2. Thanks, Kim! I'm sure social networking makes a difference already. I love knowing so many women who are serious about making and watching movies and generous about sharing their experiences and offering support–as you do on your blog and on other women's blogs, like Her Film and Women & Hollywood. Not to mention all the wonderful tweeting and the pinning on Pinterest, which I love to bits! I've learned so much through social networking, from this far corner of the world. And been deeply encouraged that change is possible because of it.


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