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Women-directed films at NZIFF (part1); & Cannes Film Festival (part4)

Helen Mirren at the Karlovy Vary Festival
Distinguished actors advocate for 'women's' films in a variety of ways and I love their activism. There's Geena Davis, with her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. There's Judi Dench with Daniel Craig in Sam Taylor-Wood's celebrated We Are Equals clip (below), which – like Geena Davis' work – links 'women's' story-telling on film to wider gender issues. At least once a year, Meryl Streep reminds the world that there's a big audience for 'women's films', as she did the other day, referring to the $1.6 billion paid to see five 'little' women's films in the last five years (three of them starring her) and to the "shocking underrepresentation of women in our business". And now, at the Czech Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Helen Mirren. Accepting a lifetime achievement award last week, she said: "I don’t know how many female directors are presenting their films in this festival. I very much doubt that it’s 50%" and added that, should she return to Karlovy Vary in five years, she’d want to see at least 50% of the films at the festival being presented by women directors.

Between them, these actors cover many of 'gender' problems that affect the films we see in cinemas and at festivals: the under-representation of women behind the camera; the under-representation and misrepresentation of women in front of the camera; funders' unwillingness to invest in films by, about, and for women; gender imbalances at festivals; the societal context that affects all of these things. And they highlight the essential complexity that underlies even a brief discussion about the issues: what 'women's' filmmaking means. Does it mean films about women that are made for a 'women's' audience, as Meryl Streep implies (and who does the 'women's audience' include, given our diversity?) Does it mean films by women, that women write and direct, like those that Helen Mirren wants to see? When is the by, about and for combination necessary, and when is it less important? No wonder many conversations get bogged down.

I'm becoming more and more interested in the roles of those who affect what's shown at major festivals: agents and marketing and public relations people and others who advocate for specific films and who influence the selectors' decisions, all of them working quietly away from the public eye. The stakes are high and of course dodgy things happen. For instance, Sydney Levine (who also had a very interesting series of interviews with industry professionals at Cannes 2012) recently translated and cross-posted an article from Le Monde, about a possible confict of interest involving the President of the 2012 Jury, Nanni Moretti.

Le Pacte Reality co-produced Nanni Moretti's last film Habemus Papam. It is run by Jean Labadie, ex-owner of Bac Films which, before Le Pacte was founded in 2008, was the historical distributor of films of Nanni Moretti in France. And four of six films awarded by the 2012 jury were co-productions with and/or distributed by Le Pacte: Reality, The Angels' Share, Post Tenebras Lux, and Beyond the Hills; a fifth Le Pacte feature film also appeared in the official competition: The Taste of the Money. Maybe Le Pacte is consistently producing more superb films by men than other producers do. Or maybe not. But I think that those of us who want to resolve the complex problem of under-representation of women directors at major film festivals may need to address a few more issues than we have in the past.

In the meantime, the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZFF) has launched its programme. It includes Reality, The Angels' Share, Beyond the Hills and The Taste of the Money: a useful reminder that success breeds success. Sadly, it doesn't include any of the women's work from Cannes' Un Certain Regard, its new talent section, a useful option if the festival is serious about showing films made by women.

But this year, it's exciting that New Zealand women directors are strongly represented in the NZFF local short film programmes. This makes me hopeful for the future and I can't wait to see them all! Of the six short films in competition for New Zealand's Best Short Film Award (selected by Roger Donaldson) women directed three: Zia Mandviwalla's Night Shift, Marina Alofagia McCartney's Milk & Honey (about the infamous dawn raids) and Michelle Savill's Ellen Is Leaving, written by Martha Hardy-Ward. Women directed five of the seven Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika Shorts, Libby Hakaraia's Lawnmower Men of Kupu, Briar Grace-Smith's Nine of Hearts, Justine Simei-Barton and Nikki Si'ulepa's Snow in Paradise, written by Nikki, Chantelle Burgoyne's Tatau and Louise Leitch's Whakatiki, written by Bernadette Murphy.

In the last few years, the NZFF has not had a high proportion of women-directed feature films and documentaries. I did the numbers re women-directed features scheduled for Wellington (different cities have slightly different programmes) in 2010 (13%) and 2011 (12.5%). And I've checked them again now, thanks to the online resource that the NZFF provides, which is excellent. (I especially like to be able to click on the little calendar for a day's programme; and to search for something away from the site and then click back precisely to the place I left from on the relevant page, instead of back to the top of that page.) This year's gender share is the best to date (just): women directed eleven out of seventy-eight features, just over 14%. And, exciting for me-as-audience, there are some features I didn't already know about, possibly because they haven't reached the social media platforms I'm familiar with. Here are the trailers for Valerie Massadian's Nana, Alice Rohrwacher's Corpo Celeste, Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet (for which I couldn't find an English trailer, but I found this interview interesting) and Ursula Meier's Sister, which you can read more about here.

Tomorrow, the women-directed features that I had already heard about!

PS When looking for more on Helen Mirren in Czechoslovakia, I came across this clip where she discusses women directors and cinematographers. I liked it so much that I wanted to share!

Judi Dench and Daniel Craig, by Sam Taylor-Wood for Annie Lennox's We Are Equals campaign!

More on women-directed features at NZFF (documentaries)


  1. This just in from the Circle of Quality blog, who recommends The Loneliest Planet among his top ten and has some interesting things to say about audiences 'convinced that audience behaviour is on a permanent downward spiral, one that can be stemmed with the use of tasers'.


    Sometimes, the films I'm most eager to encourage others to see are the ones I can speak least coherently about. Such is the case with THE LONELIEST PLANET, which has met with such a groundswell of admiration from everybody that I know who's seen it that I expect it will be the word of mouth hit of the festival. The problem, such as it is, is that apparently much of its impact derives from an inciting incident which no one will discuss - namely, whatever it is that happens whilst the couple we're following and the guide they're with are on a backpacking trip. What I do know is that Julia Loktev more than ably proved herself as a filmmaker to watch with DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, her previous film, an intense and rigourous portrait of a suicide bomber preparing to detonate herself in New York City. I doubt this will get a return visit, so see this one now or regret it later.

  2. I have enjoyed this series of posts on the NZFF so much, Marian (and I wish I had said so to you this morning when we met!) I've played catch-up on a couple of them and worked backwards from your most recent post to this first one in order to refresh my memory on all the films. Although I'll only be able to catch a few screenings at the festival when I'm back in Auckland at the end of the month, I'm looking forward to Dreams of A Life and whenever I see it, Call Me Kuchu (just like you, I've been waiting for these!)

    What a ton of work and thought you've put into this whole series, thank you so much for doing it.

    (I read your bit about Alberdi's "El Salvavidas" and took your not having a website as a challenge! While I haven't found THE film's website -- if it actually has one -- I found the Chilean Film Encyclopedia's entry which seems pretty thorough, although it's in Spanish. google translate will work, or just ask me and I'll translate! Plus, Alberdi's email is included if you ever want to contact her :) Link:

  3. Thanks very much, Kyna! I love the way you respond; & find out stuff!


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