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Catch Up

Muriel Rukeyser
I'm more of a writer than an activist at the moment. Last week I finished the first draft of my play about Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), the poet and activist whose life, poems and other writings inspire me. It's set in a radio station in the present day and the two main characters are a radio host and her technician. Fellow poet Anne Sexton called Muriel Rukeyser 'beautiful Muriel, mother of everyone' and once I'd finished I could see the draft's connections to my long quest for a satisfying literary and artistic matrilineage.

The draft's now with a reader and then there will be more drafts. I have a pile of other work to finish before year's end. And I haven't had time to organise my spring garden. So this post's a catchup of alphabetically-ordered info that I wish I could write full posts on. Kind of like a magazine, to dip into and out of! And for the next little while I'm likely to post less regularly and more about my own work.

1. Alice Walker 
Muriel Rukeyser taught Alice Walker, so it was wonderful to fall over a recent discussion with Alice Walker and Pearl Cleage (I hadn't known she was a playwright as well as a novelist) moderated by Valerie Boyd, on the 30th anniversary of The Color Purple. I was especially grateful for the section – just after the 22-minute mark – about how writers give everything we have when we write and go to 'the bottom of the well'. And how that's necessary because it primes the pump so we can start again. And how if it does start again we're grateful, but if it doesn't there are other things we can do. I'd been feeling knackered, but after I watched this section from my bed I was reinvigorated. And it was beautiful to hear and watch Alice Walker read from The Color Purple.

The clip also made me look forward even more to Pratibha Parmar's Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, now in the final stages of post-production.

2. Aphros
At last, our Aphros team finished the re-edit of our Bechdel Test 48 Hours film. Free of the 48 Hours length-and-genre restrictions, Interrogating Tinkerbell is now – I think –  a stronger response to Hinemoana Baker's glorious Tinkerbell poem. I loved working with Struan Ashby on the edit (we were co-directors) and with Christine White as she created a soundscape that shifted the emotional arc. And I'm grateful for the opportunity that the project gave me to develop a theme that crept into Development-the-movie and continues in the Muriel Rukeyser play. Soon, we'll discuss how to get the film into the world. If you have any ideas about festivals that like arty experimental films and films that respond to poems, please let us know! Here's a screen shot of Madeline McNamara, who gave a wonderful performance in all three parts.

Madeline McNamara as the Interrogator
Earlier Aphros posts –
Will There Be Blood?
No Blood, Little Sleep & a New Bechdel Test film

3. Distribution
Indiereign (& Reel Clever)

This week I've learned of two new interesting online distribution sites in beta. I've liked the Reel Clever site for a long time. And now the Reel Clever people have moved into distribution, with Indiereign. And yay! They're interested in shorts and features from women. David White's the man behind it, moving between New Zealand and San Francisco.  I love it that the New Zealand base is a converted 125-year old circular milking shed. Here's a great recent article about David's progress in the National Business Review. And Indiereign is also looking for feedback from filmmakers, here.

IndieReign on Facebook & Twitter

Reel Clever on Facebook & Twitter (at the moment this is the account to follow closely, I think!)

The other interesting site is HerFlix. It has docos and features available, including a DVD store, and Coffee Break Films, an online short film festival to promote the work of women filmmakers, curated by Women in Film International. Herflix also has reviews on the site and on Vimeo. The About page on the site is blank and I'm a little confused by some of the content, and wish I had time to get in touch with Herflix and write a full post about it.
Herflix on Facebook & Twitter & its Blog

Last week, writer/director/producer Ava DuVernay's film Middle of Nowhere opened its United States theatrical release and did better than any other independent film. This week it will open in more theatres. Middle of Nowhere is the fourth feature distributed by AFFRM, the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, founded by Ava DuVernay. AFFRM has been innovative in the partnerships it's developed with film festivals and has now teamed up with Participant Media to distribute Middle of Nowhere, which has had wonderful reviews. AFFRM released its first film only eighteen months ago, so its rise has been swift and I deeply admire what AFFRM and Ava DuVernay have achieved. And I think that their success demonstrates how the potential for indie movies is limited only by our imagination, our tenacity and our hearts. It's an exciting time. Online distribution is part of this new age, so I'm keeping a close eye on Indiereign and Herflix, because they could be the next huge successes.
AFFRM on Facebook & Twitter

4. Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative
The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) is an amazing group,'a grassroots advocacy group of women and men whose mission is to promote female theater artists in LA and beyond', with a rich site that includes a Persons of Interest tag-team blog and a warming, informative Twitter feed – I follow both closely. Now one of the members, Laura Shamas, has published an extraordinary article:  How to Build Gender Parity Initiatives and Influence Theater. Laura provides a model with four steps for other women to follow, and when I read it I thought that it was also a great model for women whose practices are in other arts areas, including film. It's exciting, too, to read that LAFPI is about to collaborate with the Bitch Pack (see 6. Scripts below). Cross-media collaboration and collaboration among women activists will strengthen us all!

Persons of Interest blog

5. Nuclear Family
Like Indiereign, Nuclear Family is a fine New Zealand enterprise that's taking on the world. It's 'a comedic drama set in green New Zealand on the eve of the Chernobyl disaster, following a colourful bunch of Venezuelan and Soviet Jewish immigrants as they are forced to question whether freedom and control over one’s destiny are only illusions'.You may remember my podcast interview with Desiree Gezentsvey (who won the Best Stageplay Award (Script) at the 2011 Moondance International Film Festival Competition for her script) and her daughter Yael who plays all twelve parts of this play. Nuclear Family opened in Adelaide, went on to Edinburgh and London and then returned here to Wellington. Now it's about to play in Auckland. I loved it when I saw it and because its themes are so universal I can imagine it taking off for new places after that! Aucklanders, you can reserve your seats here.


6. Scripts
The Black List has announced a new service for scriptwriters. The Black List began as a survey. In 2005, Franklin Leonard surveyed almost 100 film industry development executives about their favorite scripts from that year that had not been made as feature films. The voter pool has grown to about 500 film executives. Over 200 Black List screenplays have been made as feature films. Now the Black List provides:
...a paid service that allows any screenwriter, amateur or professional, to upload their script to The Black List’s database, have it evaluated by professional script readers, and depending on its evaluation(s), have it read by as many as 1000 film industry professionals currently a part of its membership site.
@kingisafink, who are always on to it (see 9. Webseries below) tweeted that they were 'wary but hopeful' about the service, so it was good to watch The Bitter Script Reader's rigorous interview with The Black List's Franklin Leonard.

Also this week The Bitch Pack, a collective who keep their own list, The Bitch List, were the #scriptchat guests. The discussion was about writing female characters and the transcript is here (scroll down).

The Bitch Pack is 'a collective of creatives and film & media students (current + past), men and women who believe that there should be more screenplays produced into films (reel life) that reflect how women talk, in real life.' Their slogan is Changing Women's Representation on Screen Starting with the Written Page and this year they're tallying votes from entertainment industry professionals for un-produced scripts they see that pass the Bechdel Test and have feature female characters who are:


They'll announce the results in January 2013.

@biatchpack also retweeted one of Amanda Pendolino's tweets and alerted me to this conversation about the Black List's new service. (Some weeks everything connects in a very beautiful way!)

Yes, Brava! for finding women readers and it's great that the Black List membership and annual voters are nearly evenly split by gender. But then there's the next question. Even though women are strongly represented as readers, members and voters, the fifteen 'top unmade scripts' are written by men. Are women's scripts just not making it into this system? Are women-written scripts reaching the system but not of good quality? Or do all the readers, members and voters – regardless of gender – prefer men's scripts?  Looking forward to hearing from someone with an answer (or two)!

Signup for the Bitch List (producers, managers, agents, assistants)

Here's the Alison Bechdel comic that introduces The Bechdel Test.

7. Statistics
Screen Australia has published its gender statistics and they are terrific! It has separated out producers, writers and directors and analysed the statistics from 1970-2011 and it's a fascinating read. Over the entire period women made up 29% of the producers of feature films shot in Australia and theatrically released, 16% of the directors and 20% of the writers. And the numbers have gradually improved. In the last five years, 34% of the producers were women, 18% of the directors, and 24% of the writers. There are also stats about documentary makers and about filmmaker experience. The experience data, from the last five years, is very useful to the debate about whether women are more or less likely to direct more than two films. For example, when Anne Thompson interviewed Sally Potter about her new film Ginger & Rosa last month, they had this exchange:
AT: On the Sight & Sound Top 50, there was only one woman filmmaker, Chantal Akerman...I culled lists of women directors and their films, and was horrified by how few even had real bodies of work. You're one of them, but it's scary how many women don't.

SP: Who make one or two and then drop away?

AT: Yeah. What happens?

SP: It is so tough being a director, at all, regardless of gender. And then it's doubly tough if you're female. Probably if you're black as well. In anything. Women can be really unprepared for the slings and arrows, the sheer brutality of the experience of when the film comes out into the world, but also the sheer volume of work. It's a vocation. It's vocational work. And if you're not able to give that amount of time and dedication, you're going to fall away. And I think a lot of people do it once or twice, and go, "I just can't go through this again. Just cannot do it again."

AT: Especially without the support that isn't there. Have you felt supported by the British film industry?

SP: In a patchy kind of a way. It comes and it goes. I've had as many rejections as anybody else, and I've gone through good patches and bad patches. This particular film was met with enthusiasm at a script stage by some very good people in the then-Film Council, that was then transferred to the British Film Institute, and by the BBC, who I'd never worked with before. I'd never been funded by either the BBC or Film 4 before, although I'd submitted stuff to them all over again. That's another thing: females are unprepared for the sheer quantity of rejection, and what do you do with that. Do you interpret that as meaning that you're no good and therefore should give up? Or that you just haven't reached the right funding? Or that, yes, the odds are stacked against you, people may not understand, but that's even a better reason to keep fighting. And there's lots of ways of interpreting rejection, and I think you need the armory, you need to know, you need to have a way of dealing with that in order to go on past one or two films.
And here's the relevant information from Screen Australia:
While currently active male producers and writers of Australian feature films are more likely than their female counterparts to have multiple credits, the same proportion of both male and female directors have two or more credits. However, only one currently active female director has five or more credits on Australian feature films while 17 currently active male directors have five or more credits.
If it's a cold Labour Weekend and you're in the mood, it could be fun to play with the Screen Australia stats and compare them with Martha Lauzen's latest and the Swedish Film Institute's work. I'm sure there are very interesting patterns there and again, wish I had time to explore them.

Martha Lauzen researched the representation of directors of narrative features in twenty-three high-profile United States festivals in the year August 2011-August 2012 for Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Representation on Festival Films  and compared her findings with those from her similar survey in 2008-2009. The percentage of women directors of narrative features rose from 15%-18% in that time. The percentage of writers increased from 15%-21% and producers from 28%-29%. Martha Lauzen also found that in 2011-2012 39% of documentary directors were women in comparison with 28% in the earlier survey. I've written about the Swedish Film Institute stats here.

PS 26 October. Gotta add! There are now Canadian stats out! With help from the legendary Kay Armatage who created a wonderful space for women filmmakers at the Toronto Film Festival, 1982-2004. And I'm thrilled to have discovered a new organisation, Women in View, whose members developed the stats!!

Ginger & Rosa

Screen Australia

Women in View

8. Venice Film Festival again
Gucci Award for Women in Cinema
This year, I've highighted women filmmakers' experiences at Cannes and at Venice. So I was delighted to read producer/ director Nayla Al Khaja's report, called My fling with Gucci on the Facebook page for the monthly film club, Aflam, which she launched this year. Aflam celebrates the best of independent Arabic films and filmmakers and showcases award-winning films to the Abu Dhabi community. The fling Nayla refers to is the presentation of the Gucci Award for women in cinema to editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Yay for editors!

Thelma Schoonmaker 

Biennale College – Cinema Programme
The Venice Film Festival is the festival that keeps right on giving, often in association with Italy's fashion brands. This week, I heard about the Biennale College – Cinema Programme which offers support for fifteen director/producer teams making their first or second micro-budget feature. It's another programme in partnership with Gucci.
The primary goal of Biennale College – Cinema... is to supplement the Film Festival with a higher education training workshop for the development and production of micro-budget audio-visual works...The challenge is to be able to create – at the end of a year-long series of activities that cover the entire spectrum of filmmaking including the conception, development, production, direction, marketing, audience engagement and distribution of films – three feature-length micro-budget audio-visual works that will be presented during next year’s Festival and also distributed on-line.
We have until October 22nd to apply. (I wondered which fashion designer in New Zealand might team up with similar filmmaking programmes and then thought "What about Icebreaker with Indiereign?")

9. Webseries
The Louise Log
Anne Flournoy's The Louise Log is now five years old, and Anne's just uploaded the latest episode, episode 34. That's right: thirty-four episodes! Anne's also written a post asking us to help her increase The Louise Log's audience. Anne sometimes describes herself as a recovering Sundance filmmaker and she's trying to find a sustainable way to make and distribute her work. So here's her (slightly edited) list of what we can do to help, which is also relevant for all those other women's webseries we know and love. Let's support The Louise Log, and the rest, because they're a significant contribution to women's storytelling onscreen.
1. Post the link to an episode you like on Facebook and/or Twitter and tell your friends why they should watch

2. Subscribe to my channel on YouTube (lots of subscribers = YouTube pushes your videos)

3. “Thumbs up”, Comment and Share the videos on YouTube using the little buttons under the video screens. Click on a video on my channel page to be taken to a page where you’ll find the buttons. You’ll see that under the orange bar you can: give it the video a ‘thumbs up’ , a ‘thumbs down’ (if you must), or ‘Share’ it. When you click on the ‘Share’ button, you’ll see that you can easily share a video this way to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ or by email. Making comments here on YouTube along with any of these other actions improves our algorithm with YouTube and YouTube will then push the video.

4. Click the ‘Like’ button on The Louise Log’s Facebook page

5. Tell your family and friends about the series and send them the link or the link to a single YouTube video.

6. Donate! No amount is too small! Promotion and production need funding.

(6a. from me, WW! You can also find a reason to add an episode or two to one of your Pinterest boards: here's mine, where I'd love to add more women's webseries, but you could for instance add the latest one on your 'hair' board :-). And probably tumblr, though I haven't tried that yet!)

7. Pat yourself on the back for me. You’ve made a difference and I thank you from my heart.

The Throwaways
Another webseries that I'm glad is in the world is The Throwaways:
When newly out teen Olivia loses her family, her home, and her future in one fell swoop, she's taken in by a resilient group of lesbian misfits. Things can only get better. Right?

Despite the recent repeal of DADT and President Obama's support of gay marriage, gay kids are still being bullied, harassed, and thrown out of their homes because of their sexuality. The Throwaways follows straight-A, straight-laced, and anything but straight Olivia on her quest to find a safe place to be herself.

The Throwaways showcases the still tenuous nature of LGBT acceptance in the US as well as the comedy and comfort to be found in new friends and allies. Produced by tello. Story by Julie Keck, Jessica King, and Christin Mell. Written by Julie Keck & Jessica King (@kingisafink). Directed by Jessica King.

10. Women on the Phone
I've often wondered about making movies on mobile phones, and of course Sally Potter did this when she made RAGE, the first feature made on mobile phones. So I was delighted when a Twitter mate told me about Dan Czerwonka and Skylar Towle, who were about to visit New Zealand from Los Angeles and planned to make a short film here, on an iPhone. In the end they made two, with help from New Zealanders. One was Dan's own short script, Daughters Lost, which Francesca Jago directed, with Jessica Charlton (Co-Writer and Director of Photography on Existence) as Director of Photography. The other was Last Chance, one of the London Screenwriters Festival's 50 Kisses scripts, which Kathleen Winter directed. Here's how Francesca Jago describes the experience of making Daughters Lost.

Max Schleser from Massey University also helped out and Dan & Co gave a seminar at a MINA international event, 24 Frames 24 Hours. MINA, The Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa, creates interactions between people, content and the creative industries and Massey's 2nd Mobile Creativity and Mobile Innovation Symposium will be in Wellington, Saturday and Sunday 24-25 November. Here are some details:
The International Mobile Innovation Screening 2012 will showcase a screening programme of mobile short films and mobile-mentaries from Brazil, USA, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, New Zealand, Columbia, Russia, Greece, Germany and Japan at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington, Te Anakura Whitiahua, on the 23rd November 2012.

Prior to the screening (7pm-8pm) the MINA [Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa] Mobile Creativity and Mobile Innovation Symposium opening reception will take place (6.30pm) at the New Zealand Film Archive.

MINA showreel 2012:
Max is also working with the Cook Islands National Council of Women on a collaborative mobile documentary project.

I had fun with Dan and Skylar and the others and learned a lot. And my el cheapo cell phone has just died, so I'm considering an iPhone... Had a wee play with my friend Cat's when we went to a knitting exhibition the other day (thanks, Cat!), hoping to learn more about the guerrilla knitting/yarn bombing that appears around Wellington. (Here's an example, on the bronze Solace in the Wind statue near Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand.)

My iPhone clip's wobbly and out of focus but I love it as a wee snapshot of my special mate, who hadn't knitted for years.

And I love the idea of Max's project in the Cooks. Is it possible to use mobile projects to increase the quantity of women's film stories? Is it an important element among women's new ways of filmmaking, which I wrote about a while back, in my A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies? series? Here's the temporary trailer for Daughters Lost, made for the MINA seminar.

A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies? #1
A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies? #2
A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies? #4 

(#3 will return sometime!)


  1. Hi, again... Rewriting my earlier post, which vanished! I am so delighted to meet you here on your blog. Anne Flournoy is an old friend and fellow filmmaker, so great to see you supporting her work here. I was intrigued by your playwrighting efforts regarding poet Muriel Rukeyser. Your Anne Sexton quote brought me back to my days in Maine, when, as a journalist, I interviewed May Sarton at her home in Southern Maine. Love the Alice Waters interview so much. Thank you! I've ventured very far from writing and editing fiction, via screenplays, soap operas, docos, and 20 years of interior design magazine writing & photostyling. Keep up all your great work... Congratulations...

  2. Lovely to meet you, Donna! Thank you very much for your comments, and for making them *twice*. May Sarton, of course! Born the year before Muriel Rukeyser... Another amazing foremother... Now I'll watch out for places where they meet, as I imagine they did. Thanks again!


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