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Showing posts from 2014

Niki Caro's 'McFarland USA'

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Yes, champions can come from anywhere. And New Zealander Niki Caro's a champ, director of McFarland USA. But she's the only woman director on the Disney list for 2015, which includes Pixar films. Furthermore, there's only one film on the list with a female protagonist, Pixar's Inside Out, an animation 'told from the perspective of the emotions inside the mind of a girl' and written and directed by men.

This is no good for those of us who enjoy films by and about women and girls. But on this first day of 2015 – happy new year to all! – I'm delighted to celebrate a new film by Niki Caro, her first since A Heavenly Vintage (2009).

McFarland USA is based on a true story about Jim White, a teacher (played by Kevin Costner) who noticed that young Latino farm workers ran great distances each day just to get from their exhausting jobs to school and back home. He creates a cross-country team and transforms the team into a state championship powerhouse.

In a USA Toda…

Michelle Joy Lloyd's 'Sunday'

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It's always exciting when a New Zealand woman-directed feature comes out. There's been a big gap between Dana Rotberg's White Lies/Tuakiri Huna, in early 2013, and Michelle Joy Lloyd's Sunday,which premiered last weekend.

In what's believed to be a world first, in a carefully designed multiplatform release by Dustin Clare and Michelle as distributors (Fighting Noise), Sunday opened simultaneously across more than twenty New Zealand cinemas, on television and the internet, on DVD and on airlines.

Until now, Michelle was best known as producer of the internationally acclaimed Open Source film project Stray Cinema, which she founded in 2006 while living in Wellington. She produced and directed the first round of Stray Cinema film footage shot in London and screened at the first Stray Cinema screening event in London, 2007.

Starring Dustin Clare and Camille Keenan, two award-winning Australasian actors, Sunday's a relationship drama in the vein of Richard Linklat…

Sapna Samant & 'Kimbap'

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I feel very proud that a New Zealand film, Kimbap, written and produced by Sapna Samant and directed by Alex Kyo Won Lee, won Best in Show and the Audience Choice Award for the best film by a male director at the Bluestocking Film Series this year and then travelled with the Bluestocking selection to the LadyBug Festival in Sweden. This all feels special, because Bluestocking is the influential showcase for provocative, well-produced short fictional films featuring complex female protagonists – and the only film event in the world to require female protagonists. Submissions must also pass the Bechdel Test and Bluestocking is the first United States film event to receive Sweden’s A-Rating, which informs consumers that films pass the test.

Best in Show judge, Thuc Doan Nguyen from The Bitch Pack, which advocates better representation of women ‘on the page’, said this about Kimbap–
I chose the film because of the excellent acting, the relationship between mother and daughter (also the…

How Can 'Female Directors in European Films' Help?

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So Mockingjay had a big opening.  And here's @licoricehazel's immediate response–


That' s all terrific. And as a New Zealander, I'm especially proud and delighted because 'our' Lorde curated the music. And wrote and performed some of it too.

But I'm also remembering that men wrote almost all the Hunger Games scripts and directed all of the films. And I'm reflecting on that depressing data on women who make films and about the (mis)representation of women and girls in films. It continues to pour out. A storm. A flood. A tsunami. It's almost overwhelming.

In September, the European Audiovisual Observatoryreleased Female Directors in European Films: State of Play and Evolution Between 2003 and 2012– the first substantial study to measure the director 'gender divide' at pan-European level.



Since then I've been thinking about the various recent reports and their interrelationships, in an attempt to understand where and how women writers and …

Investing in Love: Jacqueline Kalimunda's 'Single Rwandan'

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Jacqueline Kalimunda's Single Rwandan Seeks Serious Relationship asks ‘How do people love after genocide?’ It uses new technologies to explore the rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict and will introduce us to Rwanda’s new generation, using the internet to find love and enhance resilience. In three languages –  Kinyarwanda (Rwanda's official language) English and French – it's the first participatory film on love in Rwanda.

I found Single Rwandan's crowdfunding campaign on Twitter. And then watched Jacqueline's pitch clip and some clips she’s shared from the project (below). Jacqueline and the clips enchanted me, made me think and feel deeply. As an exploration of the 'rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict’, Single Rwandan is extraordinary, I believe, something profoundly important for all of us.

In the English-speaking world, we’re most familiar with Rwanda through films made by other English speakers, who are not Rwa…

Aussie Emma Rozanski's Sarajevo film, 'Papagajka'

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I’m convinced that it’s essential to follow crowdfunding campaigns to learn what’s new and exciting about women in film, that women-directed and crowdfunded films are the most likely to change the gender imbalances, not films that women direct for Hollywood, with its profound ambivalence (at best!) towards women who make films and towards women and girls in films. Crowdfunded and women-directed films are where we’re most likely to experience complex women and girls and exciting stories about them. That's also where we'll be challenged and engaged by experimental work that makes us think and feel, I reckon.

For me, it's easiest to access crowdfunding campaigns on Twitter. That’s where I first heard of Afia Nathaniel, whose Dukhtar (Daughter) premiered at Toronto this year, because she created such a beautiful campaign. I first heard and loved Ana Lily Amapour’s distinctive voice when she tweeted about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, during her campaign. Jennifer Kent crow…

Rachel O'Neill & Pip Adam

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A while back, in Courtenay Place Wellington, All the Cunning Stuntsinstalled a series of frames that made me smile. Juxtaposed with the Reading Cinemas complex, it provided me with a short film experience as I walked by, pausing often.


I love it that at home we can now watch films at our own pace, pause on individual images, replay sequences. It's like turning the pages of a book. And at the All The Cunning Stunts installation,instead of clicking on my computer I 'walked' what felt like an experimental film.With drama.Read text that felt like poems. Reflected on the ideas. Delighted in this elegant manifestation of media convergence, complete with reference to the Topp Twins (remember TheTopp Twins: Untouchable Girls?)

All the Cunning Stunts (2010-11) Installation view.
So imagine my delight when Pip Adam suggested that she interview Rachel O'Neill, who happens to be one of The Cunning Stunts. 

I long for more public discussion between women about the ideas that inform the…

Melissa Dopp 1963-2014

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People come and go on Twitter. And Melissa Dopp, of Hanover, Virginia, had lots in her life beyond her energetic @reellives Twitter account and her Pinterest boards, many of them about women's filmmaking. Party politics, life with her partner Pattie (including visits to mountains, wine trails), extended family and friends. And work.  So I didn't notice that she was missing. It was a shock to receive a beautiful email from her sister Liz telling me that Melissa died on 27 August, from complications following surgery, two days after her 51st birthday. It was a struggle to understand that vibrant Melissa was gone.

I don't remember how we met. But it was online, where Melissa made many friends, as she did In Real Life. And it was probably on Twitter, where the @reellives account no longer exists. We also emailed, DM'ed, shared Pinterest boards and briefly met in person, when she flew to New Zealand for Jane Campion's masterclasses.

On Melissa's Pinterest site, the…

The 'Women's Resolution' from World Conference of Screenwriters

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Hard data about women screenwriters and directors continues to flood in. And some amazing responses. This Women's Resolution for instance, from the World Conference of Screenwriters held in Warsaw at the beginning of the month. The conference is major, attended by by representatives of guilds and professional bodies from around the world, like the Writers Guild of America West, so its resolutions matter to us all. Here's the full text–
Statistics from writers' organizations around the world show clearly that women writers are under employed. We write fewer scripts, receive fewer commissions, have shorter careers and earn less than our male colleagues. Women have the talent, experience and ambition to participate as equals in every aspect of the industry. What stands in our way is institutional gender bias. We the 30 guilds and writers organizations present at the Warsaw Conference of Screenwriters 2014 representing 56000 male and female screenwriters, call upon our comm…

Thank You, Jane Campion

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One day last week I got up early, to watch the stream of presentations at the Washington session of the 2d Global Symposium of the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media (LA session coming soon). It was great to see and hear people I'd only read about and to see the involvement of UN Women.

I was especially inspired by activist, filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney (Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Women, War & Peace, founder of Peace is Loud and the outspoken great-niece of Walt.) 'Gatekeepers are wrong 50% of the time', she said, in a fresh version of screenwriter William Goldman's assertion that in the screen industry 'nobody knows anything'. 
The other statement that's stayed with me came from Dr Stacy Smith, of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, who led the Geena Davis Institute research launched at the symposium, Gender Bias Without Borders.  'As money moves in, women are pushed out', she said. Still thinking about …

The BFI Greenlights Diversity

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Yesterday was the 121st anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand. Yes, we were the first country in the world to give women the vote. And this year the Wellington City Council has commemorated this with some special pedestrian green lights near Parliament, portraying suffragist Kate Sheppard.

Also yesterday, I caught up with the British Film Institute (BFI)'s 'three ticks' policy, 'designed to address diversity in relation to ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status'. Green-lit in July, the policy went live on 1 September. The BFI is the largest public film fund in the United Kingdom, invests over £27m into film development, production, international sales and distribution, and supports around 30 new film productions each year.

From now on, to be eligible for BFI Film Fund support for production, producers who apply must demonstrate their commitment to encouraging diverse representation, across their workforces and in t…

Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand & WIFT Take Action

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Every so often magic happens. Like this public meeting organised by Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand (DEGNZ) and WIFTNZ. I was sad I couldn't go and look forward to seeing the video that was recorded, as shown in the audience pic below.

Many thanks to DEGNZ Executive Director Fiona Copland and to Lucy Stonex, for this brief report of the historic event, including the pics, followed by my response. For those of you not familiar with New Zealand, Annie Goldson is a documentary director and producer and academic, Cushla Dillon is an editor, Gaylene Preston is a director, writer and producer in film and television and Jackie Van Beek is an actor and a writer and director for stage and screen.



by Lucy Stonex
Responding to the release of some concerning international statistics, members of DEGNZ and WIFT gathered in Auckland last week to talk about gender imbalance amongst directors and editors in the NZ screen industry. Broadcaster Kim Hill moderated a discussion with pane…

The Fledgling Fund & Social Impact Assessment

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The Fledgling Fund is a private foundation 'driven by the passionate belief that film can inspire a better world'. The list of films it's supported is truly impressive, lots by and about women. Here's just a few– Brave Miss World, Budrus, Girl Rising, Leaving the Life, Miss Representation, Mothers of BedfordSaving Face, The Invisible War, The Light in Her Eyes. Other significant projects include The Mask You Live Inand Seed: The Untold Story. And there are many many more.

I love it that each project on the Fledgling Fund site has its own social impact page, powered by Sparkwise. On those pages I can read a synopsis and about the filmmakers, see the trailer, get a snapshot of the project's communities and social media reach, find out who its main supporters are. Learn about how I can become a supporter and/or viewer. There are graphs! There are maps even!

I can't show you a full screenshot of any of the pages, many of them rich and complex. But here's a pa…

'The Patriarch' & Producer Matriarch Robin Scholes – Equity Crowdfunding Reaches New Zealand

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Just over a month ago, Pledgeme and Snowball Effect became New Zealand’s first equity crowd funders, licensed to act as intermediaries between entrepreneurial companies wanting to sell shares and investors wanting to buy them. This week, The Patriarch, through Snowball, became the first feature film to seek equity crowdfunding in New Zealand. It may not be the first feature in the world to be equity crowd funded but it’s close.

New Zealanders have engaged with equity crowdfunding before, when Spanner Films, led by New Zealander Lizzie Gillett, produced Franny Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid in the United Kingdom and later provided a step-by-step guide to their model. Also in the United Kingdom, Simon West (Tomb Raider, Con Air) is using equity crowdfunding to raise money for his Salty.

The Patriarch, from the novel Bulibasha, is the fourth feature from a Witi Ihimaera story. It follows Whale Rider (2002, wr/dir Niki Caro), Kawa (2010, from Nights in the Garden of Spain, wr Kate McDermot…

Women Wrote Half SWANZ 2014 Nominated Scripts!

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The New Zealand Writers Guild has announced the Finalists for the Script Writer Awards NZ 2014. Fantastic to see so many women's names. Warm congratulations to you all!

BEST FEATURE FILM SCRIPT
Max Currie – Everything We Loved
James Napier Robertson – Dark Horse
Gerard Johnstone – Housebound
Sophie Henderson – Fantail

BEST TELEVISION ONE-OFF DRAMA
Fiona Samuel – Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story 
Donna Malane & Paula Boock – Field Punishment No.1
Donna Malane & Paula Boock – Pirates of the Airwaves

UNPRODUCED FEATURE FILM SCRIPT COMPETITION
Gillian Ashurst – Gnats
Dianne Taylor – The Last Hippie Trail
Tania Wheeler – Umbrella Man
Richard Goodwin – Immortal Diamond
Jackie Owens – Three Gardens

Ally Acker's 'Reel Herstory'

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I fell over Ally Acker’s work via this tweet. Not Ally’s tweet, you’ll notice, because she doesn’t engage with social media, which may be why I missed her before.


I was immediately curious about Ally's extraordinary magnum opus, Reel Women, the two-volume revised and expanded book and the 10 discs (see below) and the forthcoming Reel Herstory: The REAL Story of Reel Women. Introduced by Jodie Foster, Reel Herstory is a feature-length documentary that runs two and a half hours. It's in two parts. The first covers The Silent Era and the second Talkies Through Today (first ten minutes below).

Kano Life

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I love quest movies. Why don't we have more movies about women's quests, beyond romance-quests? I love road movies, too. There aren't enough of them with women protagonists. That's one reason I'm so excited by Afia Nathaniel's Dukhtar, debuting at Toronto, released in Pakistan soon and here on Facebook.

When Fiona Lovatt and I re-met on Facebook, after thirty years of no contact, she sent me an image for my Keeping An Eye On The Washing board. Then she arrived at my place and I asked her probably too many questions. And when I heard her stories, their quest elements and their road elements enthralled me. 

Before Fiona left for Nigeria, for a third period living in Kano, an ancient northern city with a population of over 4 million, I asked her a few more questions. I'm delighted that she transcends them and that her Facebook page contributes fragments of dialogue with others – persevere with the small print, it's worth it. Please introduce yourself to Fi…

Safety in Paradise?

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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…

Jennifer Kent & 'The Babadook'

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Another wonderful interview from Le Deuxième Regard'snewsletter, with many thanks to them. Australian Jennifer Kent's The Babadookistouring New Zealand in the New Zealand International Film Festival – other international release dates below.

The Babadook goes very deep into the themes of insanity and motherhood. How did this story come to you?

I've always felt passionately about the need to face the difficulties of life. Facing the darkness, I feel, actually allows us to more fully embrace the joys as well. I think in some cases, suppressing difficulties can also be the catalyst for mental illness. Keeping all this in mind, I was fascinated to explore a character who was suppressing her difficulties, and in particular, one very traumatic event. I wanted to see where this denial and suppression would take her. This is how the story began for me.

Having said that, I never felt judgemental towards Amelia for suppressing. She had suffered enormously and it made sense she want…

#DirectedByWomen - A Global Celebration

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As you know, globally, women make far fewer films than men do. And those that we do make often have inadequate marketing budgets and are not well distributed, so often our potential audiences don’t hear about them. This means – as you also know – that it’s very very easy for women directors to be isolated from one another and for traditions of women’s filmmaking to remain partial and fragmented. This is how renowned British director Andrea Arnold described her experience, a few years back–
I always notice how few [films by women] there are at film festivals. I went to Créteil International Women’s Film Festival in France with Wasp [for which she won an Academy Award] in 2004, stayed on for a few days and watched all these films by women. I spent the whole time crying because there were so many films that had so much resonance for me, being female. It actually made me realise how male-dominated the film industry is in terms of perspective. If you think about a film being a very popula…

Anoushka Klaus, from 'Jake'

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I'm fascinated by actors and how they shift into other roles in filmmaking, especially writing. Anoushka Klaus is a recent find. She's appeared in Shortland Street and Nothing Trivial, in lots of theatre (including Girl In Tan Boots, F*ck Love, Golden Boys and The Sex Show) and in three features, including Bloodlines, written by Donna Malane and Paula Boock (Best Script NZWG awards 2010) and directed by Peter Burger.

Anoushka produced her latest feature, Jake, a sci-fi movie just out in New Zealand. Jake will be playing at the Paramount in Wellington from 11 July, when there'll be a Q & A session hosted by Jonathan King. It's had great reviews–
'Imaginative and endlessly witty.' – Sarah Watt Sunday Star Times
'The smartest bit of low-fi high-IQ science fiction New Zealand has produced.' – David Larsen Listener
'An entertaining and insightful slice of Twilight Zone-ish fun.' Dominic Corry Flicks.co.nz

Tell me a little bit about your pathways,…

Gaylene Preston on Her Earthquake Experiences

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In an hour the first of three ninety-minute episodes of Gaylene Preston's Hope and Wire will debut on New Zealand television. 

When I saw half of tonight's episode, a while back, I liked how it seemed to bring ALL of Gaylene's skills and experience together in one space in an interesting example of media convergence. Gaylene as a veteran writer/director/producer. Gaylene as doco maker and oral historian. Gaylene as creator of screen fiction. (And Gaylene as enthusiastic community member. As highly politicised community member.)

If you're not familiar with her work, think of Gaylene as a kind of New Zealand Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Hard Times). Or Alison Bechdel (Dykes To Watch Out For, Fun Home, Are You My Mother?). Or our very own Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, Nashville). I think Hope and Wire may be the work she will be most remembered for.




The run-up to the screening has been quite a trip for Gaylene; she's needed her hard hat. I've be…

From The Lighthouse – the Swedish Film Institute's Anna Serner

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I love Le Deuxième Regard, the French network for cinema professionals that aims to challenge ideas about about the place of women in cinema. It's the group (remember?) that made history with the Charte Pour l’Égalité Entre Les Femmes et Les Hommes Dans Le Secteur Du Cinéma, the Charte de l’Égalité for short. This year, it continued its good work within a strong collaborative publishing programme programme from Cannes.




Le Deuxième Regard also produces an excellent monthly newsletter. This month's newsletter features an interview with Anna Serner, director of the Swedish Film Institute, that legendary state funding body where where gender equity policies are more developed than anywhere else in the world – it's a lighthouse for every woman filmmaker in a country which has a state film fund (it also keeps track of gender statistics in some other countries) and maybe a lighthouse for all the other film funds, too. And the results of its policies are beginning to show, as i…

Disappointment, Gratitude & A Call For Help

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Disappointment It's New Zealand International Film Festival (#nziff) Time! Again. I've asked if the festival will follow Cannes' example and release details about how many women-directed works were submitted this year. My request was passed on to the programmers. No response yet.

And now the New Zealand feature-length selections have been announced, plus a doco by Florian Habicht which was not on the initial list (perhaps there are more to come).

Five narrative features. Not one has a woman writer or director. Only one, Gerard Johnstone's Housebound, has a woman protagonist.

Sophie Henderson and Fantail

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Fantail opens in New Zealand cinemas this Thursday, 5 June. It’s the story of service station worker Tania, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who identifies as Maori, working to take her little bro Pi to Surfer’s to find their Dad. But flitting Pi causes plans to go awry. (The Maori myth of Hine-Nui-Te-Po, Maui and the fantail/piwakawaka is its starting point, see links below if you're unfamiliar with the story.)

Fantail was made through the New Zealand Film Commission’s low-budget Escalator scheme and it's been very successful. It premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival last year and screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where Level K snapped up the global rights (Curious Film has the Australian and New Zealand distribution rights). It received eight nominations at the New Zealand Film Awards 2013, including a nomination for Best Film. And the reviews are very enthusiastic, too, look at all those stars! I'm excited because Fantail has a wom…

Jane Campion at #Cannes2014; & A series about Cannes and the Bechdel Test

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There have been many reports of Jane Campion's statements at the Cannes press conference for the main jury, where she said, in response to a question about 'inherent sexism'–
There is some inherent sexism in the industry. Thierry Frémaux told us that us only 7% out of the 1,800 films submitted to the Cannes Film Festival were directed by women. He was proud to say that we had 20% in all of the programs. Nevertheless, it feels very undemocratic, and women do notice. Time and time again we don’t get our share of representation. Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys seem to eat all the cake. It’s not that I resent the male filmmakers. I love all of them. But there is something that women are thinking of doing that we don’t get to know enough about. It’s always a surprise when a woman filmmaker does come about. But, as president of the jury, she's also been interviewed many times, and it seems that every time she's spoken, she's addressed the 'woman question'.…

Who Will Speak These Days, If Not I, If Not You?

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It's been a while. I've been writing an essay for a book: Women Screenwriters: An International Guide, edited by Jill Nelmes and Jule Nelbo, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. I had to catch up with New Zealand women's screenwriting for features, and I've been wholly absorbed with that. What an amazing and talented and diverse group our women screenwriters are, and very generous with their time, answering my questionnaire, expanding on their responses by email, phone and in person. Asking me questions. I learned lots. Today's most interesting women screenwriter facts? In the last decade 14 percent of New Zealand Film Commission-funded feature films had female protagonists. But over 70 percent of my respondents' feature film scripts had female protagonists. Questionnaires are still coming in and I'll take another look at them all in a future post. Many thanks to Katalin Galambos for her help with the stats.

Now the chapter's done, except for editin…