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#DirectedByWomen - A Global Celebration

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 popular and expressive way of showing a mirror on life, we’re getting a mainly male perspective. It’s a shame. I saw a lot of fantastic films at Créteil that I never heard about again. 
Among multiple strategies to bring ‘lost’ films and their women directors into public consciousness, some women create lists of women directors and their work.

Destri Martino is the first director I know of to create this kind of list and I love her current Pinterest board. Beti Ellerson has developed a huge database at African Women in Cinema which includes directors, often represented in video interviews and blog posts. Yvonne Welbon has a list of African American women film directors on Sisters in Cinema. Nordic Women in Film is launching its major site about Nordic women film workers, including directors, in 2015. I have a New Zealand list here.

There are also Wikipedia lists. One has links to individual entries. One lists Indian women directors. There are probably more lists there that I haven’t seen.

Some film sites have lists of women-directed films, too. On those I can access easily here in New Zealand, Ally the Manic List Maker has made a list of films directed by women on MUBI, over 1400 films. And there’s a list of women-directed films on Indiereign.

And now there’s Barbara Ann O’Leary’s work. She’s created Women Film Directors: Active in the Past Decade, on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). It currently runs at 5,326.

Barbara’s next step is Directed by Women, a worldwide celebration of women directors, September 1-15, 2015, a global viewing party. It's a visionary idea, I reckon.

It seems that #DirectedByWomen, best known by its hashtag, will be something that everyone can enjoy in some way. It'll spotlight films already made, like those that resonated with Andrea Arnold, those fantastic films that appear at women’s film festivals and are never seen again. It'll encourage me to explore Barbara's lists on MUBI (link below, I love them). I hope it’ll put me in touch with New Zealand women’s films like Pat Robins' Instincts (1985), which until recently I didn't know existed – New Zealand is pretty small and I thought I’d seen most women-directed films but I’d missed this one and who knows how many more. I hope it creates new audiences renewed appreciation for films that women direct, lots of conversations. So here's an interview with Barbara, and her warm invitation to all of us.

Q: Where did your #DirectedByWomen idea come from?

When I started my list, my intention was personal. I’m a film lover. I watch a LOT of films and I was looking for a way to bring conscious awareness to my movie watching.

I established a process I dubbed A Yearlong Film Viewing Balancing Act. I dedicated myself – as I wrote on my O’Leary’s Reel Life Tumblr – to 'inviting authentic creative expression to flourish in the world in a balanced and harmonious way by bringing my attention to – and opening to receive – the creative motion picture outpourings of women and men filmmakers in equal measure'. Every day I watched at least one feature and one short directed during the past decade. Over the course of the year I made sure to watch an even number of films directed by women and by men.

I started a casual list on IMDb of women who had directed during the past 10 years, to give me ideas when I was figuring out which women-made films I wanted to see next. I kept my eye out on Facebook and Twitter for women directors to add to the list. Each day more and more and more and more women filmmakers came to my attention. I hear repeatedly from people inside and outside of the film community that there are very few women directors. That seems to be accepted as undisputed fact, but there are thousands of women who direct films that make their way into IMDb. I was familiar with quite a number of filmmakers, but many more were unknown to me. The list grew and grew. I was watching films as fast as I could and wanted to see as many of these films by women as possible. But I came to the realization there were more than I could possibly catch up on! I am confident that my 5000+ list depicts only a small fraction of the actual number of women and girls directing motion pictures around the world.

The idea to create the event was sparked by a desire to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the Beijing United Nations Conference on Women. I felt moved to utilize my global activist skills to expand awareness of women filmmakers and their work through the power of celebration, to alert people to the many many women-directed films I know exist, to share the moving and engaging experience I've had watching some of them and to invite others to share similar experiences.

There are SO MANY women directing films.... and more preparing to do so all the time. I know I will never have time to watch and appreciate all their work, but together we can. Together we can throw a big 15-day party – the 20th anniversary of the Beijing UN Women's Conference seems like the perfect time – to help the whole world notice and fall madly in love with women filmmakers and their work. And to watch as many as we possibly can. Everyone who chooses to participate will have the chance to feel connected to others who are similarly choosing to celebrate the motion picture creations of women film directors. It’s a chance to be part of something big from wherever people happen to be.

I drafted up ten reasons to throw a worldwide film viewing party to celebrate women directors–
1. To show our appreciation for the amazing films women have made and are making
2. To raise awareness inside the global film community and in the world at large about films #DirectedByWomen and the women film directors who skillfully lead teams of film artists to bring those films into being
3. To mobilize expanded opportunities for film lovers worldwide to experience films #DirectedByWomen
4. To enhance the lives of all film lovers by opening them to a wide array of films they may not have seen or even heard about previously
5. To invite men and women to demonstrate their commitment to creating a culture of appreciation and inclusivity within the global film community
6. To build skill in and knowledge of how to screen films #DirectedByWomen in local communities around the world
7. To awaken a deep hunger for films #DirectedByWomen within the global film community
8. To cultivate supportive relationships within the global film community
9. To fall madly in love with women filmmakers and their work
10. To have FUN
Q: What’s your background in film?

I’m a lifelong film lover from a family of film lovers. At 15 I started offering film viewing opportunities to others with a screening of Ida Lupino’s delightful comedy The Trouble with Angels on 16mm for my all girl’s high school. It was a big hit. The joy of bringing people together to relish the work of a woman filmmaker stayed with me during the years I trained in theatre and drama, worked professionally as a stage manager, engaged women’s environment and development issues at UN level, offered authenticity and creativity support to individuals and groups, and cultivated expertise in social media community building. Throughout my life I’ve continued to appreciate a diverse range of films by many filmmakers from around the world and all time periods of film history. Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working to support awareness, understanding, and enjoyment of films and filmmakers as Outreach Specialist for Indiana University Cinema, a world-class facility and program dedicated to the scholarly study and highest standards of exhibition of film in its traditional and modern forms.

As a member of Indiana Filmmakers Network I’ve organized a film series, offered social media strategy advice for filmmakers, and helped grow the local filmmaking community. I’m also active with Indianapolis International Film Festival, having served on the Documentary Screening Committee last year. This year I was delighted to be invited to sit on their World Cinema jury. And I screenwrite.

Q: How will #DirectedByWomen work? Will some of it be online?

#DirectedByWomen is a grassroots event. Film lovers will create film screening opportunities in their own communities as they identify films and filmmakers they want to celebrate. It is envisioned to be completely flexible to maximize the number of people who can participate. Ways to engage range from Solo Celebrations, where individuals dedicate themselves to watching films #DirectedByWomen at least once between September 1-15, 2015, to Family Movie Nights and House Parties to Community Screenings and Cinema Screenings up to multi-day festivals or symposia… or anything that communities feel inspired to organize. Guest filmmaker visits in person or via Skype/Google Hangout/etc. would be wonderful. I’d really like to see as many individual filmmakers celebrated as possible.

It’s also designed to weave together with already existing experiences. The process invites people who are already screening films to program films #DirectedByWomen during that time frame. #DirectedByWomen will help people figure out how to get hold of the films for personal viewing or for sharing with others and help people understand the mechanics of arranging screening rights and other aspects of holding community events. There will be focus on demystifying the process of arranging screening rights so a greater number of people will be knowledgeable about and empowered to bring films #DirectedByWomen into their communities going forward.

We, the people who engage with #DirectedByWomen and build the community that helps make it happen, will work in the coming months to help highlight information about women filmmakers and their work, creating podcasts and video essays to expand the conversation and create structures online for sharing events as people event plan.

Streaming is definitely a part of the process that is available. I’m envisioning groups choosing to stream filmmaker Q&A or other local events to share with the global participants as well as organizing virtual screenings of online content.

Q: What's the difference between #DirectedByWomen and a women's film festival, usually also a grassroots event?

I see #DirectedByWomen as a unique, one-off, opportunity to appreciate as many women filmmakers as possible within a single 15 day window. Unlike any festival so far, #DirectedByWomen issues a global invitation to watch and celebrate films directed by women within a specific timeframe. It isn’t at a single geographical location or on a single website. It doesn’t involve costly travel and accommodation. Unlike any festival, it is not curated. Instead, #DirectedByWomen will provide information to help viewers to participate on their own terms, wherever they live, and offer access to a global experience through online reports of and conversations about other celebrations.

Q: Women Arts’ international SWAN Day (Create. Connect. Change the World) has been running seven years now, with over 1000 events in 23 countries. What are the similarities between SWAN Day and #DirectedByWomen? The differences?

Both celebrate women’s creative outpourings. SWAN Day is an annual holiday celebrating women’s creativity in all its forms. #DirectedByWomen is a one-time celebration focused tightly on celebration of women film directors and their films/TV/webisodes/expanded cinema/any other motion picture creations.

Q: What support are you looking for?

I’m looking for film lovers the world over to step up and announce their intention to hold film screenings in their communities, organize online film streamings, offer women filmmakers opportunities to come together with film lovers to have their work appreciated, and otherwise celebrate films #DirectedByWomen. Filmmakers and other film artists, technicians, executives, programmers, academics, preservationists, archivists, critics, and everyone else involved in the film world are definitely welcome to engage. I’m looking for women filmmakers to make themselves more visible in the world – and open to being celebrated and #DirectedByWomen is available to help catalyze that process.

#DirectedByWomen is currently running a campaign on Seed&Spark, the #FairTradeFilm focused crowdfunding/streaming platform, to generate resources to support outreach and information sharing capabilities as well as to demonstrate vibrant interest in the celebration, bringing people together online to help create conversation about how to mobilize celebrations around the world. Contributions large and small are warmly welcomed and deeply appreciated. The project page can be accessed here.

Q: What support have you had so far?

The project is still in the early stages. But film lovers have already begun making personal commitments to participate during the event. As a friend posted online today: “This is going to happen. The question is: HOW FANTASTIC DO YOU WANT IT TO BE?” Filmmakers, festival programmers, academics, film lovers, etc. have been expressing interest, showing up in #DirectedByWomen online spaces to declare their intention to participate, inviting friends, and contributing to the crowdfunding campaign.

I love the enthusiasm. I think that people connect with the celebratory and appreciative nature of the event. I want it to be invigorating, but also put people at ease, to be something that can arise organically within communities. It’s non-hierarchical, so people are free to create events that suit their own interests. The only requirements to participate are an interest in films #DirectedByWomen and clarity that respect for the filmmakers and their intellectual property rights are an essential component of any #DirectedByWomen event people may choose to organize.

Q: I know that people tend to take big film events more seriously if prominent people in the industry are associated with them and explain why they’re important. Are you seeking this kind of endorsement?

By its nature the #DirectedByWomen celebration calls for the invitation to spread from one film lover to another. It is a grassroots initiative. People prominent in the global film community are of course absolutely welcome to participate, but I hope that they will feel invited to engage in a relaxed way as creative artists and not feel pressed into service.

Q: Women who make films and who care about other women making films tend to be stretched. Some of us are likely to hold back from engagement for the same reason that we sometimes don’t get our films made and don’t run women’s film festivals – we have very limited resources of both time and money. We need the resources we do have for our own work. What kind of support and enticements are you able to offer us?

The enticement is the offer of celebration. The party spans 15 days in order to allow people with full schedules to participate somewhere in that window: gathering with other film lovers to relish the work of women filmmakers or taking time on their own to relax with a woman made film. This party can be hugely satisfying without being expensive, time consuming, or distracting. Film lovers who feel moved to appreciate films #DirectedByWomen can watch films on their own or coordinate screenings in their communities to provide delicious opportunities to celebrate.

I don't suggest people celebrate films #DirectedByWomen out of a belief that women offer different approaches to filmmaking or genre, or because they might be more likely to feature women and girls as major characters, although those might be true. My reasons are–
FAIRNESS: Women have an equal right to authentic expression through motion picture creation and that deserves to be honored by having their work received by film lovers with as much attention as work generated by men directors. #DirectedByWomen invites the film loving world to swing its attention intensely toward the films directed by women for a 15-day period. Going forward from there it is my hope that many film viewers will have shifted their awareness of their film viewing habits and will open to film in a more balanced way, noticing more keenly whose work they are receiving and making more conscious choices.

RICHNESS: The more diversity film lovers have in their viewing diets the more expansively they are able to drink in the nuances of creativity and perception of human experience., and the less reliant they become on outsider opinion about what is worthy of their film viewing time. Opening to variety creates space in life for a deeper exploration of what has meaning and value.
I’ll know it has been worthwhile if filmmakers and film lovers participate in co-creating the party and share feedback that indicates they’ve expanded their awareness and appreciation of films #DirectedByWomen and had some fun doing it. If the global conversation about women directors takes a turn toward abundance and appreciation, that would be a great outcome. I’d relish that. If there is a strengthening of supportive connection among film lovers, women film directors, and the rest of the global film community, that would also be welcome.

Q: What resources do you have to do your part of the work?

The Seed&Spark campaign is to gather basic operating expenses and resources to support event information sharing and community building. As a grassroots initiative it is designed to be very low cost.

Q: From New Zealand, Directed by Women and SWAN Day seem very American initiatives and from America it may be challenging for you to connect with a diversity of participants. How will you go about this? Would it be ‘safer’ to focus on diversity within the States for this first #DirectedByWomen?

The invitation to celebrate films #DirectedByWomen is inherently global in scope. As a grassroots initiative it will spawn itself through direct invitation from one film lover to another wherever in the world the invitation manages to reach.

The very first person with whom I had an in-depth conversation about this celebration was Nisha Pahuja, who felt moved to offer an hour out of her busy India campaign for The World Before Her to Skype with me to dream up possibilities for the celebration. She was in India. I was in Indiana. That’s the world I experience myself living in, a world where we can make connections and celebrate together across distance. I’m deeply appreciative to Nisha for her support. And for the support of other filmmakers and film lovers who have stepped up to engage.

Seed & Spark page
Facebook event page
Vimeo (lots of short films directed by women and frequent additions)

Barbara's lists
MUBI (Over 4000 titles so far)
Twitter list of women filmmakers
Facebook women directors list
Facebook films directed by women list

Is this invitation in your language? If not, Barbara would love to hear from you!

Directed by Women: a worldwide film viewing party, September 1-15, 2015

Nā Kaitohu Wāhine: he hui mātakitaki whakaahua mō te ao whānui 1-15 Mahuru 2015


Réalisés par des femmes: projection mondiale des filmes, du 1 au 15 septembre 2015

Režírováno ženami: celosvětová oslava s promítáním filmů: 1.-15. září 2015

Dirigido por Mujeres : Una fiesta internacional para ver peliculas, del 1 al 15 de Septiembre, 2015.

กำกับโดยผู้กำกับหญิง งานชมพร้อมกันทั่วโลก 1-5 กันยายน 2558

"Stiúrtha ag Mná: Fleá Amhairc Domhanda Scannán" Meán Fómhair 1-15, 2015

Dirigido por Mulheres: Festa com projeção de filmes de todo o mundo, de 1 a 15 de Setembro de 2015


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