Many cross-border conversations about #womeninfilm take place on Facebook now, rather than in blog comments or elsewhere online. This week, several of those conversations were about Geena Davis’ participation, as one of five executive producers and the ‘star’, according to imdb, of Tom Donahue’s Untitled Geena Davis/Gender in Media Documentary. And the conversations were notable for their rich diversity of viewpoints, because there’s now a rich diversity of #womeninfilm activists (including some men), many of us also filmmakers.
And as I enjoyed the debate, I recalled Ally Acker’s project, Reel Herstory, with Jodie Foster and wondered if she had asked Geena Davis to participate in any way. I also recalled that this year at Cannes, one of the few features directed by women was The Women Who Run Hollywood/ Et la femme créa Hollywood, by sisters Julia and Clara Kuperberg.
|Clara and Julia Kuperberg|
Ally It’s funny that you’re asking me these questions, all of which (as you might imagine), I’ve been asking myself. Just this week I finished writing an article called, Why Women Will Never be Equal in Hollywood. I don’t want to give the gist of it away online. But suffice to say, it deals with issues of gender, patriarchy, and the requisite unconsciousness that ensues.
To your questions…
Marian Since we spoke, back in 2014, you’ve shared your interviews with Julia and Clara Kuperberg. The Women Who Run Hollywood premiered at Cannes this year. I love the networking that’s happening with women’s film activists and that you’re a part of this. Tell me about Julia and Clara and their films and your collaboration? They’ve made 27 films since 2006? Did you go to Cannes? Where is their film available, in English?
Ally Clara and Julia in my life have been a great gift. I’m contacted a lot, by students and others, asking me questions for thesis, or people on the throes of beginning a book or documentary. When the Kuperbergs first approached me, I was deep into assembling my own film, Reel Herstory with Jodie Foster. They said they’d be in New York in a few months, and could they interview me for their film?
Here’s what I’ll admit, when they told me they were doing a doc on the same subject as my own, the old patriarchal fear rose as a wave of competition in my chest! My next feeling was dismissing the contact altogether. After all, how many times have I received such a request, and it all came to nothing? I never hear from the recipient again?
Eight months later, C&J are on their way to New York, and call to confirm a meeting. I tell them I can’t get to the city (New York City, that is), so they make the impressive effort, and shelp with their camera crew to find me on Long Island. By the time we set up that meeting, those aforementioned competitive feelings had been brought to full consciousness, and I face them for the ugly monsters they are. As a child of feminism from the 70’s, I’ve worked hard on trying to understand how patriarchy insidiously infiltrates our thoughts. (I believe we all need to be vigilant about how patriarchy functions in our everyday lives.)
Of course there cannot be too many films, or too many books, on this topic! My initial reason for beginning my own research on the herstory of women in film in the 80’s was to integrate lost womens film history, into the larger world of film history. They are not separate histories!
By the time our interview for the film was over, I was much more interested in interviewing them! Never had I met two sisters so respectful, or so encouraging of one another, who work together 24 hours a day!
As they were working on their film, I answered all their questions where I could, and freely offered to share my footage. I eventually made them co-owners of my Reel Women Archive, (which is also now co-owned by Academy Archives — Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, where students can go to Los Angeles and view the interviews for research, although only myself, Clara & Julia, can use these interviews in our films.) The pioneer, Dede Allen, told me a story long ago which is seared in my brain, about how imperative it is to pass along the baton of what we know to the coming generation, because we’re here and we’re gone.
You’ll need to ask C&J more about their interaction and how they work. Here’s some of what I garnered about their prolific filmic life…They are French and live in Paris, but their primary focus and interest is American film, and American culture (hence, Wichita Films). Under contract with French television, they come up with concepts for five films a year (all around 52 min each). They try and marry these concepts to common experts who can talk about two or hopefully more of their five ideas. This way, they have a containable amount of people to interview during their annual sojourn to Los Angeles, and New York. They spent six months in the States, and six months back home cutting their movies. (The Goddess only knows how they manage to get five done a year! But impressively, they do. And they do them really well.) Their films are classy, intelligent, beautiful. Their films breathe, and somehow still manage to get the modicum of information conveyed. I’m really proud to be a part of one of their brilliant efforts.
The Women Who Run Hollywood/ Et la femme créa Hollywood is in English, with French subtitles, since all the interviewees are American. You’ll have to ask them about its availability and distribution. Aside from Cannes, it has already shown on French television. I didn’t make it to Cannes. Aside from personal scheduling conflicts, this was their film, and I believe that the red carpet belonged to them.
Marian What else have you been doing? Are you continuing to document women filmmakers or are you working on new things?
Ally I think I answered this in my opening paragraph. I’m hoping to get the article I just finished placed somewhere with a wide readership (easier said than done). I don’t want it to get lost in the barrage of the ethernet.
Marian This week, there’s been controversy over Geena Davis’ co-producing for a man who is making a film about women filmmakers. What’s your view? I’m wondering whether Geena would have helped women working on similar projects if they had approached her but it just so happened that none of you did. Did you ever approach Geena for her help? And if so, was it forthcoming?
Ally Yes, I know about the Geena Davis controversy. When I finished Reel Herstory I contacted her organization about a collaboration with the idea of showing the film with her participation to raise monies for women’s film preservation. She ignored the request. That’s all I can say.
The issue of gender and film is such a complicated one. I’ll quote you a couple of paragraphs from my new article–
Often when I would lecture, I would get the same remark from audiences time and time again, Look how many women are in powerful positions in Hollywood! Isn’t it great? And I would always have to stop and point out that the question is off the mark. It actually has very little to do with gender. If the women who have the power to green-light films have the same consciousness as a Judd Apatow, what’s the difference? Unconscious female filmmakers are, in my mind, actually worse than having no women in positions of power at all. Gender has very little to do with it, if Patriarchal thinking has already commandeered your consciousness.Gloria Steinem is right on money (as usual) when she says that gender equality is not a feminist issue, but a social justice issue. As filmmakers, our consciousness translates onto the screen, and thereby effects each and every one of us. It’s a powerful responsibility.Marian What significant changes have you seen in the last two years? I’d like to know about the Reel Herstory distribution, but so much has been happening and I think you’re in a good position to identify what’s been most useful.
It is no accident that ‘pant-suit’ Hillary Clinton is the first woman to climb to the top of the political heap. She’s a terrific example of inculcated patriarchal thinking planted in the body of a woman. Does it make a difference that she’s a woman? Not really. Can you actually tell the difference between Hillary and Bill other than the obvious division of their physical gender? Hillary has gotten to where she is in the patriarchal structure, in the same way that Katharine Bigelow became the first female Oscar recipient, they have proved to be better than the boys at the boys own game. Not to say that Bigelow isn’t a terrific filmmaker. She is an amazingly gifted, competent artist. But had she made a different genre of film other than a war film, one has to wonder if she would have garnered the top prize.
Ally Reel Herstory is currently distributed by Kanopy Streaming. I’ve been working with them for many years now. (Naturally, they originated near your neck of the woods, in Australia). Its founder and CEO, Olivia Humphrey, has a terrific philosophy, one very empathetic to independent filmmakers and their sustenance. She’s been quoted as saying, ‘As a community, we need to be cognizant of the fact that we must forge a sustainable economy for educational filmmakers, to ensure they can continue to produce videos that teach, inspire, challenge and engage the next generation of students’.
The statistics from Martha Lauzen’s Celluloid Ceiling studies haven’t significantly changed since well before 1998, and in the case of women directors, they have actually gotten worse. As women filmmakers, we need to stop worrying about getting the approval and recognition of the old boy’s club, and get on with our work.
Believe me, I know better than anyone that this is easier said than done! Especially when we all depend on monies for our projects. We all want careers that go on. Women filmmakers in Europe, as Margarethe von Trotta, and the Kuperberg sisters have explained to me, have an easier go of it. Small money from the state is available for film, and if the films lose money, it’s a write-off, and the filmmakers don’t get penalized or blacklisted as they do in the United States. (Although here, male filmmakers can have a flop and still go on to prolific careers, while this is unheard of for women.)
But really, we have no choice except to focus on what matters. We can either expend our energies railing against what we don’t have, and are not included in, or we can take those energies and channel them into our art, and into our own clubs. Each one of us makes that choice every day. If there is any kind of significant change, I think it manifests in our own consciousness, and how we choose to live our lives, and make our art. The change you speak of always shows up in independent film, where voices are fresh and eclectic. Time and time again you see that once those voices are co-opted by Hollywood, they are diluted, washed, and made into something far less interesting, far less vital.
Sorry! You said nothing too long! I’m afraid you’ve caught me on a Saturday morning with good coffee! Hope this answers your questions.
Ally appears in this, lots of the clip in English!