By Matthew Hammett Knott | Indiewire January 9, 2014 at 1:22PM
Kátia Lund, the co-director, alongside Fernando Meirelles, of “City of God” - the breakout Brazilian drama nominated for four Oscars in 2004.
So why are you talking about it now?
Because the controversial policy which saw Meirelles nominated for Best Director but Lund denied looks set to hit again next week. Christine Cynn, co-director of “The Act of Killing”, is likely to join Lund in failing to be Oscar-nominated while her fellow director Joshua Oppenheimer is tipped for a nod.
I don’t get it. The Coen Brothers were nominated as co-directors.
It’s a different scenario. The Coen Brother each receive a “director” credit, and are co-directors because there are two of them. But while Oppenheimer is also credited as director, Cynn’s credit is “co-director”.
And that doesn’t qualify her for directing awards?
It depends. If “The Act of Killing” does receive a nomination on Thursday, it is entirely possible that Cynn’s name will be included (films simply submit their credits to the Academy and await the verdict). She has been recognized alongside Oppenheimer by a handful of European film festivals. But the signs are not good - major awards bodies such as BAFTA, the Gothams and the European Film Awards have cited Oppenheimer but neglected to mention either of his co-directors.
So what is a co-director?
It can vary quite considerably. The situation with “The Act of Killing” is made muddy by the existence of a third, anonymous co-director. A clearer example is Loveleen Tanden, who Danny Boyle promoted from casting director to co-director on “Slumdog Millionaire”, and was responsible for the decision to have the child cast speak in Hindi, not English. “As I was casting with her, I realized, because I’m not a fool, that I needed her there every day” Boyle explained. “She’s a proper director. You can feel it”. Yet Tanden was rewarded alongside Boyle by a mere two film festivals - an outcome that recalls the case of Kátia Lund.
Tell me more.
Shortly after purchasing the rights to Paulo Lin’s novel “City of God”, Fernando Meirelles realized, having never set foot in a favela, that he was hardly well-placed to shoot a feature film which took place in one. Enter Kátia Lund, a documentary filmmaker best known at that point for the celebrated favela documentary “News from a Private War”. After agreeing to her request to be guaranteed a co-director credit, Meirelles hired Lund.
To do what?
“When Fernando hired me, we were bringing our talents together” is how Lund puts it. And by all accounts, it was a happy and fruitful collaboration. Meirelles was ever quick to acknowledge Lund’s role and the relationship remained cordial throughout. It was only in the press coverage following the film’s success that Lund felt she was being treated, in her words, as "the woman who took care of the kids and was the tour guide of the favela".
I take it she feels that’s inaccurate.
Lund summarizes her duties thus: "A year of preparation. Sitting on the set next to Fernando. Going to the edit. I was not there just to hold his hand. I worked on the script from the fourth to the twelfth draft. I supervised the crew. I know I was there working with Fernando to construct the vision and style of this film. If I was not directing, what was I doing?"
Her point is that her duties were more than sufficient to warrant inclusion in any recognition of the film’s direction. And as with Cynn and Tanden, a small number of awarding bodies agreed - Lund and Meirelles shared Best Director awards from AFI Fest and the Washington DC critics among others. But the Academy Awards did not follow suit.
You think they should have nominated both of them?
Why not? Pierre Bismuth won a screenwriting Oscar for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". His contribution was having the original idea and telling it to his friend Michel Gondry, who then developed the story before recruiting Charlie Kaufman as screenwriter. All three men shared the nomination and win with little fuss over the possibility that one's contribution was "greater" than the other. If it is a collaboration, recognize the collaborators.
We shouldn't expect much from the Oscars.
No, although Meirelles’ Oscar nomination is likely to have played a role in securing his high-profile follow-up gig, “The Constant Gardener”, and successful career since. But while Lund did not enjoy the same opportunities, she resolved at the time to adopt a magnanimous approach. “I have decided to be happy about the whole thing” she declared. “This is Brazil going to the World Cup and I’m not going to be the one who wrecks the party”.
So what’s the problem?
A decade on, Christine Cynn is proof that the question of how to adequately recognize the work of co-directors has not passed. For me, it is an issue with wider ramifications in the film world. Ours is an industry in which everyone pays lip service to it being a collaborative medium, but the director is still disproportionately lionized.
You don’t think they are the most important figure in a film’s creation?
It’s one thing for Joshua Oppenheimer to receive directing awards ahead of Christine Cynn. But I think it encourages the acceptability of the fact that their joint work bears the credit “A film by Joshua Oppenheimer”. Regardless of whether or not that's fair, it's simply inaccurate. The possessory “A film by...” credit has long rankled with screenwriters, not to mention producers, cinematographers and other people fundamentally involved in a film’s collaborative authorship. And in the case of co-directors, I consider it a feminist issue.
Why, because Kátia Lund, Loveleen Tanden and Christine Cynn are women?
That’s one good reason. Another is that it seems a greater proportion of co-directors than directors are women. But the principal reason for considering this a feminist issue is wider-reaching. In cinema, as in many other industries, women are pushed towards collaborative, supportive roles, while men are encouraged to be leaders. The qualities associated with the hallowed director figure - leadership, authority, creative genius - are codified in our society as male.
It is that, more than the specifics of the case, that makes it so important to pay women such as Kátia Lund and Christine Cynn their due.
Matthew Hammett Knott is a filmmaker and writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter.