BIZ: Mamma Said Knock You Out! - Two Hard-hitting Films By Women Open in NYC
(indieWIRE/5.12.00) — Opening today are two films by and about women whose distribution battles reflect the array of difficulties facing women filmmakers today. Colette Burson‘s “Coming Soon” (a Unapix release), about three teenage girls in search of an orgasm, is opening in New York at the Village East Cinemas. Also opening today is Katya Bankowsky‘s documentary, “Shadow Boxers,” about world champion female boxer Lucia Rijker, opens at the Cinema Village.
Burson’s eight-month search for distribution ended with a deal from Unapix after a slew of obstacles, including an NC-17 rating on a film that has “no nudity and no violence,” Burson says. “The MPAA threw a fit over it,” says the director, who cut the offending footage to get it down to an R rating. “They didn’t like the idea of teenage girls and orgasms,” she says. “The same day I learned that “8MM” had a surprisingly easy time getting an R, and it’s about women being sexually tortured and killed.”
“Shadow Boxers” has a different road to distribution, one having nothing to do with the MPAA. After screening to overwhelmingly positive press at festivals such as Toronto, The Hamptons and Berlin and being named one of indieWIRE‘s top films of 1999 without US distribution, the film has still been unable to nail down a distribution deal. “All it takes is one person from a major distribution company who feels that this film will have a big audience, but it’s hard to take that risk, because statistically documentaries don’t make a lot of money at the box office,” says Bankowsky, who finally resorted to self-distribution with the hopes that a successful run will spur both a theatrical acquisition and a strong television deal. “I got offers from smaller distributors, but since I financed the film myself, I couldn’t afford to give away my rights to the film,” says the director.
While the two reasons for distribution difficulties may at first appear to be different, a strong possibility is that distribution companies often shy away from small films that they perceive to be overly oriented towards women, assuming that it cuts the possible audience in half.
While annoyed with what she calls the “inherent passive sexism” of the system, Burson was thrilled with the public response to her film (it screened at the LAIFF, Seattle, and Nantucket, among other festivals). Support for the film led to the establishment of a popular web site (www.comingsoonmovie.com), which Burson believes contributed to the eventual sale of her film. She recalls, “These young girls took me out to lunch and said, ‘we love your movie and we’re gonna help you get distribution.’ In September, the site got 10,000 hits.” From then on, the movie’s fan base multiplied at an astonishing rate.
“Chickclick did an article and Salon,” says the director, “and the website went wild!” Burson believes that the site’s popularity contributed to her eventual distribution deal. “The fact that [Unapix] could look at the stats and see how many thousands of women were going to the site could have contributed to the fact that they said, ‘hey, maybe we can make something of this film.'”
Bankowsky also believes that her film will attract a large audience. “I think the moviegoing audience at large will be excited about seeing a female hero who is strong without apology,” she says. The system that determines which films the public will see, however, apparently have a different opinion about what kind of heroes appeal to an audience. “Distributors are conditioned to think that what’s worked in the past is an indicator of what will work in the future” says Bankowsky, “but actually what’s going to breakthrough is what hasn’t been seen before. And that’s what they’re getting with Shadow Boxers, a type of heroic female that hasn’t been put on the screen before.”
Is there something wrong with a system that makes millions on boys playing basketball but won’t touch inspirational young women in a boxing ring? How about a ratings board that allows teenage boys to stick their penises in pies but can’t handle girls who like sex. “Coming Soon is a great test case for what’s wrong with the MPAA, says Burson. “We really have to ask the question, ‘why is “Coming Soon” disturbing to them and “8MM” is not?” Who sets the standard? Certain types of men get very disturbed by this film, and they unfortunately make a lot of decisions in Hollywood.”
[Mark Rabinowitz contributed to this article.]