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BIZ: Female Film Survival; 50/50 and Cinechica Raise Awareness for Women in Film

BIZ: Female Film Survival; 50/50 and Cinechica Raise Awareness for Women in Film

BIZ: Female Film Survival; 50/50 and Cinechica Raise Awareness for Women in Film

by Amy Goodman

(indieWIRE/03.30.01) — There’s nothing like another annual Oscar ceremony to
corroborate the disturbing facts on stickers that The
Guerilla Girls
, a group who call themselves “culture’s
favorite masked avengers,” have posted all over New
York and Los Angeles in the past few weeks. According
to these stickers, no woman has ever won an Oscar for
feature film direction, cinematography, or sound, and
94% of the writing awards have gone to men. The
stickers also inform that last year, Miramax, New
, Artisan, Sony Screen Gems, Paramount Classics,
Fine Line, Dimension, USA Films and the Shooting
released only one film — or none — directed
by a woman; and only 4% of this year’s top-grossing
100 films were directed by women (at 9% female, “even
the U.S. Senate,” the sticker reads, is “more
progressive than Hollywood”). These statistics
demonstrate, as does every year at the Oscars, that
the lack of creative opportunity and influence for
women in the film industry is a serious problem.

The Guerrilla Girls aren’t the only ones who are
taking action. Last Friday night, nearly two hundred
people, mostly women, gathered at New York
‘s Cantor Auditorium, co-sponsored by 50/50,
a group founded by Alison Anders (“Things Behind the
“) dedicated to attaining equality for women in
film and television, and Cinechica, a student group of
female film students at NYU. The event was called My
First Time: Early Films by Bad Ass Lady Filmmakers
, a
title cutesy enough to arouse my suspicion that these
groups may be advocating something more along the
lines of Grrrrrrrrl Power! than girl talent,
intelligence, and equal rights. (Can you imagine an
event called Early Films by Bad Ass Guy Filmmakers,
including Miguel Arteta, Neal Jiminez, Brad Anderson,
and Eric Mendelsohn?) A female filmmaker myself, I was
nevertheless drawn to the idea of finding inspiration
and hope for a film career from women who have
transcended sexism long enough to make a film or two.

After screening ten early, short films by the likes of
Jamie Babbitt, Helen Stickler, Tamra Davis, Mary
and Nancy Savoca, filmmaker and 50/50
representative Sarah Jacobsen (“Mary Jane’s Not a
Virgin Anymore
“) introduced five panelists, including
herself, Nancy Savoca (“Dogfight“), Leslie Harris
(“Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.”), Carrie Schultz
and Nicole Koschmann (filmmakers and New School
faculty), and Suki Stetson Hawley (“Radiation“).

The discussion, which lasted two hours, covered the
wide spectrum of speed bumps and road blocks faced by
women who want to make movies. Each panelist shared at
least one nightmarish film school story. One of Leslie
Harris’s professors, for example, laughed in her face
when she told him she wanted to join his class; she
aced it, of course. And in what must have been a
pathetically ironic crit, both peers and professors
told Nicole Koschmann, the only woman in her film
school class, that the female character in a film she
made was “not feminist enough.” On a more positive
note, the moral of Carrie Schultz’s film school horror
story was one of the most valuable of the evening: if
you’re teased and alienated in the equipment room, get
a job there and become the resident expert.

The audience sighed and chortled at these stories, and
then led the discussion towards post-academia with
questions like, “Does it get any easier AFTER film
school?” Despite offerings of heartfelt encouragent
(“Don’t give up!”), the panelists’ answer to this
question was, in effect, “no.” And Jacobson pointed
out that it seems easier for women to direct in
Hollywood than in “Indiewood,” where auteurs, who are
overwhelmingly male, reign supreme.

Although the panelists relayed other valuable bits of
advice to aspiring filmmakers in the audience (Find a
mentor, Get someone to support you and your work,
Learn how to use the equipment), they did not avoid
some of the pitfalls of discussions about “isms” in
film. There were, for example, a few minutes dedicated
to trashing Lifetime Television (which incidentally
hires more female filmmakers than most other cable
channels or networks). Although it’s easy to make fun
of some of the programming on Lifetime or Oxygen, it’s
not particularly constructive at a 50/50 panel, where
misogyny of any kind has no place. These occasional
lapses of self-loathing humor undercut the panelists’
solidarity and well-deserved self-respect.

There is clearly hope for women who want to make
films: from Mary Pickford to Agnes Varda to Alison
, there have always been fantastic female
filmmakers who have prevailed despite industry
resistance to women in positions of creative power.
50/50 and Cinechica are founded with the best
intentions to support women filmmakers and give
voice to an underrepresented talent pool. But while
Friday’s panel made a spirited, entertaining case that
it’s possible to be a female filmmaker, The Guerilla
Girls and the stubborn old Adademy make a convincing,
daunting case that we still have a long way to go.

Amy Goodman is a freelance writer and documentary

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