Film critic Thelma Adams moderated a provocative discussion with filmmakers Courteney Cox (feature directorial debut “Just Before I Go,” Friends actress, actress/producer/director Cougar Town), Debra Granik (Academy Award nominated director/co-writer “Winter’s Bone“
nominated for four Oscars, “Down to the Bone” Best Director at 2004 Sundance Film Festival), Leah Meyerhoff (“I Believe in Unicorns” her
debut feature premiered at SXSW 2014, previous award-winning short films have screened in over 200 film festivals), and Jenna Ricker (wrote, directed and
produced her first feature film, “Ben’s Plan” awarded Best Drama at the AOF Festival, Distinguished Debut at the London Independent Festival, and
honored with the Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker).
According to Celluloid Ceiling (the report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University) only 6% of
directors working in the top movies in 2013 movies were women; a 3-point drop from 2012. Only 16% directors, writers, executive producers, producers,
editors, cinematographers in 2013 were women. Women directors working independently, outside the Hollywood studio system, are finding more opportunities,
but there is still a vast inequity.
Moderator Thelma Adams cited some additional statistics to which the panel commented about their dismay of the reality of these numbers before jumping in
on the question:
What is this thing with the title women’s panel?
There’s always a question whether it’s a ghettoization of women or raising them up by using the word “women” as a gender identifier. Using language that
allows a person to be a person without a gender identifier can feel more powerful than using the word “woman”.
We all struggle with how to identify as a female director. When I came to film, I felt I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. I founded a female filmmaker
collective –Film Fatales (http://www.filmfatalesnyc.com/#!leah-meyerhoff/c14fk) for
this reason. There’s strength in numbers.
I had one man on set of a project I directed, who would go to other people to get their opinions before he would come to me, the director. I called him up
so I could understand why he was doing that. And then I told him to get over it.
How do stories live without gender?
Kathryn Bigelow’s name came up in the discussion (the first woman director to win the Oscar) and how Hurt Locker was not categorized in Hollywood
terms as a female film. The panelists agreed that there are myths about what audiences want, and wanting to make movies about women was important despite
the naysayers; there is indeed an audience for these films – the box office numbers confirm this.
I asked the panel their advice to student filmmakers about breaking into the (independent and/or Hollywood) industry, opening my question with the quote
from director Agnès Varda: “Stop categorizing us as women filmmakers,” which I cited in an article I wrote about her at the
Locarno Film Festival this year, and the vitriolic Facebook post comment I received from a male producer: “Stop complaining and just make movies.”
We’re going through pushback. There’s often that accusation of complaining, calling women “whiners” when discussing this topic. The reality is that it’s
not so easy for women to get a film financed. For students, they need to come to their power and work together as a collective. Their power is not to look
at the industry for reasons to make films; go smaller. Work together
I was on panel at Sundance and a producer on the panel said: “I won’t trust money with women directors.” The producer was female. For students at college
now, they need to start working with their peers — these are the people with whom you’ll be forming meaningful work relationships,
which will continue after you graduate. Take advantage of these relationships at school.
Perhaps using male pseudonyms might further women’s careers
: There was George Eliot.
The directors agreed that their first names were often a hindrance in getting hired, and jokinly added that in order to get the word out about women
directors was to start the hashtag: #wheresthecock.
Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College SUNY, and presents international seminars on
screenwriting and film. Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson of Su-City
Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide. www.su-city-pictures.com, http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog