With his epic fourteen-hour documentary “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema,” writer/director Mark Cousins doesn’t skimp in his continuing pursuit to celebrate female filmmakers. Set to finally screen at its full-length (in five parts) next month at the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie is narrated by an eclectic list of voices.
UK actresses Adjoa Andoh and Thandie Newton, New Zealander Kerry Fox, India icon Sharmila Tagore, and Hollywood star Debra Winger all join previously announced narrators Jane Fonda and Tilda Swinton, who is an executive producer. Swinton narrates the first four hours of the film, which debuted at Venice 2018.
“We have 11 decades of women making films,” Swinton told IndieWire. “Another slight tweak of the goalpost is talking about women filmmakers. Women have made films since Mary Pickford onwards in incredible numbers. We know who made Hitchcock’s films with him (Alma Reville), but we don’t focus on it. It might be useful to acclimatize people to what we already have, to get rid of the scarcity anxiety, the feeling we haven’t been fed by something.”
She continued, “We want more women directors. We need to recognize that we already have them. To acknowledge that change in perspective will make so much difference.”
Added Newton, “I leapt at the chance to work with Mark Cousins on his meticulously researched celebration of women filmmakers from around the world.”
Like Swinton and Newton, Winger is eager for viewers to understand that “Women Make Film” serves to remind cinephiles of all stripes just how many female filmmakers have always worked in the industry, a side of Hollywood often forgotten.
“There are roads that we find ourselves on,” said Winger. “We are born and there it is, unquestioned until the innocence of childhood is lifted, sometimes quite early, sometimes later. We then must look ahead and make our way. But more important is to understand where the road we’re on began, and who travelled before us. I am so grateful to these women, who ‘mainstream cinema’ like a super-highway. … This is not a feminist project, it’s a humanist one.”
Cousins chose his voiceover artists with several criteria. “Firstly, we wanted women with real creative credibility — people who have made bold choices in the characters they’ve played,” he said. “Between them, they have made over 444 films or TV programs and have won nearly 100 awards, including three Oscars and eleven nominations. Secondly, we chose women with distinctive voices — the authority of Jane Fonda, the confidence of Kerry Fox, the delicacy of Sharmila Tagore, the Tammy Wynette throatiness of Debra Winger.”
“Thirdly, we wanted range, as our film is passionately international,” he continued. “These women live in or come from Los Angeles, New Zealand, London, West Bengal, New York, and Scotland, and they’ve been in art and genre cinema, musicals, tragedies, biographical films, high-end TV, and innovative theatre. Lastly, they each have powerful ideas about women and film, and many of them have challenged gender norms.”
Told in 40 chapters, “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema” provides a guided tour of the art and craft of movies via almost a thousand film extracts from 13 decades and five continents.
While Cousins features renowned filmmakers like Agnès Varda, Jane Campion, and Lynne Ramsay in the film, scores of other less recognized filmmakers have been deployed in the documentary in interesting ways, among them Safi Faye in Senegal, Forough Farrokhzad, Marva Nabili and Mania Akbari in Iran, Sumitra Peries in Sri Lanka, Angola’s Sarah Maldoror, Japan’s Kinuyo Tanaka, Ukraine’s Kira Muratova, Tunisia’s Moufida Tlatli, Bulgaria’s Binka Zhelyazkova, Lois Weber, Maya Deren, Angelina Jolie, Barbara Loden and others in the USA, Pirjo Honkasalo in Finland, Algeria’s Assia Djebar, Czechoslovakia’s Drahomira Viranova and Věra Chytilová, Cécile Tang and Anne Hui from Hong Kong and the UK’s Sally Potter, Wendy Towe, Antonia Bird, and Clio Barnard.
Produced by John Archer for Hopscotch Films, Dogwoof is representing “Women Make Film” for international sales.