Women filmmakers call for gender equity in male-dominated industry (Cbc.ca, 2014)
Summit held at St. John’s Women’s Film Festival
CBC News Posted: Oct 15, 2014 9:58 PM NTLast Updated: Oct 15, 2014 9:58 PM NT
A national summit of women filmmakers is calling for gender equity when it comes to funding Canadian screen projects.
The summit of 14 leaders of women’s media organizations and unions says despite the fact that half of new filmmakers have long been women, big budget film and TV productions are still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Filmmakers and other industry representatives were told only 6 per cent of Telefilm Canada’s feature film funding in 2013 went to movies directed by women. Telefilm administers the Canadian Media Fund.
The summit announced seven recommendations during a forum Wednesday at the St. John’s Women’s International Film Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Among the recommendations:
- Public investment in media industries should be tied to a requirement to demonstrate gender balance
- Recording, and annual reporting on gender and racial representation should be part of applications and delivery requirements for public funding
Summit member, and U.B.C. film professor, Sharon McGowan wants public agencies such as Telefilm and the National Film Board to demand gender equity plans from producers before handing out public money — plans that guarantee jobs to women on either end of the camera.
She said those agencies used to observe gender equity guidelines for in-house productions, but 20 years ago they moved to a grant-giving system.
“The more experienced producers tended to be men, and tended to have established companies [that] were able to access that funding at a much higher rate and to hold on to it. So that’s where the shift happened. I don’t think it was through any malevolent force,” she said.
McGowan said women tend to be over-represented in low-budget arts projects, or work in traditional roles such as costumes and make-up.
“I think that a lot of them feel that they’re inadequate perhaps. That’s why they’re not ahead. They don’t see systemic barriers as quickly as people like I do. They may feel that maybe there work isn’t strong enough or they’re not assertive. That is absolutely not the case,” she said.
Kay Armatage, a former Toronto International Film Festival programmer said women were making progress, then the tide turned about twenty years ago.
“Someone who was a major honcho in Telefilm Canada said to me, ‘You can’t play the gender card anymore, Kay.” And it dropped off the table,” she said.
Armatage said it’s time Canada follow the example of Britain and Sweden who have both spelled out gender equity guidelines for publicly-funded films
Summit on women in media releases recommendations for change
A national summit of filmmakers is calling for gender equality in the Canadian film and television industry.
“The Government of Canada, as well as many provincial governments, provide billions of dollars to media industries in the form of investments and tax incentives,” said Rina Fraticelli, executive director of industry research organization Women in View and co-chair of the summit. “Since women make up over 50 per cent of the population, employment in Canadian media production needs to truly reflect the gender balance and diversity of contemporary Canada.”
Each year at the film festival, Women in View releases a report on gender equality in the film and TV industry, and revealed statistics this week, they say, that show the situation getting even more unbalanced:
the report’s statistics show Telefilm Canada invested less than six per cent of its feature film funding in 2013 to productions directed by women.
Among the recommendations presented by the summit:
‰ That public investment in media industries include a requirement to demonstrate media balance.
‰ That government agencies funding media development report yearly to the public on gender and racial representation in spending, including tax incentives.
‰ That government policy should seek to promote equitable employment of women in TV and film, both on screen and behind the camera.
“Screen-based media constitutes a significant part of the Canadian economy and plays a crucial role in reflecting and shaping Canadian society,” the summit writes in its report. “Employment in Canadian media production needs to truly reflect the gender balance and diversity of contemporary Canada. Only when this is the case will we be able to move forward to a more equal society with a distinct and thriving media sector.”
Nordic Film Industry:
The figures presented at the seminar Gender Balance in the Nordic Film Industry were crystal clear: Men are dominating the Nordic film industry.
Although comprehensive statistics are lacking, the available information, presented by the knowledge centre Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, shows that the three key positions producer, director and scriptwriter are typically held be men. The role of director in particular is highly dominated by men: In Sweden, 93 per cent of the feature films that premiered in 2012 were directed by men. In Norway, the figure was 78 per cent, in Finland 82 (the Finnish statistics also include documentaries) and in Iceland a full 100 percent.
Moreover, men are in the majority also in front of the camera. In six out of ten feature films that premiered in the Nordic countries in 2012, males played the leading parts.
Terese Martinsson, who in her Bachelor’s project in Cultural Studies at the University of Gothenburg has studied the relation between filmmakers and leading parts, concludes that it really does not matter whether the makers of a film are men or women – the film is still most likely going to focus on a male.
‘Maybe that’s what surprised me the most, that women are not more eager to tell stories about other women,’ she says.
Among the Nordic films that premiered in 2012, Martinsson found only one where all key positions – director, producer, scriptwriter and leading parts – were filled by women: Stars Above from Finland.
‘This just blew me away,’ she says.
But despite the gloomy statistics, the seminar also brought some good news. The Nordic film industry is leading the way in providing gendered statistics, compared with both other countries and other media. This is critical for change to ever be achieved, according to several seminar participants.
Several industry representatives pointed out that there may be change in sight, at least in Sweden. The Swedish Film Institute’s clear message in the context of gender equality has trickled down to the grass root level and encouraged young women to make their presence known, said Sofie Björklund from one of Sweden’s strongest local film companies, Film i Väst.
‘A lot has happened in the last 10 years. Today, a majority of the applications for the company’s support to young film makers are submitted by young women who choose film topics independently and believe in what they do,’ says Björklund.
A work culture incompatible with family life
The question of how the structure of the film industry contributes to exclude women was addressed by Marjo Valve, Film Commissioner at the Finnish Film Foundation, in a follow-up discussion on how the Nordic film institutes are working with the gender equality issue.
‘A career in the film industry may periodically require 12-hour workdays and is therefore difficult to combine with normal family life. This pulls many women out of the industry. Instead they might go into teaching.’
The resistance to gender quotas for film production support is, according to Valve, widespread.
‘There is no gender equality agenda for the Finnish film industry. If women do well in the statistics, it’s either a mere coincidence or something that individual women have accomplished all by themselves.’
At the same time, female cinema-goers are the commercially most important audience for the Finnish film industry.
‘Our most frequent Finnish cinema visitor is a middle-aged woman. And the films made by women for women are the ones that have been the most successful at the box office,’ said Valve.
Quality is not objective
Also Hjalmar Palmgren, head of the Swedish Film Institute’s film production support, was self-critical. Although the agreement that went into effect in 2013 lays down that the production support should be split equally between men and women, this does not automatically imply a gender-equal film industry.
‘You always hear that quality, and not gender, should be what matters. But this requires an objective quality measure. We used to have a system where men were given easy entry into the industry because of their gender, and not based on quality. There is no reason to believe that women make worse films and attract smaller audiences. The whole discussion is just silly – it’s a non-issue!’
Palmgren also expressed strong support for the Bechdel test (that two named women in a film talk to each other about something other than a man), which sparked intense discussion in Sweden last year. Palmgren said that U.S. figures show that the films that passed the test also did better at the box office.
‘I think the test is great! I don’t understand the strong reactions. It shows how our culture is shaped, how we talk to each other in society, not just what the film industry looks like.’
Nordic film industry still dominated by men (Nordicom.gu.se, 2014)
Analysis of data compiled by national film institutes in the Nordic countries shows that the film industry in the region is still dominated by men:
Men still dominate the functions of director, producer and script writer;
Men are the main characters in fiction films;
In 25 of the 98 Nordic fiction films released in 2012, the lead actors, directors, producers and scriptwriters were all men;
In only one of the 98 films were all these positions held by women;
The most gender balanced position is the producer in the Swedish and Danish sectors.
Read the full report here:Gender Balance in the Film Industry
The data will be presented at Göteborg International Film Festival at a seminar entitled “Gender Balance in the Nordic Film Industry”,
Jan 29 2014, 1 pm, at Pustervik, Järntorget.
The report is based on available public statistics on men and women compiled and analysed by Nordicom as part of the Nordic Gender & Media Forum, financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers and monitored by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg during 2014. The Nordic Gender & Media Forum is about collecting statistics, examples of good practice, and creating a platform for discussion of gender equality in the media (film, journalism, advertising and computer games). The project can be seen as a regional follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action, 1995, when all UN member states agreed on the need to increase the participation of women in the media and to combat stereotypes.
Contact info to the speakers at the seminar:
Ulrika Facht, media analyst, Nordicom, University of Gothenburg, +46 31 786 1306
Annika Hellström, Dorisfilm, Sweden, + 46 70 786 64 16
Francine Raveney, Director, European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA), +33 687381621
Terese Martinsson, Bachelor student, Cultural Studies, University of Gothenburg, +46 70 352 14 57
Maria Edström, Research officer, Nordicom, + 46 70 370 48 79
www.nordicgenderandmediaforum.se #ngmf14 #equalnordic
Nordicom is a knowledge centre for media and communications research, a collaboration between the five countries of the Nordic region – Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Nordicom is an institution that operates under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Arab women film-makers in spotlight (Jones, 2013)
It’s an event dedicated to women in film – and this year the Birds Eye View Film Festival in London focuses only on features made by Arab female directors.
The reason for this, according to its programme director Elhum Shakerifar, is that their work is currently on a size and scale unmatched elsewhere.
“Over the last year we have travelled to places like Doha in Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and there is a huge feeling of excitement in these places,” she explains.
“There’s a new wave of film-making in the Arab world, and women are at the front of it.
“However, we know that by doing this, we’re facing a dual problem,” she adds.
“Not only is there stereotyping around ‘the female director’, but we also have to contend with the Western media stereotype of the Arab female. But none of these films deliver what you expect.”
Women are challenging oppression, inequality and corruption – from this, stories are born”
Nadine Kirresh Al-Arabiya News Channel presenter
The event opens with the UK premiere of When I Saw You, by Annemarie Jacir, who in 2007 became the first Palestinian woman to make a feature film.
It also features the work of a first-time British-Egyptian director. In The Shadow Of A Man, by 24-year-old Hanan Abdullah, exposes the beliefs of four Egyptian women on equality in the wake of the Arab Spring.
In 2012, the California-based Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reported that just 9% of directors in the US were women.
In the same year, no woman competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Yet the Doha Film Institute in Qatar, which funds local film-makers, reports that 42% of all its grants since 2010 have been to women, and that last year a third of all films shown at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival were by female directors.
“We are a young part of the world,” explains Haifaa al-Mansour, the breakthrough director of Wadjda – the first feature film made by a Saudi Arabian woman.
“Lots of young women are now online and want to form a new global identity. This clashes with many traditionalists around them, and I think this creates a beautiful tension for film-makers to explore.”
“Gender bias hasn’t hindered the film industry in the way it has more conventional professions in the Middle East,” adds Nadine Kirresh, the presenter of the Big Screen cinema show on the al-Arabiya news channel.
“The cultural landscape is changing in the Middle East, the Arab Spring gave power to the people and women are challenging oppression, inequality and corruption – and from this, stories are born.
“Also, we have seen dozens of female film-makers living abroad return to their countries to tell their histories.”
Ultimately, though, Shakerifar believes the burgeoning industry is down to funding.
“These films we feature in Birds Eye View have been in the pipeline for four or five years, so while these women are very much the generation of revolution, things were changing before that, and that’s because of money.
“There are institutions in place like the Doha Film Institute, but also in Lebanon, Jordan, and Dubai, to fund and nurture emerging film-makers.
“They also have international film festivals showcasing local talent, and encouraging a whole industry to develop. I’m just not sure that we have the same infrastructure.
“It’s not an established industry either, as in the West, and that can make it easier for a woman to get a breakthrough.”
Perhaps it’s not the cause, but revolution has provided ample subject matter for these directors.
One documentary showing at Birds Eye View – As If We Were Catching A Cobra by Hala Alabdalla – started off as an exploration of Egyptian and Syrian cartoonists – and then abruptly deviated as insurgency broke out in both countries.
Arab-American director Jehane Noujaim found herself in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011, and spent the next 18 months filming her documentary Al Midan – The Square. It won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and, thanks to online public funding, will now be released.
“Most of the filmmakers on our team were either beaten, shot at or arrested during filming,” says Noujaim, who along with other filmmakers collected hundreds of hours of footage.
“We all felt compelled to be there filming the transformation of our country by the people on the ground.”
Meanwhile, four graduates of Qatar’s Northwestern University travelled across the Middle East during the Arab Spring to make The Lyrics Revolt, a documentary investigating the role of hip-hop music in the revolution.
“We want to tell stories from our part of the world,” explains one of them, Palestinian Rana Khaled al-Khatib. “And on this journey we found a lot of support as young Arab film-makers.
“Our first private backer was another woman who said to us, ‘I believe in young women doing what you are doing’.”
While these films are bearing international fruit – the Sundance Film Festival opened this year with a Jordanian feature, May in the Summer, by 36-year-old Cherien Dabis – its director warns that the local infrastructure is still not in place to support film-makers.
“I was determined to make this feature in Jordan,” Dabis says. “But a lot of the equipment, and most of the technical crew, had to come from the US. So it became very complicated.
“However, it was worth it. Where else in the world could I film both women wearing bikinis and burkinis?”
“Don’t think that the situation in the Middle East isn’t often very difficult for a woman,” adds al-Mansour.
“It’s still a lot of struggle, and it’s very important for a woman not to feel afraid, and to create stories which are not only daring, but genuine in the way they see the world.
“For a woman to take charge, and make films, still often goes against our society. I am from a tribal society, where decisions are taken collectively and there is still a lot of ignorance.
“However, now is our time.”
The Birds Eye View Festival runs from April 3-10 at the London venues the Southbank Centre, Barbican, ICA and Hackney Picturehouse.
Visible Secrets: Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers (Independent Cinema Office, n.d.)
A UK first season of new films from Hong Kong’s women filmmakers, including a focus on the contemporary films of award winning director Ann Hui.
From the auteur to the avant-garde, Hong Kong cinema has a strong tradition of women working behind the camera. Perhaps surprisingly, most of their work has rarely been seen in the UK.
Intended to address this glaring omission, Visible Secrets: Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers, offers a unique programme of films designed to celebrate the imagination and vibrancy of these directors and their work.
The programme introduces new directors including Yan Yan Mak, Barbara Wong and Aubrey Lam; covers documentaries and short films, and showcases the contemporary films of Ann Hui.
Visible Secrets: Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers is a collaborative project led by the Cornerhouse, Manchester with the University of Salford, supported by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.
The season and tour were curated by Sarah Perks, Programme & Engagement Director at Cornerhouse and Andy Willis, Reader in Film Studies at University of Salford.
In this collection
- Anna & Anna
- The Decameron
- The Floating Landscape
- July Rhapsody
- Lovers on the Road
- Ming Ming
- Night and Fog
- The Postmodern Life of My Aunt
- Secondary School
- This Darling Life
- Visible Secret
- The Way We Are
- Wonder Women
- Snapshots 1: Où est la sortie?
- Snapshots 2: These shoes weren’t made for walking
- Snapshots 3: Invisible City
Hong Kong female directors speak out (Lam, 2010)
It’s the year of Hong Kong female directors. Leading the pack is Ivy Ho, director of the year’s big ticket film “Crossing Hennessy,” starring Cantopop King Jacky Cheung and comeback kid Tang Wei.
Ho has scripted 12 movies that span multiple genres in the past 24 years, among them the box office hits “Comrades: Almost a Love Story” and “July Rhapsody.” Her 2009 indie flick “Claustrophobia” also turned out to be a big hit.
Another Hong Kong female director to watch is 24-year-old Heiward Mak who wowed audiences and critics with her breakout debut “High Noon,” a raw examination of Hong Kong’s disaffected youths. Her latest work is “Ex,” starring a post-sex scandal Gillian Chung.
Finally, Clara Law is an established Hong Kong female filmmaker with a large body of work that mainly explores Asian migration and the identity of Hong Kong people. She typically appears with her partner and screenwriter Eddie Fong and the two often speak together in public appearances. Law’s notable works include critics’ favorites “Farewell China” and “Autumn Moon,” while her eleventh and latest film “Like a Dream” was nominated for the best director and best screenplay awards at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards in 2009.
CNNGo hears from the directors about their insights on just what it’s like to work as a female in Hong Kong’s film industry, dominated by testosterone-fueled martial arts flicks.
As long as you are unwaveringly passionate about what you do … if it’s purely and simply because you want to make films … it will happen. — Clara Law
On being female:
Ivy Ho: I think I can speak on behalf of all Hong Kong female directors: we know our place. In big movie productions, all we’re supposed to talk about is romance. They’re even wary of letting women directors do screwball comedies because they think women can’t handle the vulgarity. Sometimes you can venture into men’s territory, like action or suspense films, but you have to try twice as hard.
I hope Kathryn Bigelow would make a difference but I doubt it. People said yes, she did it, but look at her film — it’s a limited release.
Heiward Mak: I don’t think I would categorize myself as a ‘female director.’ I think the film circle is very fair. It’s not necessarily split by the sexes. If someone thinks my work is feminine then that’s just their point of view. It is not a definitive judgment.
Clara Law: I won’t call myself a ‘female director.’ I think everyone has a female side to them, and a male side.
I think [the imbalance] is because of practical reasons. Women are probably not very interested in doing action films. In my case, I’ve never been interested in action films. I’m only concerned with finding stories that interest me.
On Hong Kong cinema’s future:
Ho: We really need new on-screen talent. All our movie superstars now are old. In the past few years, all we’ve been talking about is how to revive Hong Kong cinema, and so we neglected other things, like cultivating new talent.
Chow Yun-fat didn’t become a star overnight. You have to groom them, give them acting opportunities and exposure. The same goes for fledging directors. All they get are minimal budgets for small indie films. But moving from indie filmmaking to a full length feature is very different, it’s not an automatic progression.
Mak: It’s hard for new directors to get started in Hong Kong. Our market doesn’t support many middle to small-scale movies. Most of the movies out there are big budget productions, and they are not for directors within my age range and experience.
As a junior filmmaker, it’s hard for me to attract big actors to work for my films. I have to struggle to find people to star in my films. With “Ex,” I was really lucky to have Gillian.
Eddie Fong: The audience that we are facing right now is very different from 15 years ago when we were working in Hong Kong. Now, we have to face the audience in China. For example, our latest film, “Like a Dream,” is mostly financed by people from mainland China, and the major market for the film is also for China. We don’t know much about the tastes there. In a way, we are testing the waters with “Like a Dream.”
On aspiring filmmakers:
Law: As long as you are unwaveringly passionate about what you do, and that you are not attracted to film because of the lifestyle, the red carpet and the fame, if it’s purely and simply because you want to make films, it will happen. All our lives, we have wrote scripts and tried to make it happen.You also have to be realistic about protecting your creative space. If you want a lot of money for your film, you will be left with little creative space. If you want to keep your creative space, you will have to make a low budget film. It’s a trade-off, a give and take.
Fong: My advice to young filmmakers is, you have to be persistent. You have to find a way to work with the market. Whether you are established or not, you have to face the same challenge for every film. You still have to convince the investors that this project works. It’s never easy.
On their next projects:
Ho: I hope I can direct at least one suspense movie within my career span. Not necessarily a lot of flying cars and action, but something that relies strongly on narrative and plot. Hong Kong doesn’t have this kind of suspense movie.Mak: I’m writing a collection of short stories, which I hope to release at this year’s book fair. City Magazine is printing sneak previews of the book. It’s mostly a series of vignettes set in Hong Kong on the theme of loneliness and isolation, structured like the film “Paris, je t’aime.”
Film and feminism in Germany today, part 1 (Silberman, 2005)
From the outside moving in
by Marc Silberman
from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp. 41-42
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005
Special section: Film and feminism in
Germany today, part one
West Germany today contains a flourishing women’s film culture, both in terms of feminist filmmaking and feminist film criticism. In this issue and next, we plan to present two special sections on German women and film, with interviews with filmmakers, articles on their films, and translations of feminist film criticism from Germany. Since the films under consideration are just beginning to be seen in the United States, we would welcome more articles on individual films and on German women’s film culture in general, to be published in future issues of JUMP CUT.
Marc Silberman has done much to introduce these films to U.S. viewers, and it was he who initiated the idea of gathering this material for JUMP CUT. We are indebted to him for the genesis of this Special Section. The first two articles give a background on German women’s filmmaking and on the German feminist movement and its relation to the left. Following are interviews with Helga Reidemeister, Jutta Brückner, and these two directors plus Christina Perincioli in a mutual conversation. There are translations of film criticism by Reidemeister, Gertrud Koch, and Helke Sander. Renny Harrigan, who has provided an illuminating comparison here between the U.S. and German feminist movements, provided much help in editing this material. — Editors
Introduction to special section:
From the outside moving in
by Marc Silberman
Diverse as the films may be which we reckon among the New German Cinema, they do have one thematic characteristic in common: they focus on the outsider or on peripheral social groups. Consequently, as outsiders, women and their lives become of interest to young German directors. Indeed we find a number of films by the “new wave” star directors structured around a female protagonist (e.g., Alexander Kluge’s PART TIME WORK OF A DOMESTIC SLAVE, Fassbinder’s EFFI BRIEST and THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, Völker Schlöndorff’s THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM, to name just a few).
Typical for a male-dominated culture industry, these films by men view women as objects. In fact, most fans of new wave German film, even in Germany, would be hard pressed to name a woman film director — perhaps with the exception of two filmmakers who have had some popular success, Margarethe von Trotte (THE SECOND AWAKENING OF CHRISTA KLAGES) and Helma Sanders-Brahms (GERMANY PALE MOTHER).
Do, then, no women produce films in Germany? If so, why haven’t they become better known following the critical acclaim accorded to German cinema for the past several years? And what kind of women do they present in their films?
The number of women filmmakers, scriptwriters, producers and technicians grows in West Germany. Contrary to their better-known male colleagues’ preoccupation with the exotic and the allegorical, these women directors tend to make films in fictional modes. In such films, the self is clearly inserted, or they address women’s immediate oppression in contemporary West German society. To some extent these films can be called women’s films or feminist films.
Yet such a practice quickly reveals the poverty of such labeling. On the one hand, such a label may include any film by a woman. On the other, it may limit the aesthetic question to one of pure content. Either way, the dominant male film culture and criticism have used such inadequate labels to co-opt and/or disarm the films’ critical tactics. Nonetheless, here the term “feminist filmmaking” does function to point to a filmmaking practice defining itself outside the masculine mirror.
German feminism is one of the most active women’s movements in Europe. It has gained access to television; engendered a spectrum of journals, a publishing house and a summer women’s university in Berlin; inspired a whole group of filmmakers; and generally pushed itself into public view by means of media interventions. The conscious work of women as women has visibly increased in the area of film production. This increase results from a more broadly based feminist cultural environment, constituted as a response to general disinterest in or even hostility toward denouncing sexism.
In this context, women have invested much energy in organizing alternative means to bring films by women to the public and to encourage critical discussion about feminism and film.
West Berlin, in particular, has emerged as a center for feminist film production and cinema studies. There in November 1973 the first German women’s film festival and workshop was held. Although women have not organized another festival on that scale, non-commercial cinemas and film societies have become increasingly willing to show features by women, and some have even showcased individual filmmakers or organized thematic groups of films around women’s issues.
Arsenal, the West Berlin cinematheque, has led this kind of programming and archival work.
An important link in distributing alternative feminist films has been the popular, autonomous “women’s cinemas” in cities such as Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, Munich and Saarbrücken. Berlin’s Frauenkino was the first — the model — until it closed recently. In 1977 a women’s collective began renting a movie theatre one night a week to show films by women to women. The undertaking responded to the ways traditional movie houses excluded women by programming policies that were oriented primarily around men’s entertainment and informational needs. In addition, the women’s collective wanted to develop a situation not only to show films but also to discuss them, so that frequently filmmakers and technicians participated. The collective received criticism from some feminists and leftists for sexism and a separatist mentality because it excluded men from the weekly film showings and did not show films by men about women. In response, the Frauenkino called its programming an offensive strategy, since traditional cinemas showed an overabundance of other films, and the group said that its exclusionary policy in fact heightened men’s interest in films by women.(1)
The feminist film journal frauen und film (published by Rotbuch Verlag, West Berlin) represents another crucial step in establishing a milieu for feminist film culture. Founded by Helke Sander in 1974, the original goals of the journal corresponded in many ways to those of Women and Film, which began publication in 1972 in California, Namely, both journals sought to investigate the impact of patriarchal culture in the film medium and to critique cinematic sexism. Two other German feminist monthlies (Emma and Courage) carry on this tradition of criticism as they publish film reviews identifying the sexism in stereotypical images and demystifying explicit sexist ideology in film. Frauen und film, in the meantime, sees itself as a forum for women professionally involved in film production. In its seven years of publication, it has consistently probed into all areas concerning feminism and film. This is despite criticism from male traditionalists that it makes sexism into an excuse for poor quality when reviewing films by women. And it is also despite criticism from feminists that the journal is too professionally oriented and that it comes from a publishing house run by a collective composed of both men and women (see excerpts from frauen und film editorials). As an organ devoted to films by and for women, frauen und film uniquely struggles to legitimize women’s subjectivity in the cultural sphere, while also trying to deal positively with the real absence of women as autonomous agents in film production.
In December, 1979, an association of women filmworkers was established in West Berlin (Verband der Filmarbeiterinnen). The organization distributed a manifesto at the Hamburg Film Festival (1979) demanding that 50% of all film subsidies go to women filmworkers and special money go toward distributing and exhibiting films by women.
The association meets once a month in Berlin to formulate plans for common projects. It sponsored its first supra-regional meeting at the Berlin Film Festival in February, 1980, and has since incorporated, nationwide.
In many ways, German feminist filmmakers have more privileges than their U.S. sisters. West Germany has a well-developed system of federal and local granting agencies and prizes for independent filmmakers, as well as ten national and local public television studios with their own monies to commission shorts, documentaries and features.
In the early seventies, television in particular generously funded women filmmakers. In fact, TV film production is where most feminist directors first gained recognition.
Most recently women filmmakers’ situation has become more precarious. As the general interest in feminism has subsided for political and economic reasons, so has the flow of money from television sources. Consequently, talented filmmakers like Helke Sander and Ula Stöckl were not able to make films for three or four years. Moreover, films financed by TV networks are always produced under ideological constraints, even in a society like that of West Germany, which likes to pride itself on its postwar liberal cultural tolerance. Films that deal with real social processes have always been harder to get accepted.
In this respect, it should be kept in mind that West German feminist filmmaking can be distinguished both in form and content from other European production because of the close relationship of the women’s movement to the student Left in its initial phase.(2) In other words, many feminist filmmakers come out of the Left. As a result of divergent influences, from both television and from the Left, it is possible to trace a consistent interest on the women’s part in socially critical themes with a definite political tendency, and second, a dominant interest in utilizing documentary techniques.
As far as access to money from federal subsidies and prizes is concerned, women — as do all independent filmmakers — face the well-known problem of the big money going to the big names. Consequently, what is referred to here as “women’s films” are for the most part low-budget productions, forcing women to adapt their style to the format of TV shorts or non-commercial features. This has hindered their developing new forms of production and escaping the circuit of television and industrial filmmaking.
Furthermore, in order to stay within a limited budget, these filmmakers will often rely on professional teams recruited from friends and volunteers, thus further denying women film technicians and actors the kind of recognition and remuneration they could expect.
The seven filmmakers interviewed for JUMP CUT, and whose interviews will appear in this and the following issue, discuss the difficulties inherent in developing their own film language under these conditions of production: How can women struggle against social and sexual violence? How can they find a system of values based on equality?
Many of the directors make films that in one way or another are both documentary and fictional. This may not be a free decision on their part but rather come from the need to produce a low budget film. Thus, both out of necessity and an unwillingness to use traditional documentary and fictional techniques, these women are developing their own methods for bringing together individual experience and social insight in filmic images. Many of the “early” films by these feminists portray a strikingly morbid reality. Daily life often seems reduced to a few social relations, and the protagonists to victims. More recently their films have begun to explore other contradictions in everyday living, imagination’s role in dealing with such contradictions, women’s desire to intervene in their own lives, and hence, the films restructuring or recovery of women’s history.
These interviews are intended to present information and to expose issues: they do not pretend to be either analytical or theoretical. Although some of the filmmakers express hesitancy about identifying with the goals or methods of the women’s movement, they all emphasize their debt to the questions posed by feminists’ oppositional cultural perspective. Whether their films are categorically feminist or not is a discussion that will have to be left to another different sort of presentation. For my part, as a male spectator, I found all the films I saw sometimes exciting, sometimes irritating contributions to a process of change — changes in myself and changes in the way I view films.
The interviews were conducted informally and without pre-arranged questions in June, 1979. I asked about the following things — biographical background; thematic questions about how to go beyond showing just women’s oppression; aesthetic issues such as the relation between female image and female viewer or the relation between constructing alternate images and deconstructing established images of women; the filmmaker’s concern with woman as spectator; and finally, the filmmaker’s connection to the Left and the women’s movement. Transcriptions of the discussions were edited and rearranged for publication (five of the interviews, edited by Jutta Phillips, appeared in shortened form in Äesthetic und Kommunikation, 37, October 1979). The filmographies which accompany the interviews are selective.(3)
1. One offshoot of the Frauenkino in Berlin was a short-lived distributor for women’s films, Chaos Film, which was forced to dissolve after only one year of business.
2. For a more detailed introduction to the women’s movement in West Germany, see New German Critique, 13, Special Feminist Issue (Winter, 1978).
3. For a more complete overview of women filmmakers in West Germany, see my annotated catalog in Camera Obscura, 6 (Fall, 1980) pp. 123-152; and “Cine-Feminists in West Berlin,” Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 5:2 (Spring, 1980), pp. 217-232.
The latest edition of the Cannes Film Festival has seen inspiring women, both in the selections and their juries. However, the first study of the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) on women directors published during the Festival confirms the underrepresentation of women filmmakers across Europe –
only 16% of European films, from 2003 to 2011, were directed by female directors. The Federation of European Film Directors (FERA), who requested this study, is now calling for concerted action by the new European Parliament and Commission.
The audiovisual industry seems to be at a standstill on the issue: distance of the financial decision makers from the creative process cause risk-averse decisions which lead to a shortage of women directors being hired. Swift and efficient action is needed: FERA is calling for urgent action by policy-makers, film funders and producers at both European and national levels to reverse the trend.
Sweden needs to be used as an example; thanks to advanced equality policies, female directors have rose from 30 to 38% over the past five years, the highest in Europe.
As a first step, FERA calls on the implementation of targets for women directors, based on the percentage of female directors in the workforce. The lack of data is progressively being tackled through studies both at national and EU level; this continued effort must allow proper evaluation of the female workforce so that efficient measures can be implemented. Best practices must be identified by policymakers, so that regional, national film funds and Creative Europe can start implementing them widely by the end of 2015.
Creative freedom should operate with no boundaries or gender. FERA considers it necessary to cinema’s welfare to allow the diversity of talent to fully express themselves, and will continue fighting for an advancing European cinema industry.
Contact : Pauline Durand Vialle, CEO – +32 2 544 03 33 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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