Friday, May 29, 2009

Ramble on Female Directors

Since “Jeanne Dielman,” “Kahensatake” and “Celia” makes three in a row, I might as well just declare May to be my “salute to female directors” month. In a perfectly gender-equal world this streak would have a relatively common rate of occurrence; 12.5% if math serve me correctly. So considering the number of reviews I’ve written to date, the fact that a 3-film female-directed streak hasn’t previously occurred would have odds around 0.0000000036%. Clearly there is a great deal of bias at work, but even as the numbers paint me as patently sexist (admittedly, some level of subconscious bias on my part likely exists), it seems clear that the film industry itself needs some scrutiny.

Anyone who’s studied the film industry and auteur history, or just kept track of major filmmakers, can testify that women are sadly underrepresented in the director’s chair. Women directors have certainly created a hefty share of masterpieces (see below), but they tend to be infrequent staples within the Hollwood mainstream and, to an extent, even in the European cinema spheres. Careers as long and varied as, say, Alfred Hitchcock or John Huston are even rarer still.

I’m not entirely sure why this is, other than that the heavily male-dominated industry is reluctant to cede many opportunities even when female talent is available. But is it entirely a production issue, manifested by sexism amongst producers and investors? Are there, for whatever reason, fewer women interested in directing? Are audiences somehow less interested in films made by women? Is popular cinema’s reliance on male gaze too fundamental to marketing and sales to be excised, or even counterbalanced? I’m curious rather someone better qualified than I can take a stab at these issues.

In more ways than one, the minority of female directors has led to a self-perpetuating cycle that’s carried over from long before the feminist movement. It likely discourages some would-be and up-and-coming women directors who knew they have to fight against the tide. It may also fool producers into believing that female talent is riskier than it really is.

Even in film criticism, the battlefield is rarely level, with films made by women often interrogated excessively for feminist readings. Once found, this layer of the film is inevitably given disproportionate attention, often overlooking both personal themes and broader achievements. All too often mainstream film reviewers (not to mention those with particular interest in feminism or its backlash) fail to ask whether gender themes even apply. Consider, for example, films like the Shakespeare adaptation “Titus,” the submarine thriller “K-19: The Widowmaker” or the slacker comedy "Wayne's World." If half of all films were made by women, would we really be hunting out gender issue undertones in these films?

But at the same time, from the perspective of a female filmmaker, I can see how the underrepresentation of the feminine voice, perspective and means of production would only increase the interest in tackling these issues head on, or at least addressing them. Members of a minority are obviously more sensitive to the danger of blindly accepting the status quo (like male action leads or throwaway romantic interests), but consciously rejecting the male-oriented system draws attention and risks focusing consideration away from other themes you’re dealing with. Do it enough times and suddenly you’re no longer making a “mainstream” film, but a “feminist” one. Even if you’d done nothing more than made a female-centric version of a traditionally male-centric scenario, investors, the media and the public will doubtlessly see it, first and foremost, as a feminist work. (I don’t mean to suggest here that making an intentionally “feminist work” is in any way a bad thing, merely that it can become a very limiting label.)

It’s a bit of a catch 22 with certainly no easy solution. For anyone actually versed in gender studies, I’m doubtlessly making a very naïve and amateurish retread of the topic, but I’m endeavoring to think through the issue plainly and for myself, without a complicated theoretical framework to get snarled up in. I find this useful not just in my desire to be more understanding of multiple perspectives, but because males (yes, even lowly ticket-buying and movie-blogging males who are not directly part of the power nexus of the industry) have a responsibility to be part of the solution and not just the problem.

I’m acutely aware that even if I came up with any insightful conclusions, it would be hypocritical of me to try and set guidelines or even advice for female directors. It would just be another male voice (however enlightened I might imagine it to be) telling female talent what to do. Other than to say that I think female directors should just make whatever films they feel driven to make (towards whatever commercial, artistic or social goals they choose) and wear down the male-dominant industry until gender representation is more level, I really don’t have any profound plan for how a change might be affected.

I can, however, offer some advice to men making films, by reflecting on how I’d go about it. Let’s say I’m making a film that isn’t specifically dealing with gender. I’d first write the script entirely in line with my vision, just focusing on what comes naturally even if I know that I’m inflecting it with gender bias and whatnot. Then afterwards I’d flip a coin (or write a computer randomizer) to assign/reassign the genders of all the characters. Then I’d rework the script as needed (hopefully as little as possible) to make sure the story still made sense.

There might be some compromises (like for historical settings or plot points involving pregnancy and birth), but I’d even consider changing important elements of the story if need be. The same thing could be done to assign race, sexual orientation, age and so on. Since these things are usually and often necessarily important to a character’s heritage, personality and circumstances, I’d have to be flexible with reworking the screenplay, but it would be a challenge that could ultimately improve it and weed out lazy clichés and assumptions in the original writing. This system has its own share of problems, but I think it has promise. I understand that it’s similar to how “Alien” (1979) was made.

All that being said, I’ve yet to actually make a film or even write a script. Hopefully, that will one day change, but in the meantime, I need something else to do my own small bit. The most obvious is the vote-with-your-wallet method, to seek out more films created by women directors (or with female writers, cinematographers, etc.) and avoid exceedingly chauvinistic male-directed films. I have to admit the former is easier for me than the latter, since I don’t like to rule out watching any film that might have some redeeming value and, if I’m completely honest, my hormones occasionally chime up. Plus, you'd more or less have to pull gialli from my cold, dead DVD player.

I also try to give a fair amount of coverage to female-directed works on my blog, though in retrospect there are fairly long dry patches on it.

Anyway, after all my complaining about the film-and-gender situation, I’d like to end on something more positive. The fact that a great number of brilliant films by women from around the world are already out there offering a huge variety of perspectives needs to be acknowledged. So I’d like to finish with a list of some favorite films directed by women. The fact that so many are quite recent seems to bode well for future growth.

Across the Universe (2007) by Julie Taymor
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger
After the Wedding (2006) by Susanne Bier
Antonia's Line (1995) by Marleen Gorris
Ascent (1977) by Larisa Shepitko
American Psycho (2000) by Mary Harron
Big (1988) by Penny Marshall
The Bigamist (1953) by Ida Lupino
Broken English (2007) by Zoe Cassavetes
Brothers (2004) by Susanne Bier
Celia (1989) by Ann Turner
Children of a Lesser God (1986) by Randa Haines
Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) by Agnes Varda
Clueless (1995) by Amy Heckerling
Craig’s Wife (1936) by Dorothy Arzner
Daisies (1966) by Vera Chytilova
An Education (2009) by Lone Scherfig
Fat Girl (2001) by Catherine Breillat
Frida (2002) by Julie Taymor
Friday Night (2002) by Claire Denis
Germany Pale Mother (1980) by Helma Sanders-Brahms
The Gleaners and I (2000) by Agnes Varda
Good Work / Beau Travail (1999) by Claire Denis
Grace of My Heart (1996) by Allison Anders
Harlan County USA (1976) by Barbara Kopple
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) by Ida Lupino
The Holy Girl (2004) by Lucrecia Martel
The Hurt Locker (2008) by Kathryn Bigelow
I Am (2005) by Dorota Kedzierzawska
Innocence (2004) by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
The Intruder (2004) by Claire Denis
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) by Chantal Akerman
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993) by Alanis Obomsawin
The Kids Are All Right (2010) by Lisa Cholodenko
Lost in Translation (2003) by Sofia Coppola
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) by Margarethe von Trotta (and Volker Schlondorff)
Lovely and Amazing (2002) by Nicole Holofcener
Madchen in Uniform (1931) by Leontine Sagan
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and At Land (1944) by Maya Deren
Microcosmos (1996) by Marie Pérennou (and Claude Nuridsany)
Monster (2003) by Patty Jenkins
My Twentieth Century (1989) by Ildiko Enyedi
A New Leaf (1971) by Elaine May
The Night Porter (1974) by Liliana Cavani
North Country (2005) by Niki Caro
Olivier, Olivier (1992) by Agnieszka Holland
Orlando (1992) by Sally Potter (written by the great Virginia Woolf)
Persepolis (2007) by Marjane Satrapi (and Vincent Paronnaud)
The Piano (1993) by Jane Campion
Please Give (2010) by Nicole Holofcener
Ratcatcher (1999) by Lynne Ramsay
Salaam Bombay! (1988) by Mira Nair
Sita Sings the Blues (2008) by Nina Paley
The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923) by Germaine Dulac
The Swamp (2001) by Lucrecia Martel
Take Care of My Cat (2001) by Jae-eun Jeong
Titus (1999) by Julie Taymor
Trouble Every Day (2001) by Claire Denis
Vagabond (1985) by Agnes Varda
Waitress (2007) by Adrienne Shelley
Walking and Talking (1996) by Nicole Holofcener
Wanda (1971) by Barbara Loden
A Whole Night (1982) by Chantal Akerman
Winter's Bone (2010) by Debra Granik
Working Girls (1986) by Lizzie Borden
Yes (2004) by Sally Potter

My top favorites so far: Claire Denis, Agnes Varda, Lucrecia Martel, Sally Potter, Julie Taymor and Nicole Holofcener.

Other famous female directors who don’t make my personal list (but might after I get to know more of their work): Gillian Armstrong, Gurinder Chadha, Marguerite Duras, Nora Ephron, Lesli Linka Glatter, Catherine Hardwicke, Emily Hubley, Daniele Huillet, Vicky Jenson, Agnes Kocsis, Caroline Link, Samira Makhmalbaf, Nancy Meyers, Leni Riefenstahl, Susan Seidelman, Penelope Spheeris, Betty Thomas and Lina Wertmuller.

I still hope to do reviews on some of the films listed and I’ll try to keep it updated as I remember more and see new ones. I’d also love to see your own lists, hear your thoughts on the subject and get some recommendations.


Mad Dog said...

I was talking to a friend that was writing a collaborative story with some others and he threw out in the discussion with him that while he didn't mind having homosexual secondary or tertiary characters, he forbade them from having any of the protagonists be gay or lesbian. When I asked for his reasoning on this, he said that the second you make a major character in a work of fiction gay, people automatically think the work of fiction is meant for a gay audience. Thinking a little more on the subject made me think of how this is also true substituting gays for any other type of minority, including blacks and women. If I see a commercial for a movie with more than one black person in the starring role, I think, "Oh, that's a black movie." Or with women, I think, "That's a chick flick." Now, part of this is happening because that's exactly how Hollywood is positioning the marketing of the films, but part of it is personal prejudice.

The issue of gender in film and television is pretty interesting. If you recall, I actually wrote a small paper on the unusual way gender was treated on the 2003 re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. (And I keep trying to finagle a way to make it relevant to post on Grump Factory.) The makers of the show actually talk about how they were trying to consciously make a show about a culture where gender didn't matter anymore. A scene late in the series involves a Caprican strip club and the producers bemoaned the fact that although they wrote the scene with both female AND male dancers, by the time it got to the screen they had to make do with just women.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Great piece, FW. This is a topic that's been eating away at my brain lately so I was surprised and a bit thrilled to see you discussing it here.

I joined a few months ago and here's a recent forum thread you might find interesting:

I didn't comment myself because I rarely chat on forums due to my past experiences with them being rather awful, but I almost dove head first into that thread. Then I suddenly realized that I had never really written anything substantial about the work of a female director myself. Besides a brief mention of how much the films of Maya Deren have influenced me and the inclusion of Varda's wonderful Cleo from 5 to 7 on my extremely narrow and limited "favorite foreign films" list compiled for some silly web poll, Cinebeats is sorely lacking in the femme films department.

Last week I made a promise to myself to devote some time to writing about some of my favorite films made by female filmmakers in an effort to fill the void at Cinebeats. Maybe we should both devote an entire month to the topic in the near future? A sort of joint effort or something?

I really believe that film is somewhat of a new art form and when you consider history it really shouldn't be too much of a surprise that women are not well represented within it. The visual arts in general are lacking women, not to mention music, etc. It's really only literature - the oldest and arguably the most solitary of the arts - where women were really allowed - and allowed themselves - the ability to succeed and flourish. Things are slowly changing though but film making, film writing, etc. is still somewhat of a boys club.

My experiences in film classes haven't been all that positive and I've experienced gender bias firsthand. Even at my blog, I often get comments and emails that a male blogger would never experience. I've been tempted to rant about the topic on more than one occasion, but I'd probably offend half my readers.

I would definitely add Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) and maybe even The Loveless (1982) to your list for possible viewing. I haven't seen The Loveless in 20 years so my memory of it is fuzzy at best.

A few other directors that you might consider are the infamous Doris Wishman, as well as Catherine Breillat, Penelope Spheeris, Mary Lambert, Mary Harron and Susan Seidelman. There's probably more I should mention, but these came to mind right now.

I've written a tiny bit about Wishman before but nothing substantial. She's a fascinating filmmaker though and really the godmother of sexploitation cinema. Bad Girls Go To Hell, Hideout in the Sun, Blaze Starr Goes Nudist , Nude on the Moon, Deadly Weapons and Let Me Die a Woman are probably her most well known films.

I've only seen a few of Catherine Breillat's movies and I've had mixed reactions to them, but I really want to see more. I have a half completed review of her film A Real Young Girl somewhere on my computer that I hope to finish up someday. Other Breillat films worth mentioning are 36 fillette, Fat Girl and Anatomy of Hell, but the scope of her filmography is very impressive.

I love Penelope Spheeris's early film Suburbia (1984) and it should make the list as well as her music documentaries The Decline of Western Civilization I and II. The Boys Next Door (1985) also had some interesting stuff going on it if memory serves me right, but she's mostly known for the Wayne's World comedy (not my cup of tea) and a bunch of other Hollywood movies that I don't even know the names of.

I really believe that Mary Lambert's Siesta (1987) is one of the best films of the '80s. Really brilliant stuff happening in it and she also made one of the best Stephen King adaptations Pet Sematary (1989). I have no idea what else she's done but a quick look at imdb didn't look promising. It's a shame considering how exciting Siesta was. Siesta should be on the list. TO BE CONT...

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I think Mary Harron's 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol is an important movie as far as its gender politics are concerned, but it's also just a really good film. I also liked her adaptation of American Psycho a lot. Haven't seen her latest film (The Notorious Bettie Page) but it's been on my "must see" list for awhile now.

And last but not least, I love Susan Seidelman's first film Smithereens (1982) and would add it to the list. A lot of people like her second film Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). I'm not one of them only because Madonna and I can't seem to find common ground. I haven't seen many of Seidelman's other films, but they include popular '80s Hollywood flicks like Making Mr. Right and the just plain awful (at least to me anyway) She-Devil.

This comment has turned EPIC (I never knew Blogger had a comment limit until now!) so I'll wrap it up, but obviously you've sparked my interest since it's a topic that I've clearly had on my mind a lot in recent weeks.

Mad Dog said...

Even in literature, a lot of women in male-dominated genres, like science fiction, find success by using... male pseudonyms.

FilmWalrus said...

Mad Dog,
I think SF literature is in an interesting position, because it has some of the most sexist male writers and some of the best female writers. Many people think that Ursula K Leguin will be the most decorated SF author by the time she dies (I think only Heinlein is ahead of her now) and you have Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold and Joan Vinge who've had absolutely major careers. IMO Margaret Atwood's "Handmaid's Tale" beats out Orwell and Huxley for best dystopian novel ("Blind Assassin" is also excellent) and you have overtly feminist SF like Joanna Russ' "The Female Man" that I consider a masterpeice. It's more on the fantasy side, but I think Susanna Clarke has potential to be one of the best in business too.

FilmWalrus said...

Now for Kimberly,
First off, let me thank you for such a long and well-written response. You could use it as a blog post in itself. It's going to take me a while just to look down all the excellent avenues you've opened up.

Secondly, considering that both of us are so enthusiastic about expounding on the topic, I think your suggestion of a joint effort female director month is brilliant. How about July, so that I have some time to see more of your suggestions?

And speaking of your suggestions, I can't wait! For one thing, I didn't even realize American Psycho was directed by a woman. Is that embarassing to admit? Anyway, it definitely goes on the list.

Catherine Breillat and Penelope Spheeris were both already on my to-see list, but I've now bumped up their priority. I'm worried I might not like The Decline of Western Civilizations because of my musical ignorance. Doris Wishman sounds like a lot of fun (I'm surprised by how much of it Netflix has) and I immediately began hunting for Mary Lambert the moment I finished reading your comment.

I missed a chance to see I Shot Any Warhol at a friends house a few years back, and I'll have to rectify that mistake. I've also added Smithereens to my Netflix queue and noted that Netflix's "best guess" on how much I'd like Desperately Seeking Susan would seem to agree with your opinion.

I have actually seen Near Dark, but wasn't a huge fan so I didn't list it. It ranked #32 on my vampire countdown, but it does have its moments and I can't fault the genre-mixing premise.

Anyway, you've given me many hours of movie watching to get caught up. I look forward to it.

I'm curious about the gender bias you experience in classes if you feel like going into it. On average, I enjoyed reading the work of female classmates more than male, but I noticed a preponderance of the course material was written by men. I had a great female professor who taught German film and feminist film, but other than that all the instructors were also men. I imagine that could be very awkward.

I'm woefully bad at reading as many blogs as I want to (so my sampling subset may be too small to generalize), but the ones that win out for me are quite often female written. Your own, "Why Film, Exactly?" and Screen Siren are all in my favorite five. I wonder if there's a reason for that. Without making too many gender generalities, I think women reviewers tend to be consistently well-written in terms of prose, less judgmental and more tasteful (maybe not the right word?).

I'm especially sorry to hear about the male comments. I'm always so disappointed when that happens amongst what I treasure as highbrow niches of the internet, which I want to think have higher standards. My sister actually had so much trouble with conservative (and largely male) commenters, and even a stalker, that she felt driven to give up her human rights blog (The Czech). Writers, especially us unpaid ones, shouldn't have to deal with that type of thing. People who angrily disagree should at least practice some civility.

Anyway, thanks again for the comment. Interesting to know they have a max size. I look forward to the joint project!

FilmWalrus said...

Reading through the forum link that Kimberly sent has definitely been stimulating (in the parts between where it degenerates). I'm glad I didn't read it first, though, or I'd probably not have posted for fear of retreading. Got a handful of recommendations out of it.

I think there is definitely some weight to the argument that since men have largely controled production and reviewing, they've had enormous sway in shaping what constitutes popular taste. Thus anyone judging that there hasn't been any top-tier female directors (which is admittedly subjective anyway), may be too skewed by what a male-centric industry has defined as top-tier.

Still, what I'd really like, and what I think many women would really like, is a female director who could beat her male contemporaries at their own game and by their admission. One day it will happen.

Mad Dog said...

"Still, what I'd really like, and what I think many women would really like, is a female director who could beat her male contemporaries at their own game and by their admission."

Penny Marshall still has a few years left in her.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Enjoying this exchange, FW!

I'm glad you like the idea of expanding on these ideas in a sort of joint writing effort about the work of female directors. June and July are loaded with blogathons and I may be moving soon so maybe August would be better? That way my possible upcoming move wouldn't get in the way. Maybe we should even open it up to others who might like to contribute? You've got the wheels in my head spinning!

I'm curious about the gender bias you experience in classes if you feel like going into it.I was studying film in the late '80s and early '90s (only 1 of 3 or 4 other women in my class) so I suspect things have probably improved since then and I should also mention that I was at a rather awful community college so I'm sure that didn't help matters and as you know, my film tastes tend to be outside the norm so when you add that to the mix you have a recipe for disaster.

My professors were male and female but oddly enough both seemed biased in the way they dealt with the women (at least I felt that way) in class. A lot of the problems involved a sort of dismissal of my ideas (as well as other female students but frankly, few bothered to speak up in class) about particular films, film history and theory, which they often treated as frivolous while the males were given much more freedom to share their thoughts without criticism or straight out dismissal.

My interest in horror and fantastic cinema was also treated as alien to my female nature. It wasn't helped by the fact that my female professor clearly hated horror cinema and was appalled by my deep interest in directors like Hitchcock who she loathed. Obviously the situation was complex, but I didn't enjoy being constantly reminded of my "femaleness" in class when I was just trying to be another student.

I really should give "Why Film, Exactly?" a better look. I quick peek made it obvious that the blogger is covering films I've mentioned over at Cinebeats so I'm sure I'd enjoy the writing there if I took the time to delve into it. Film blogs run by women are few and far between so it's always nice to come across one that looks promising.

I was sorry to hear about your sister abandoning her blog. I suspect that women might be a bit more sensitive to the negative comments and all out attacks that sometimes occur online. It seems that communicating with computers can often lead to some cold, crude and just plain uninviting exchanges. I know that I'm sensitive to negative comments about films I like a lot for example if the criticism seems really uninformed and plain crude.

Personally I tend to get a lot of blog comments - instead of interesting exchanges - from guys who seem to assume that they have something to "teach me." As if they must know more than I do about a particular film, director, actor, etc. when frankly, they don't. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the kind of films I write about (the Self-Styled Siren doesn't seem to suffer that much).

Of course I also have to deal with blog comments that might mention my looks, etc. that I never see male film bloggers having to deal with. I'm sure it's not helped by the fact that SO MUCH film writing seems fixated on the looks of female actresses instead of their actual abilities. I think sometimes that sadly transfers over into the way male film enthusiasts might respond to women writing about film. Of course compliments are more than welcome and I don't want to sound like I'm bitching too much about it, but it just gets tired when you get more emails from guys flirting with you or asking for dates than from guys who enjoy your writing.

I'm glad that forum thread offered more food for thought on the topic as well as my recs. And I can understand why you might forget that American Psycho was made by a female director, but how do I explain why I always forget that Daisies was directed by a woman? Admittedly my experience with Czech cinema is minimal, but still! I really need to make an effort to see more of Vera Chytilova's films. I’ll try and do that soon.

FilmWalrus said...


August sounds great. After stopping off over at Cinebeats I read your post about the upcoming blogathons, and you're right that it will be busy. I might have to participate in the upcoming Japanese and Ed Wood ones myself.

And good luck with the move by the way! Going anywhere interesting?

I like the idea of opening up a female director month to everyone, but I may have to leave the operations of that up to you. I've not hosted a blogathon before and don't really have much of a network to recruit. Just let me know what I can do to help!

You might be happy to know that by the time I got into film school the sex ratio was pretty 50/50 (and I nice large class too!). The subtler evidence of bias was still discernable, though, even from my male perspective. For instance, male professors, outside of class, tended to be better acquainted with male students. Still, there were definitely female students who were ubiquitously acknowledged as amongst the best in the class. I hope to some day catch their names in credits!

One of my best friends from those classes is the author of Why Film, Exactly, but that only partially explains why I like her blog. Her writing is quite gifted and we have shared taste in Lovecraft, giallo, other horror, SF, cult and most everything else. I think you'll enjoy keeping an eye on her work.

One of our favorite professors was William Paul, who thankfully knew how to appreciate horror films (you can check out his book "Laughing Screaming"). I'm not sure what I would have done if my profs hadn't been accepting of genre tastes and it kind of pissing me off to think they could be so closeminded (a problem that still seems quite frequent amongst mainstream male reviewers). That's too bad you had to stand up to that.

I'm sure you're right about the way computer communication only helps fuel irresponsibly cold and crude commenters. (Would most of these people act that way face-to-face? I hope not.) Even as a guy I have very little tolerance for disrespectful feedback and probably too much sensitivity. One nasty, or even disappointed, comment can cause me to mope and dwell for days. So if it's any comfort, I think your writing is brilliant, your taste exacting and your web design abilities first-class! I haven't complimented you on the design change yet, but let me say I'm a big fan. As a film blogger by sensibility and a programmer by trade, I enjoy getting to appreciate your work along two axes.

FilmWalrus said...

Another thing that seems a positive sign to me comes from my experience with our campus film club. It was originally founded and organized by my friend Liz, who wanted a program that explored unusual, overlooked and cult films. After she graduated, I took charge for several years until handing it off to a very capable and enthusiastic woman, LeeAnn, who runs it today. I know running a film club and controlling a studio are not really equivalent, but I think there is a growing number of women who have the experience and confidence to gain serious positions on the production side of the industry. It's a shame the opportunities are not as available, but those with a penchant for alternative filmmaking have often times had to carve their way in from the fringes.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I'm glad August sounds good for you! It will give me a little more time to catch up on some film viewing too.

As for the move, I might be moving to Sonoma since my husband just started a new job there and the cost of living in the Bay Area has just gotten too expensive for us. I'm actually looking forward to a change of scenery, but we still haven't decided if and when we'll make the move.

I'm sorry to hear your attempt at a blogathon didn't work out as well as you had hoped. I'll do some brain storming this week and see if I can come up with some ideas. I've never hosted so I have no idea what to expect from one and maybe it would be better just to make it a smaller joint effort with a handful of enthusiastic people?

It is nice to know that things are changing in the academic world when it comes to women and film. In general I think women in film have made huge leaps forward since the early '90s but I'm still surprised by the lack of female directors, critics, etc. Hopefully more progress will be made in the next decade.

One of the reasons I was inspired to start Cinebeats was due to the fact that there were so few women blogging about the types of films I enjoy, but thankfully that's slowly changing too.

I'm pretty sure fellow blogger Marilyn over at would be interested in this discussion so I'll try and point her here.

It would be nice to get more feedback on the topic and hear from others like Mad Dog.

Marilyn said...

Hi, this is Marilyn. Thanks, Kimberly, for pointing me over here. I do drop in on the blog, but not often. That's got to change.

I actually have always made a conscious effort to review films by women on my blog and have done some feminist analyses, most notably a teaming of the feminist themes in A Question of Silence (Marleen Gorris, a great filmmaker whose films, except for Antonia's Line, are hard to find) and I Spit on Your Grave, by a male director with a strong feminist message.

I am finding more and more documentarians are women. In fact, it's hard to find documentaries by men these days that match up with what the women are doing. Jennifer Baichwal, Katy Chevigny, Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck are a few that come to mind with more than a few docs under their belts, but new ones with first films are everywhere and turning out great stuff (Begging Naked by Karen Gehres, for example). Iranian cinema has more than its share of women directors, and its male directors are often feminist in their themes. Bosnia-Herzegovina is producing female directors of great power, such as Aida Begić (Snowand Jasmila Zbanic (Grbavica: Land of My Dreams). Actresses turned directors are all over the place, too, taking command when they "age" out at 30 or so.

I don't read all these films in feminist ways, simply as films that present a point of view that the women who direct them are interested in. For example, Begic and Zbanic show the effects of war on the women and children caught in the middle. This is a side of war that we don't see in films too much and it is a side that needs to be exposed to more people as the real consequences of all the chest thumping you find in the hawkish war films of men, including the scifi/fantasy films that put this point of view over as well. Sally Potter was excoriated for daring to dance in her own semi-autobiographic film The Tango Lesson, but how many men have done the same "vain" thing without a whisper of protest.

I won't say it's easy for women in film - as a female blogger I sometimes feel overlooked but really don't have much trouble at all. I've opened some eyes, I believe, on my blog and in commenting on other blogs where some of the sexist content needs to be challenged. I've toyed with the idea of starting a feminist film blog called "In Her Own Right" (a comment you hear about women in film or other professions who are married to famous men, eg, Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy). I don't see looking at films from a feminist perspective as ghettoizing as look as one looks at them from a feminine and humanist perspective as well. I'm a second-wave feminist and believe in the power of consciousness raising.

I'd be interested in doing something in August and was actually thinking of launching the new blog on August 29, the date when women won the right to vote in the United States. (Don't know if I'm going to do the blog yet, some say I don't need to because I always bring a feminist perspective to my reviews). Let me know.

FilmWalrus said...

I didn't realize you hadn't hosted a blogathon either. I think you should totally go for it! I'll do a post to help spread the word and help on anything else you need. I figure you cast a wider net with your audience (I'm like the internet version of a hermit) so your better positioned to host, plus it seems more appropriate for a woman to be in charge, no? Looking forward to it!

I, too, need to get better acquainted with you and your blog. I've visited before via links from our mutual blogger-friends, but when Kimberly sent me your way this afternoon, I was sucked in for several hours.

I'm really blown away by your breadth and more than a little grateful for all the recommendations. You manage a much higher coverage of feminist/female-director works than most blogs I've seen. It strikes me that you probably don't need do conduct a separate spinoff, but if you're feeling prolific, why not? If there's particular posts from your archive that you think I ought to read, please link me.

And thanks for stopping by!

Marilyn said...

Walrus - My pleasure!

From my archive:

FilmWalrus said...


Great essay, with an angle I haven't quite seen before on the issue. I want to see A Question of Silence, but I'll probably skip I Spit on Your Grave. On misguided recommendations from former school chums I saw Cannibal Holocaust and Irreversible so I consider that I've done my time. The best I can say for those films is that the discussions about them afterwards are usually more fruitful.

I managed a comparison piece on female revenge stories (no overlap, oddly) from more recently. It's less thoughtful, but you might enjoy:
It might help if I state up front that I'm not pro-revenge (or capitol punishment), but I enjoy many of the films.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on Bang! if you end up seeing it (or already have).

Sounds like a must see.

The House of Mirth,
This is actually my favorite Davies film that I've seen so far and I used to feel bad about that because its also one of his most conventional. I know I shouldn't say this, but I wish he'd do more like it.

Deux Fois,
Sounds hard to track down :) but more than a little interesting. I'm curious, though, if the repetition works, something that I tend to dislike in both mainstream and experimental works.

Come Early Morning,
Ashley Judd is awesome. Katie and I used to make fun of her for all the bad movies she's been in, but there's almost always at least a handful of scenes where you realize she's capable of so much more than the role she's given. Loved the Adams quote, too, and glad she made a worthwhile part for Judd.

Meshes of the Afternoon,
I feel confident that I'll see Meshes take its position as a central experimental classic (at least at the level of Un Chien Andalou fame) within my lifetime. It's already becoming required viewing at the universities of many of my friends and I.

Border Cafe,
My experience with Iranian cinema has been pretty limited to Kiarostami (who has sometime dazzled and sometime underwhelmed me), a little M Makhmalbaf and The Cow. I want to invest more time in Panahi, S Makhmalbaf and now Partovi.

Valley Girl,
Of you recs, this one leaves me the most skeptical (I don't like teen comedies as a general rule). I'll have to give it a chance, anyway. You've built up my trust :)

Marilyn said...

My selections, Walrus, have as much to do with the treatment of women in films as they do to the creators. Believe it or not, I've seen Deux Fois twice (ha ha) in theatres at different times. It seems to be one of things that keeps returning to view. I thought the repetition worked in many ways as a way to concentrate one's gaze on the woman in the frame (Raynal) and take in what she's doing. It's so easy to dismiss the activities of women for both men and women; this does, in its way, imply Glenn Close's, "I won't be ignored." Valley Girl is included as an example of a female director in mainstream Hollywood. It's a bright film with a woman's humor, which I can recognize but not quite describe. You'll see it in American Psycho and Waitress, something that has a gently jaundiced view of the majority opinion in society. It's quite a fun movie. At Land is part of the Deren post and is meant to contrast Deren's views of anima and animus. I really think those films should be shown together.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I was thinking... maybe Marilyn would be interested in hosting the blogathon with me? I know she's hosted blogathons before.

We could make it a joint effort to celebrate female directors and the diverse body of work they've created.

It might be nice to host it during the last week of August to celebrate the 19th Amendment? Plus it could coincide with the new blog Marilyn's considering starting.

I think the new blog's a great idea btw. I know I'd read In Her Own Right.

Last bit not least, maybe emails are a better way to discuss all this? I sorta feel like we're clogging up your comments section.

FilmWalrus said...

All sounds good with me!
You can get emails to me at
Definitely keep me in the loop on anything you and Marilyn cook up.