The directors of James’ favorite indie films - “Manny & Lo,” “All Over Me,” and “Tully” - essentially disappeared after their initial offerings. So he knows that he needs to get another project going fast, and it needs to pop.
— Taken from Tad Friend’s New Yorker profile of Little Birds director Elgin James. What Friend is ignoring in this case, however, is that all four directors of said (very good and worth watching) films are women. Probably not that coincidental, in this case.

Women in film

I have been enjoying This Recording’s conversation on sexism and gender roles, in movies, tv, and in life this week. It’s good to talk about these things, even if they make you uncomfortable or piss you off - in fact, that’s when you know it’s working. And these ideas relate to anything when you’re fighting the status quo as an “other.”

It’s funny, to me, how old these conversations seem. How the VIDA list of female contributors to magazines and media was non-existent, and it wasn’t a surprise. They’re statistics showing you what you’re up against, in what you’re trying to pursue. And they’re statistics that show you that you’re not alone - in realizing that you’re up against a lot - and what you’re doing may have some purpose, because maybe you can affect those statistics. I remember being a kid and learning about feminism and that “women were equal now,” and feeling terribly cheated when I got in the workplace and dealt with things that were patently sexist and condescending.

Anyways, since I have somewhat of an expertise in film (stupid brain!) I can share some observations I’ve made regarding female film directors. (Warning: it’s long.)

1) The discussion of female film directors, when you’re at some media thing and talking about “women in film,” is, often, not a conversation that people want to engage in, or want to spend the time talking about, particularly when they’re trying to sell their film. And that’s completely fair and understandable. Conversations about representation in your field can be tiring when you’re just trying to represent in your field. It’s a meta-thing best suited to media people who should be talking about it.

The only women who add to the women in film conversation have tended, you notice, to be legends. Dame Helen Mirren talking about roles, for example. Whereas a Kathryn Bigelow, to me, seems to want to push the conversation along by doing kickass work, post-Hurt Locker. (Despite the fact that - oh, look, first woman to win an Oscar for directing - she’s in the history books now.) And in order for her to get back into the system and back into a position of power, notice, she had to go outside the system and rock it. The Hurt Locker was a comeback film, you know. She hadn’t done something in 7 yrs and was in “director jail” thanks to some big budget flops, I believe.

2) To me, it doesn’t seem like the problem is women making films. Anyone can make a film, and get it distributed in some form or fashion, and make it happen. You can do that, once. The problem, to me, is that the American studio system (indies and majors) doesn’t seem to be hospitable to women making careers in film. I don’t understand why a Nicole Holofcener isn’t getting to make films at the rate of a… Wes Anderson, let’s say. (And he’s a slooooow boy genius. And these two are both post-Woody Allen directors of “rich” people ennui, so there’s that.) You know that part of it is - Holofcener has done TV (including Gilmore Girls episodes) between films, Anderson has not - and part of it is… what, exactly? Is a Wes Anderson movie more of a guaranteed money maker than Nicole Holofcener, because it has Bill Murray in it and not Catherine Keener? I believe they’re both equally niche, in their way.

3) Do you need female directors working in the studio system even if it’s corrosive to the soul? Is a Catherine Hardwick a director to root for?

4) Funding for female-directed films is interesting to observe. In Europe, a Susanna Bier or Catherine Brelliat can make films like an auteur. And I think part of that is due to European government support of films.

5) I have found that there are far more female directors in the documentary world than the world of feature films. (Every year, look at the Oscars. Where do you see the females? In documentary.) The reasons for this, to me, seem to be twofold: first, when you’re making a documentary, it’s a passion project. A story you have to follow to its end point. It’s an exercise in empathy and observation. It makes sense that women can excel in these sort of situations. Secondly: when you’re making a documentary, you are, more often than not, getting grants. Is that kind of fundraising easier for women? And yet, you know - give me the name of three documentarians. I guarantee it they’ll be men, and maybe Michael Moore.

I do think that the new guard of women sneaking into films is pretty exciting, and I’m curious to see where they go and whether they sustain careers. (Anyone else think Natalie Portman’s going to be a Drew Barrymore when it comes to producing and getting films made?) I’m just really looking forward to when the system is dismantled completely, so new voices can come in and build their own structure. Maybe it could happen in my lifetime. That would be a gift.

(Yes, this post is full of generalizations, rooted in truth. I would love to write something more in-depth and researched on this in the future.)