4. Celebrating Activism – YAY

This year, with half the feature films funded by the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) directed by women, it’s arguable that discrimination against women directors is in remission here. Though probably not far away. A bit like a herpes virus. Lurking forever within the body, grasping at opportunities to act. Globally, the good gender statistics now available from places like Australia, Sweden and the United States show that for various reasons including discrimination, women direct far fewer feature films than men.

But the number of women directors of feature films is increasing, slowly. And more quickly in some places. Like the diverse Arab world and its diaspora. Two obvious examples are Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) and Saudi Arabian Haifaa Al Mansour whose Wadjda attracted a lot of attention at the Venice Film Festival, the first feature written and directed by a Saudi Arabian woman. But there are so many more. Just the other day, Ana Lily Amirpour posted about her A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: “BIG BIG VERY BIG NEWS– A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is officially partnering with The Woodshed Horror Company! The production company of Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller! Somebody pinch us!” This is how Variety explains the project, which had a marvellous Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that even Margaret Atwood supported.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an Iranian Western about vampires that will mark the feature debut of writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour. The film is described as a love story set in a fictitious Iranian ghost town reeking of death and loneliness, where a strange and jaded population is haunted by a lonesome vampire who preys upon the city’s most depraved denizens. The mash-up of genre and culture will include a modern soundtrack of ’60s-inspired Western guitar music and Iranian pop.”When I first heard about Ana’s project, a vampire Western noir, shot in black & white, in Farsi, and utilizing an entirely Iranian soundtrack, I was extremely excited. I then saw her proof-of-concept short and was convinced that this was a film that we’d be proud to be a part of bringing to life,” Wood said.

I can’t wait for this film!

When I started work on my PhD, more than six years ago, women directors in New Zealand did not speak publicly about their experience of discrimination, nor about the work choices they had made and were making. And that inspired me to develop New Zealand statistics about the NZFC’s development process, which showed where women directors were applying for funds for feature development and production (or not) and where they were being successful (or not). And I learned that it was useful to provide hard data because it helps to identify problems and to stimulate open discussion. But the problems are complex. And finding solutions is very difficult. And that’s why the latest post in Women Directors – Navigating the Hollywood Boys’ Club is so terrific. “Women Directors Fighting for Parity” is a careful analysis of why the Directors Guild of America’s diversity programmes fail, written by Maria Giese, herself a member of the DGA. And she suggests some very useful strategies to resolve aspects of the problems that cause the statistics. My response when I read the article was delight. And I thought about other organisations that support diversity, like the Writers Guild and Women in Film & Television. Perhaps they could benefit from a similar analysis of their programmes, and consider Maria’s alternative strategies.

From a distance, it seems that thoughtful, practitioner-based, activism is on the rise on the west coast of the United States and that the various organisations and individuals involved are beginning to link up. It’s not a surprise to see that Maria’s working with Heidi Honeycutt, from Viscera, another strong activist organisation.  As I mentioned the other day, Bitch Pack’s The Bitch List, and the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative are planning to work together. Women Directors – Navigating the Hollywood Boys’ Club has connected up with Destri Martino’s list of women directors. There’s the Anonymous Production Assistant‘s blog, too, with the Anonymous Production Assistant being a Bitch Pack Advisory Board member. Collectively, all these initiatives and their alliances will enrich problem-solving processes and provide a powerful platform. It’s very exciting and I salute their courage and imagination.

And now my reader has sent me her notes on the first draft of my Muriel Rukeyser play. I’m thrilled. And with a March deadline, I need to focus on that, an onstage experiment with media convergence, exploring the conditions which make it possible for women to tell their stories. I’m also writing an entry for one book, about New Zealand women directors, and a chapter for another book, about women screenwriters in New Zealand. (New Zealand writers and directors, please feel free to send me ideas and stories you think I may have missed: wellywoodwoman[at]gmail.com!) And I’m thinking about a short film that investigates obsession, to accompany Interrogating Tinkerbell, which investigated anxiety. So I’m taking a little break to catch up with my creative writer self and to write with my little-used Dr Evans hat on, in a more academic context.

It’s hard to do this. Readers of this blog have almost doubled in number over the last couple of months and I love it that by far the largest proportion is based outside New Zealand – thank you for visiting. I’d like to keep the momentum up. And there’s so much I want to check out because there are still so many gaps in available knowledge about women who write and direct films. For instance, Beti Ellerson’s Center for the Study Of African Women in Cinema provides information about African women filmmakers, but as far as I know, there’s nothing similar in English about women filmmakers in Asia and Latin America and the conditions they work in, and I think these women may offer some inspiring models.

But for now, I’m back to Muriel, a poet and activist who speaks to me across the decades (sternly now and then). Back to her onstage mates. And back to where I started, with New Zealand women storytellers on screen. See you on Twitter and Pinterest & tumblr and Facebook now and then! And then back here as soon as I can!

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Facebook

Twitter A Girl Walks Home

Twitter Ana Lily Amirpour

Indiegogo campaign

Anonymous Production Assistant’s blog 

Facebook 

Twitter 

Beti Ellerson’s Center for Study and Research of African Women in Cinema site (English and Francais) 

African Women in Cinema blog 

Facebook 

Twitter
(also on Pinterest, Vimeo, Youtube, etc.) 

Bitch Pack site Working together for a #betterHollywood 

The Bitch List a tally of industry votes for scripts seen in 2012 that pass The Bechdel Test
Facebook 

Twitter 

Destri Martino site 

Pinterest 

Twitter

Destri’s Mixed Blooms webseries 

Los Angeles Women Playwrights Initiative site 

blog 

Facebook 

Twitter 

Viscera Organization site 

Facebook 

Twitter 

tumblr

(nb there are different social media accounts for the Viscera Film Festival)

Women Directors: Navigating the Hollywood Boys Club site 

Facebook 

Twitter

That’s The Life of Poetry, not of Poe!

Published in Wellywood Woman 21 October 2012

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