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#WomeninFilm Activists Speak: Voices From A Revolution

Monday, December 26, 2016


This year #WomenInFilm ‘how-to’ talks have flourished. The speakers aren’t the first to share, nourish and inform, of course. But until this year, there was just one standout for me: Ava DuVernay’s Film Independent Forum keynote in 2013. She brilliantly argued that filmmakers should abandon despair about not having access to what we need and move on from depression about what makes our work difficult: a ‘wrong’ gender, a ‘wrong’ race or culture, no film school training, no money, no mentors, no advocates, no time. Instead, ‘Create work’, she said. ‘Look at what you have and work with that’.

She’s also argued that ‘It’s not about knocking on closed doors. It’s about building our own house and having our own door’, and that has resonated for many women filmmakers.

installation, National Museum of African American History & Culture (Smithsonian)

In the three years since, lots of women have followed her advice — or come to a similar conclusion independently — and now some of us have articulated how ‘doing it’ is inspired and played out. Here are some of the best I’ve watched and heard. Let me know of any more that you’ve loved?
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Holly Tarquini and the  F-Rating Holly’s background is as an independent producer/director for television documentaries, but she’s now making a difference to the marketing of films by and about women. In 2014, after she joined Britain’s Bath Film Festival, she created the F-Rating, designed to support and promote women and redress the imbalance in the film industry (the F stands for feminist, of course). Every film which ticks ‘yes’ to the one of the following questions receives the F-rating–

1. Does it have a female director?
2. Is it written by a woman?
3. Is/are there complex female characters on screen who exist in their own right (not simply there to support to the male lead)?

A film that ticks all three gets the triple F-rating. Dozens of festivals and cinemas now use the F-Rating.

Holly’s talk is a fresh, engaging look at the facts (I had no idea about single parenthood as portrayed in American films!) and how they affect our lives and our children’s lives. She provides a convincing case for supporting the F-Rating. And she made me laugh.




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Naomi McDougall Jones is a writer, actress and producer based in New York City. She wrote and starred in Imagine I’m Beautiful  and is a founder of The 51 Fund, a soon-to-be-launched equity investment fund to finance films with budgets in the $1–5 million range that are written, directed, and produced by women, including anyone who identifies as female.

Like Holly, Naomi knows her facts and how those facts affect us all. And like Holly, she’s strategic, taking action to benefit #WomenInFilm and their audiences. (She’s funny, too!)




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Louise Hutt’s Online Heroines YouTube series is close to home for me. Louise is a filmmaker whose Hire-A-Mum short was a finalist at Tropfest New Zealand in 2015. She doesn’t speak on camera in the series, but her ideas and her voice are very much part of it.

There are thirteen Online Heroines participants and nine episodes. The series provides fascinating insights into ‘the ambitions, struggles, and triumphs of being a New Zealand woman creating video content online’. And, as Women & Hollywood  pointed out, the participants ‘use this spotlight as a way to communicate with their industry peers’.

Louise’s presentation of her work is wonderfully transparent. She notes that some of her participants pulled out, ‘unable to be a part of my project due to fear of the consequences’ and that this demonstrated that discrimination is on the minds of women working in the film industry, even when publishing online.

Louise also recorded the diversity information of those who did participate–

92% Pākehā (NZ European) | 8% Māori
69% Straight | 15.5% Bisexual | 7.75% Fluid
100% Cis gender | 0% Trans gender | 0% Gender fluid
8% Had a significant disability or illness | 92% Did not

Louise acknowledges that for people with intersecting marginalised identities, it can be even harder to speak out and she plans to do a second round of interviews, to address this imbalance. She would love to speak to any New Zealand women (or non-binary) filmmakers who don’t see themselves represented adequately in the Online Heroines.

The Online Heroines — and others like them round the world — are enriching and influencing the present of #WomenInFilm, as well as building a basis for its future. Here’s one of the trailers.





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And then there’s this Jill Soloway masterclass on The Female Gaze. She needs no introduction. Essential viewing.





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Finally, there's the WARU session from New Zealand's Big Screen Symposium. WARU ('eight') is an 80-minute film made by eight Māori women directors (and a ninth writer), now in post-production. It follows the lives of eight women all connected by a single, heart-breaking event, the death of a child, through eight self-contained 10 minute vignettes. Each follows a different lead character during the same moment in time, is told in real time, and shot in a single take. The project was instigated by producers Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton of Brown Sugar Apple Grunt, and the whole film was shot over eight days.


Some of the WARU women at work  Photo: Brown Sugar Apple Grunt

Although there are many skilled and experienced Māori women writers and directors, the last feature film written and directed by a Māori woman was Merata Mita’s Mauri (1988). WARU is visionary, as a way to provide nine Māori women with feature credits. But for me, the significance of this powerful podcast lies in its indepth discussion of how we come to our truths and how we support one another to access and speak and show our truths. It’s a ‘how-to’ talk par excellence, with eleven different perspectives. And like all the talks in this post, it is ‘how-to’ with heart, intelligence, courage, humour and spirit.




 

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