As any cinephile will note, women have been sitting in the director's chair since the inception of filmmaking itself, but it seems only recently that their voices have become more numerous-- and more, dare we say, bankable. High profile names such as Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola are garnering more attention in Hollywood, with Bigelow even becoming the first female to ever win the Oscar for Best Director at the ceremony last year. But the truth is, women filmmakers have as many voices to bring to the table as their male counterparts, the philosophy it would appear, behind the American Cinemateque's "Focus on Female Filmmakers" program, an annual event at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The night was an eclectic collection of short films by women directors, ranging from documentary, to dance, to animation to biblical re-tellings.
During a brief Q&A following the screening, three of the filmmakers spoke about the inspiration for their films, as well as the just do it, or as director Shawneé Gibbs put it, the "Nike Approach" for filmmakers looking to make it in a changing industry. "I'm watching a lot of young directors at the moment who are making their own way," noted Amy Ephron, a seasoned writer and producer, "It's a very interesting time, the truth is film is turning into the music business right now and if you know a lot of talented people who are willing to work as hard as you are.... if you want to succeed nothing can stop you." Documentarian Kate Lain agreed, "you just do it, you explore the world around you and your interests." A change in the business of getting films made could lead to a more diverse offering of voices in cinema, and if the Cinemateque's program was any indication, that's a good thing.
Most of these films have made their way around the festival circuit -- many picking up numerous awards along the way -- but if you haven't had the caught one yet, seek them out. We've got a brief summary of the films screened at the event below with video provided when available, and some you might see cropping up in a shorts collection or at a film festival near you.
"Eleanor's Catch" - dir. Cleo Madison
Made in 1918, the evening began with a look back at the historical presence of women in film with writer/director/actress Cleo Madison's short silent film "Eleanor's Catch." A comedy-caper with a twist ending, the drama was appropriately amplified with the addition of a live score. Program organizers invited musician Marika Tjelios to play accompaniment to the short in a performance that exemplified the true impact soundtrack can have on storytelling.
"Backseat Bingo" - dir Liz Blazer
The juxtaposition of a real interview, recreated visually in animation might seem like a contradiction to the heart of documentary storytelling, but the nuances and mannerisms that animation can highlight, can really add an additional layer to the story being told, and "Backseat Bingo" is no exception. Funny and charming but underscored by a looming sense of mortality, Liz Blazer's interviews are a peek into the world of retirement communities, where as one resident puts it "there's not much time for independence." Fortunately for you, Blazer has uploaded the short to her Vimeo account, watch it below:
"Love You More" - dir. Sam Taylor Wood
On the other end of the spectrum, Sam Taylor Wood's "Love You More" shows love of the young persuasion: an awkward, but ultimately charming coming of age rite. Rising British star Andrea Riseborough stars as a punk rock tough-gal, but with a touch of vulnerability when it comes to one of her classmates. A clip from the short below:
"Sule and the Case of Tiny Sparks" - Shawneé and Shawnelle Gibbs
Created under a Nelson Mandela Foundation grant, twins Shawneé and Shawnelle Gibbs' animated short tells the story of Sule, a detective that teaches her client that even small things can start something much bigger. Set in an West African village, the cast is a mix of African and African-American actors, and while the voice recording only accounted for two days, the twins and their animators spent 6 months putting the visuals together. The result is a lively and charming story that this writer, having studied in West African herself, can vouch captures the enthusiasm and spirit of storytelling in the region very well. The trailer below:
"Bastard" - dir. Kirsten Dunst
The synopsis to Kirsten Dunst's sophomore directorial effort "Bastard" simply reads "a young couple in crisis find their way to a desert motel," but when the story being told becomes clear -- we wouldn't want to spoil it here -- it hits with all the subtlety of a ton of bricks. Possibly the scariest re-telling we've seen of this classic, but an atmospheric and moody little piece that certainly interests us to see what else Dunst will do behind camera.
"Chole @ 3 A.M." - dir. Amy Ephron
Amy Ehpron's experimental dance piece is the first in a series of collaboration with her daughter, dancer Maia Harari, called Confetti. "The confetti at the party: a lot of fun, really pretty and a mess to clean up afterwards," as Ephron described her protagonist. "I think in some ways LA was the inspiration for it, in many ways I think it's about being in your 20s in LA or New York was the inspiration for it and I think what they were doing with dance was the inspiration for it." While not wholly successful, the film's strict adherence to narrative through dance is an interesting experiment in mixing mediums.
"Git Along, Little Dogies" - dir. Kate Lain
Perhaps the most overtly feminist offering of the night, Kate Lain's "Git Along, Little Dogies" chronicles the push and pull of the path one wants, and the path having a set of boobs can put you on. As Kate wanders from subject to subject, we see the complications said biology can cause, as she looks for acceptance and camaraderie in her interests. Funny and at times shocking, Lain uses autobiographical elements to explore what it means to grow up as a woman in (yes, I'm going to say it) a man's world.
"Born Sweet" - dir. Cynthia Wade
Possibly the best example we've seen recently of the heights a documentary can achieve, Cynthia Wade's "Born Sweet" is a brief foray into the life of a young Cambodian, whose body is slowly deteriorating from arsenic found in his village's drinking water. Part human interest, part expose, part karaoke music video, "Born Sweet" is a gentle yet intimate look into a world where a community can not even trust the water they drink, and the dreams of a boy who is not sure how much longer he has to live.