In her latest research, Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Representation on Festival Films (2011-2012), Martha Lauzen found that in selected film festivals 39% of documentary directors were women, compared with 28% in her similar survey from 2008-2009. This finding confirmed anecdotal evidence that women direct more documentaries than narratives, where in the same period the percentage of women directors rose from 15% to 18%.
So, does this mean that women directors will now be better represented at documentary awards ceremonies? This week, Cinema Eye Honors announced the finalists for its 2013 awards, which "recognize and honor exemplary craft and innovation in nonfiction film" and its list of nominations doesn’t provide a definitive answer to the question.
In the Cinema Eye Honors nominations, women directors are represented in a third of the nominations in three categories. Detropia, a postmodern portrait of a Detroit, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, is one of six finalists for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, along with Only The Young, a story about male teenage friendship co-directed by Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet. Both films are also among the six Outstanding Achievement in Direction nominations and Only The Young is nominated for Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film along with Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei Never Sorry.
In other categories, however, women directors are less well represented. In the 10 nominations for the Audience Choice Award, there isn’t a single woman directed film, although there are two that are about women. One is Trash Dance, about choreographer Allison Orr who finds beauty and grace in garbage trucks and the men and women who pick up our trash. The other is Marina Abramovic - The Artist is Present.
In the Non-Fiction Short section, Anna Frances Ewert’s Into the Middle of Nowhere, which "celebrates the uniqueness of childhood and the nonexistence of limits to a child’s imagination" is the only woman-directed film among five nominations. It’s available for streaming (US only).
There are five nominations for the Spotlight Award too, "for those films that haven’t yet received the attention they deserve", and a woman co-directed just one – David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s Downeast, about the grim economic realities in Gouldsboro, Pennsylvannia.
The Cinema Eye Honors site provides full details of how nominations are made, including who makes them. Nominations are pegged to multiple screenings at specific prestigious festivals, with some alternatives. The process seems transparent and there are good numbers of women involved in the decision-making. Yet the disappointing numbers led me to a couple of questions:
- Why is there not a better percentage of films directed by women, in every category?
- Why so few films by and about women?
- Are women more likely to get their films funded and into prestigious festivals and be nominated for awards if they co-direct with men?
And why is it, here and elsewhere, that when women and men co-direct the man is almost always listed first? Would it be a better convention to list co-directors alphabetically? If we want more films by and about women, let’s get serious about these questions.
Winners will be announced 13 January 2013 at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image.
Marian Evans has just completed the first draft of “Throat of These Hours”, her play about two women in a New Zealand radio station and the poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980). She’ll present a reading of the play at the Muriel Rukeyser Centenary Symposium at Eastern Michigan University in March 2013. Marian has a PhD in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, New Zealand's oldest and most prestigious creative writing programme. She blogs as Wellywood Woman.