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Guest Post: Why I Started the San Francisco International Women’s Film Festival

Women and Hollywood By Scarlett Shepard | Women and Hollywood April 2, 2012 at 10:10AM

The genesis of founding the San Francisco International Women’s Film Festival started when I took a Film History II class in 2004 while earning my film degree at San Francisco State University. The focus of the course was to study the 1950’s and present day cinema and during the entire semester, we were never shown a film made or directed by a woman. There was never a discussion about female filmmakers, nor was there ever a topic of reading that covered the matter.
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SF WFF 2

The genesis of founding the San Francisco International Women’s Film Festival started when I took a Film History II class in 2004 while earning my film degree at San Francisco State University. The focus of the course was to study the 1950’s and present day cinema and during the entire semester, we were never shown a film made or directed by a woman. There was never a discussion about female filmmakers, nor was there ever a topic of reading that covered the matter.

I began to wonder where on earth were the Janis Joplins’, Shirley Muldowneys’, and Rosa Parks’ of Cinema? I thought this was a huge oversight on behalf of the Cinema Department. Granted, I do not think that the deficit in the curriculum was intentional, but somehow our voices as women were left out of the history books all together. Having said that, there was never a shortage of lists, notes, comments, books, thoughts and theories about the top ten male directors. Every film fanatic and cinephile alike had an opinion of who those men were, and more importantly, whether those opinions differed was besides the point of this level of comfort in connecting men and film.

The beautiful part of this journey is that this initial lack of the female voice in cinema is that ultimately fueled my investigation into women’s role in cinema. What I found out was fascinating. Women, in fact, have been a part of movie making history since the birth of cinema in 1896. The more I began to delve into women's filmmaking, the more I uncovered and the more fascinated I became.

From early women of Hollywood to fierce Do-It-Yourself Indie female filmmakers; to Alice Guy-Blaché’s very first narrative film La Fée aux Choux to Kinuyo Tanaka, who was the first Japanese woman director with her movie Koibumi (Love Letters); and to the most commonly known female filmmaker story: Kathryn Bigelow’s big Oscar win for Best Director, in which she claimed the “First Ever Female to Win Best Director” title for her groundbreaking work on The Hurt Locker.

Women not only helped in the creation of the cinematic language we know today, but they were also responsible for technological advancements in filmmaking. For instance, the monumental moment when Dorothy Arzner suggested to a soundman that he should attach a microphone to a fish pole as a way to better capture voice quality from the actors. This is what filmmakers know today as a boom mic, and it is easily one of the most crucial, universal tools on the film set. Who knew a female was behind such a deeply embedded piece of film technology? Few, if any. These are some of the many triumphant feats of female filmmaking that should no longer be left out of history books. According to Ally Acker, Author of Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present, “There were more women working in creative and influential positions before 1920 than at any other time in movie history.”

It is time to empower women again and reintroduce creative career options to females of all ages.  

This article is related to: Festivals